The annual Virgin Media V Festival is two days of fun and frivolities across two UK sites: Hylands Park in Essex and Weston Park in Staffordshire.
More than 40 acts, solo artists and bands appear on the four stages at each venue each day and, at Hylands Park specifically, Virgin Media runs the Louder Lounge, its exclusive all day, every day hang out for VIPs, celebrities and journalists alike. Therefore there's a heck of a lot going on and all of this has to be photographed for publication and promotional reasons. It's a mighty undertaking.
That's where photographer Tom Oldham comes in. He and his team are Virgin Media's official snappers for the two days V Festival runs across, and as such they have to be on hand to capture every significant moment, every celeb and even a Virgin Balloon. So, when it comes to their kit bags, they have to be prepared for all eventualities.
Pocket-lint managed to catch up with the chief snapper in the Louder Lounge at Hylands Park before the chaos ensued and he explained exactly what it takes to professionally shoot something as sprawling as the V Festival.
For starters, there are six photographers in his team (himself included) and that means a lot of cameras. A lot.
"Everyone will have at least two cameras," he explained. "So we’ve got 12 bodies, at least. There’s a bag of lenses for each of us too. We’re all going to have at least three to five lenses each."
And Oldham has, perhaps, more than most. "I’ve got a fisheye, 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm – all f/2.8. I’ve got a 300mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/4.0 with me, don’t ask why. There’s an 85mm f/1.2 and a couple of flashes. I think that’s it," he said.
And they're all Canon.
"I only use Canons," he revealed.
"At the moment, I carry around two 5D Mk IIs and a nice range of glass. The leap to the Mk III wasn’t really enough. It seemed to be aimed at video rather than us lot.
"I can understand why they went that way, but seeing that Nikon has made a massive leap… Actually, this might be controversial, but I think Nikon’s kicking Canon’s arse at the moment. Not with lenses necessarily, but with bodies and the technology. What they’re doing is better, and I know it’s better, but there’ll be a Mk IV or something that will hopefully come back at them.
"I love the feel [of Canon]. I love the glass. Nikon glass seems very matter of fact to me, whereas Canon seems to have a bit more creativity to it."
The reason for such a big team and a lot of kit is that members need to focus (pun intended) on different areas of the festival, in order to cover the lot. There are two who stay in the Virgin Media Louder Lounge, ready to photograph celebrities as they arrive and general ambiance.
There are those who will concentrate on other brand activities, such as the public's own version of the Louder Lounge, the Virgin Media Our House - held in association with the Nokia Lumia team. And then there's Oldham himself who spends almost all of his time at the four stages, getting shots of the performing artists, when not taking pictures of the Virgin Balloon trips behind the main stage (which Pocket-lint also went up in) or racing around in a helicopter for aerial shots.
There are also two other hugely important members of the team, who never get to stray very far from a broadband connection: the editors.
"The celebrity guys have always had an editor here, so they’re just ferrying cards back and forth, but we’ve got an editor to do all our live and brand stuff this time," explained Oldham.
"There is so much content, and inevitably we’ll get a phone call on the Monday morning [after the festival] saying, ‘Sorry, but I know you’re hung over and tired, but please can we have this shot of this celebrity or this artist?’ So we’ve got to be able to deliver on that immediately, and the best way to do that is to have somebody taking care of it all for us."
How much content exactly? About 100GB!
"The celebrity guys just shoot JPEG. The other guys that are shooting all round site, just doing brand stuff, they’ll be shooting RAW, but their stuff isn’t so time sensitive so they won’t hammer hundreds and hundreds of shots. I’m probably the worst for that, and even I’m quite selective. So, it’s probably a couple of thousands of shots? So it could easily be 100GB," he told us. "All on Sandisk 16GB cards."
Thankfully, the editors have embraced more modern methods to crunch through such storage: Adobe's Lightroom.
"There seems to be a massive conversion where the younger guys coming through are using Lightroom. I don’t know what it is, but the quality people are getting through outputting that way is just sharper and brighter than Bridge and anything else," said Oldham.
But that said, Lightroom isn't going to get that killer shot for you. Sometimes, magic happens when you least expect it - as Oldham's recollection of his favourite V Festival shot proves.
"There’s this tent – stage 3 is in a tent – and it’s baking hot, scorchio every time so makes for an atmosphere in there. And Dizzee Rascal came out and just hit some light when I hit click, so it just came off," he said.
"I love that frame, and in the Virgin Media offices they’ve got a beautiful, big enlargement of it on aluminium. Every time I walk into the office, I’m so proud to see that image.
"Press wise, that wouldn’t have been a notable shot. However, I love it, because it’s got feel."
That's not to say the tech can't help.
"Canon lenses are good for that," he added with a grin.
To see more of Tom Oldham's work, including his fantastic artist portraits, check out www.tomoldham.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Tommyophoto.
- More of this interview can be found on the Pocket-lint Podcast #97, our Virgin Media V Festival 2012 special.
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