Summer Breeze 2019 Impressions

Over the past few years, I started living by a certain principal: every year, i had to YOLO a thing I didn't do the year before. For the most part, that essentially meant travelling more and more -and it worked to an extent. In 2019 I took this as a literal challenge and braced myself for what I considered to that day inconceivable; doing a big, multi-day metal festival alone, with no prior experience and without having camped a day in my life. Sounds daunting, doesn't it? The festival of choice was Summer Breeze Open Air in Bavaria, Germany, taking place on August 14-17. 

Cradle Of Filth on disposable camera

Since my annual leave wouldn't start before August 15th, I had to miss the first day of the festival -and essentially the first afternoon bands of the second day. But I'll get to that in a minute. First of all, I'd like to talk about the whole camping experience. I like my comfort, quiet, a stable environmental temperature and a private bathroom/sink. I was fortunate that Summer Breeze offered the option of comfort camping, a set-up tent waiting for visitors upon arrival in a private part of the reserved camping area. That would also work to our advantage since access in that area is granted with a wrist band (more safety for yours truly traveling alone) and it also had very well equipped toilets/bathroom with drinking water plus shower cabins. Not bad, huh? The accommodation options included a 1-2 persons tent with the choice to add a sleeping bag and mat, and two types of Domo tents for maximum comfort (including beds, carpet and interior lighting). The simple tent I chose was more than enough for me and my cabin-sized suitcase.

In the weeks that preceded the trip, I gathered as many tips as I could from friends who have camped at festivals before. The main advice I got was to bring baby wipes, a sweater, locks for the tent and waterproof shoes, preferably rubber boots for the mud. Let's be honest though, most of us wouldn't be caught dead wearing rubber boots so I brought my good old combat boots, along with a spare pair of trainers -plus band aids for blisters that might occur. I got an inflatable pillow, which I would drag deep inside my cocoon sleeping bag as I slept, I had my earplugs (a necessary accessory with drunk people singing Alestorm out of nowhere), I even got my water bottle to carry around. I was prepared to a borderline OCD degree to deal with everything that would come my way. Well, except for maybe two things. One, waking up at 6am being cold from the humidity and putting on a sweater too, and then at around 8.30am drenched in sweat, because the tent had become a bloody green house, with the temperature rising and no fresh air coming in. Two, as a direct result of the former, no one, and I mean NO ONE, told me to pack shorts instead of trousers. Why, I hear you ask? Because when your skin is damp and you try to pull up pants in a place where you can only stand on your knees, the fabric will inevitably stick on you. Going out in my underwear would not be an option anyway so, while sweating even more at that point, I laid on the mat and thrusted my legs until I was able to pull up and button my trousers. 

The weather was favorable for the most part, with a lot of sun in the morning (yay for face mist and pocket-sized 50 SPF sunscreen!) and breeze/humidity in the evening, which was quite bearable with a hoodie. It only rained in the early hours of Saturday and a cloud remained over the infield throughout the day. The very light showers didn't affect the crowd or the bands and everything went according to plan. In the evening, it got very windy and for a while, the rain also got heavier. I found refuge in the press tent, editing photos and sipping warm coffee. I got a pro tip from a friend on remaining waterproof; at Jumbo stores in Greece you can find single-use nylon ponchos in very small packages for only €0.50 so I got a couple and always carried one in my jacket's inner pocket. 

The first thing I did when I got in the infield, was to go check the walking distance between the stages and see where the entrances for photographers were. Taking mental notes, I headed to the main stage before Kvelertak went on. The showtime clashing of the afternoon was insane. I wasn't able to shoot all the bands I wanted but I got to at least check parts of their performances with a drink in hand. I really appreciated the cocktail stands around the area, where a large selection of flavorful drinks were available at a 400mL plastic cup or, if you felt adventurous, a 1L cup. I tried a few of their sweet cocktails while roaming and it was nice to take a step back and enjoy attending a festival, letting in all the little things, instead of just covering and writing notes constantly. I was also impressed at how nice people in general were while drinking, who would randomly walk up to you, strike a conversation, do some small talk and then just say goodnight and leave you be. I ran into many people dressed in costumes but unfortunately, I didn't find the awesome Jesus figure who would crowd surf while Rotting Christ was playing.

Now let's talk photography a little. For this festival, I packed my camera with my Sigma 24-70mm 2.8. lens, the 50mm 1.8. which I ended up not using and my 24mm 2.8. pancake lens to film interviews. I was tempted to bring my film camera too but I spared my poor back and got a disposable camera instead from a drugstore. 

The odds were on my side because, and contrary to most festivals, Summer Breeze had a ramp where photographers could climb instead of lining up inside the barrier, which meant that my zoom lens would be perfectly able to cover the stage. I didn't come to realize the downside of this proximity until the final day when, out of curiosity, I decided to stick around and shoot Equilibrium.Two songs in, the band unleashed pyros catching some of us off guard with the sudden rise of temperature right in front of us. Although this was an alright experience, it wasn't until Eluveitie went on that things got serious. The Swiss folk masters were surrounded by pyros, going off rather regularly. The sight was gorgeous, no doubt about that, but the heatwave was almost too much for us at the front so I can't imagine how the musicians felt.





None of the stages I shot at was fully open, so that meant shade conditions throughout the day. I have learnt at that point to set my White Balance to "shade" mode in order to achieve warmer skin tones and thanks to the first edition of Vainstream with many unfocused pictures, I know to keep my aperture at around f/4.5-5.6. This is also helpful when the subject isn't fully in focus because of the larger depth of field. The lighting conditions were great so I wouldn't have to push ISO at dusk and still had the possibility to keep the shutter at 1/200 to capture motion/headbanging/jumps. 
The experience however was limited to the open air stages where, for the most part, photographers with pit passes were allowed to shoot up until the final three headliners. As I didn't have a headliner pass, I didn't witness how challenging Cradle Of Filth, Parkway Drive or Dimmu Borgir was up close. In the smaller stage, I was able to shoot the late shows of Downfall Of Gaia and Gaahls Wyrd both of whom were mainly backlit. Gaahl had some moments of clear lights which allowed me to focus more on with his face paint.

Downfall Of Gaia

Downfall Of Gaia (before)

Downfall Of Gaia (after)

Downfall Of Gaia

Gaahls Wyrd

Gaahls Wyrd

Where daylight was more involved, I was more able to chase jumps and motion. It didn't always work out, BUT I did my best. Metal festivals equal long, luscious manes. When that beautiful hair movement was combined with jumps, like in Dust Bolt or Get The Shot's cases, I was content. 

Pro tip: when shooting headbanging, focus and press the shutter button in the upwards motion. When the head goes down, it is very likely that the hair will be a mass and the artist will be making some sort of weird/unflattering face.

Dust Bolt

Get The Shot

Get The Shot
The most important thing, however, is to have fun while doing what you love. It's not all about capturing action, sometimes artists of very heavy bands will do small things, like smile or throw and catch their microphones, maybe pose in an unusual way. In these cases, timing is everything.

Deserted Fear couldn't hide their smiles throughout the set.

Rotting Christ's Kostas Spades clapping, and looking like he's about to unleash a ball of energy.

When it came to editing, I wanted to reduce the time I would spend on thousands of pictures. Having presets worked fine but the game changer was a preset I created while working on pictures of Rotting Christ and their pyros. It got realistic skin tones, a lovely and natural desaturation, smooth edges, and made the pyros look awesome without burning pun intended my eyes. Since the lighting conditions were pretty similar on all stages throughout the day, all I had to do afterwards was fine-tuning on every picture.

Exhibit A:
Rotting Christ (before)

Rotting Christ (after)
 Exhibit B:
Evergreen Terrace (before)

Evergreen Terrace (after)
Exhibit C: 
In Flames (before)

In Flames (after)

Overall, Summer Breeze 2019 was an incredible experience which taught me a lot more things and allowed me to experiment even further with music photography. I am truly hoping I can attend SBOA 2020 from the beginnign this year (the lineup announced so far is insane!). I know it took me an awfully long time to finish this post but better late than never, right?


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