Bestival 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Ferry.

This year I was lucky enough to bag press passes for Bestival and whilst I had the opportunity to take my camera and snap away I decided to go without and just enjoy everything the festival had to offer. Here’s some snippets of my review over at God is in the TV:

Bestival 2011 Main Stage

This year’s Bestival, Rob Da Bank’s festival on the Isle of Wight, narrowly avoided being hit by the tail end of hurricane Katia. Instead festival-goers were treated to a mostly dry weekend of sporadic sunshine and showers, once they got there of course.

In the interests of getting the negatives out of the way first, it must be reiterated that getting to Bestival is probably the worst thing about the festival. Ferry services from Southampton and Portsmouth are seriously over-stretched leaving thousands of revellers subject to several hours of seemingly endless queuing. Our wait was over four hours, with our booking for 4pm shifting slowly but surely towards gone 8pm. Once you’re off the ferry you find yourself in another queue for a shuttle bus or taxi to actually make the 6/7 mile trip to the festival site. We knew this to be the case and hitched a lift off the ferry with Paul, a security guard from ProTouch Security, working the festival. (He had waited three times as long as we had to catch the ferry!) Huge thanks to him!

Ferry, Southamption, Bestival, 2011, Festival, isle of wight

The chaos at Southampton's Red Funnel Quay

Two of my highlights of the weekend were SBTRKT who pulled in a huge Big Top crowd to play a blinding set of his ambient, dubstep material. Whilst Sampha’s husky vocals struggled to transmit across the entire crowd it was still a treat to see SBTRKT drum live to recreate his unmistakable sound for the Bestival crowd.

The second highlight started immediately after SBTRKT finished. Approaching the stage to the distinctive sound of sirens were Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ Lord, better known as Public Enemy. They played to a huge crowd on the main stage and whilst their age is admittedly starting to show classics like Don’t Believe the Hype, Night of the Living Baseheads and Bring The Noise still sounded fantastic and their stage presence was as entertaining as ever.

After a break to enjoy some of the other Bestival sights and indulge in some fantastic festival food it was time for Magnetic Man to show exactly what a main stage Magnetic Man set should consist of; dazzling visuals (from their uber-expensive lighting rig) and flawless sounds. It proved to be the best set of the night on the main stage as Pendulum (Friday’s ill-chosen headliners) bypassed a lot of their superior Hold Your Colour tracks, instead opting for their over-played, over-hyped modern material.

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Some more surreal moments led us into the evening with The Village People performing on the main stage before Jaguar Skills, Paloma Faith and Grandmaster Flash followed to restore Bestival back to some sort of normality. Of course, this was the rockstars, popstars and divas fancy dress day of the festival, so everywhere you looked was like seeing The Village People.

Kiss Costumes, Bestival 2011, festival, fancy dressThe Saturday night was the strongest lineup of acts of the weekend and the treat of a main stage medley of PJ Harvey followed The Cure was wonderful. PJ Harvey, still on a high from her Mercury Prize win just a few nights before, had a relatively short but stunning set with tracks from all her albums stunning the audience.

In between PJ Harvey and The Cure we headed across the arena to try and catch some of Ed Sheeran’s set in the tiny Psychadelic Worm tent. However, after squeezing in, literally under the sides of the tent (to the dismay of Bestival security) we cut our losses (along with frustrated parents with children and hundreds of other fans) and headed back for The Cure. That was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the weekend, that the festival organisers had somehow not recognised the huge popularity of Suffolk-born singer-songwriter. It also could have ended horribly as the tent became crammed well over capacity.

Nevertheless, all was quickly forgotten as Robert Smith and co. took to the main stage to belt out a phenomenal main stage performance that lasted a staggering two and a half hours. Personal highlights included Lullaby, Just Like Heaven and A Forest but the whole set was mesmerising and proved they really were the main attraction at this years Bestival.

Saturday felt like an all-nighter as Primal Scream took to the Big Top straight after The Cure before a brilliant Metronomy performance at 2.15am rounded off a stunning and unrelenting 6 hours of music. Their excellent The English Riviera proving as popular and poignant as debut Nights Out.

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So, Bestival suffered from the year-on-year problems of it’s location (please just move it to somewhere in the south!) but proved once again that once you’re there it’s a fantastic festival that really does cater for everything. There’s certainly never a lack of things to do and pulling in acts like The Cure is sure to cement as one of the big-hitters of the festival circuit.

Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM – Value for Money + Excellent Results

So I’ve had the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM for around 8 months now, using it with my Canon 60D, and I’ve decided to return to this post (originally published August 26th 2011) because this lens has grown to be my favourite lens in my bag, and proven itself along the way snapping some of my favourite photos – all seriously sharp and all lovely and vivid in colour.

What I Originally Said:

I took it to The Big Chill Festival where I was asked to photograph the event for the weekend and I also did a few bits of video here and there too. I took it with the belief that I’d probably use it when the sun was out and then have to switch over to a shorter focal length, faster lens as the light disappeared. Turns out I barely took it off the camera as it performed brilliantly even in the lowest light. Rodrigo y Gabriela were on at 9.30pm on the final night and the sun has set, but still the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM managed to snap this:

Rodrigo y Gabriela, Big Chill Festival 2011Before heading off to the other side of the country for the festival I’d also feared that I’d snap away and maybe 10% of my photos would be sharp due to the 200mm focal length becoming 320mm on the 60D’s 1.6x crop sensor and therefore less useful for hand-held shooting. The lack of IS on my bottom-end version of Canon’s 70-200 range would also be an issue given that I couldn’t get a tripod into the arena with me. This also turned out not to be the case, I even used it one-handed to reach around the front of the crowd and snap a lucky shot of Jay Electronica getting up close and personal with the crowd:

Jay Electronic w/ the Bullitts at The Big Chill Festival 2011Another thing that has to be said for the 70-200 is it’s lightning quick (and silent) autofocus. I rarely missed a shot or focused incorrectly and that’s testament to the lens because I’m typically a “just one more” kind of photographer – Check out my full set of “keepers” on Flickr.

Further thoughts…

It’s now January 2012 and since posting about my bargain-buy lens (£370 second-hand on Gumtree was a steal considering it was like-new anyway) I’ve had a chance to use it in many more situations, including loads of video work – an area where I thought a 70-200 (effectively 112-320mm on the 60D’s 1.6 crop) lens would just be too long. It has continued to impress me whilst also proving that the 2.8 version would be handy in certain specific situations.

I’ve had the pleasure of photographing a few weddings since buying it and for the one I did in August where we had non-stop sunshine, it was just superb. Firstly it’s brilliantly lightweight which allowed me to use a two body set-up, switching back and forth between one camera with a wide lens and the other with the zoom. When hanging off my shoulder or even around my neck, the weight wasn’t overbearing or aching at all -the f/4 IS and f/2.8 versions are between 600 and 800g heavier than the modestly weighted 705g f/4 L USM. So first of all, no need to visit the chiropractor with this one!

More importantly, the images I got on that summer’s day were just excellent. Brilliantly sharp, super-fast and silent autofocus and my own personal favourite feature: the vivid colours that it captures. For a sub-£500 lens when purchased new, it’s a must-have if you’re shopping for a zoom on a budget. The proof is in the pudding… (click to see large version.)

Wedding Photo / Wedding Snap / Canon 60D / 70-200 F/4 L USMThe bokeh of the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM is also lovely and smooth creating a really dreamy effect, especially at 200mm.

However, on another wedding I shot later in the year (a cold and dull December day in fact) the lens stayed in my bag for the most part. It was of no use to me inside the church as there simply wasn’t enough natural light to shoot at a clean ISO. I ended up switching between a 16-35mm f/2.8 II L USM (a beautiful wide zoom that I now desperately want to own) and an the hefty, mega-bucks 85mm f/1.2 L USM. Both were fast and sharp enough to get what the 70-200 couldn’t. So it has it’s advantages and disadvantages like any other, but realistically, if you shoot outdoors or you want a lightweight high-quality zoom lens for travelling, the f/4 L USM fits the bill.

Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM for Video

Much like the comparison of the wedding scenarios, I’ve found that daytime or studio (well-lit) shoots are great conditions for the 70-200, but shooting with it in the evening or indoors is probably out of the question unless you’re happy to shoot over 1250 ISO (which I never am, I like my video clean and noise-free!)

Don’t let that put you off though as it has been absolutely essential when shooting on certain video projects, particularly a recent studio shoot where it excelled at being pin-sharp and well-suited to focus-pulling. The focus ring, as with many large Canon L lenses, is nice and big and very smooth making focus-pulling in video mode really easy and accurate.

Aesthetically it’s also proven to produce excellent filmic images whereby the shallow depth-of-field twinned with a long, narrow focal length (between 70 and 135 is great) makes excellent movie-like shots. Here’s a still from an upcoming short film I helped shoot which sort of demonstrates my point (watch this space for some video examples when I get time to put them up.)

Canon 70-200 F/4 L USMSo that’s my 2 cents on this tried-and-tested (and pleasantly affordable) Canon 70-200 f/4 L USM lens. Feel free to ask questions/comment with your thoughts… If you’ve read this far you’ve done well as I’ve definitely rambled here!

Foo Fighters – Milton Keynes Bowl 3/7/11

This deserves a blog post at the very least and hopefully I’ll get time to write a review over at God is in the TV too.

After months of anticipation the Foo Fighters show at Milton Keynes Bowl finally came around. It was a day of eye-openers; from the stark realisation of just what 65,000 people looks like to the stunning musicianship of Dave Grohl and co.

The two and half hour set was filled with nostalgic highlights, unexpected surprise guests and all-round musical mastery. It was preceded by a sublime set from Biffy Clyro and Jimmy Eat World too!

Now, about those special guests! The previous night had seen Alice Cooper join Grohl onstage but we were treated to Seasick Steve and John Paul Jones! Performing a rock rendition of Seasick-classic Doghouse Blues the trio (Grohl on drums) set about firing up an already excitable crowd. Unforgettable stuff.

It’s been a long long time since I’ve seen a band hold a crowd in such suspense and enjoyment and I think it will be even longer until I witness it again. Incredible day, incredible band.

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