Music Photography Blog

by Adam Elmakias

Warped Tour 2012 Stories – Intro

Warped Tour blog, here we go again. This was my 5th year doing Warped, holy crap, I can’t believe it has already been five years. If you want to get backstory or read my other blogs. I cover tons of things in those blogs I won’t even touch on this year. So if you don’t understand what Warped Tour is, maybe give these a quick scan through. If you do, read on my friends, or if you just don’t give a fuck, read on as well.

Warped Blog 2010 part 1, part 2part 3, part 4part 5
Warped Blog 2011 part 1part 2 

Here are my laminates from the past five years, these are what get you around to all the areas you need to go every day on the festival grounds.


Anyway, this year I decided to switch things up a tiny bit. Traditionally I shoot photos and write stories about everything. However I still felt like it took to many words to really give people an idea of what it was like to tour. So I added a video this year, here it is.

You can either watch the video, before, after, or cumulatively watch it by clicking the time links throughout the blog. Although not all parts of the video are linked throughout the blog, most are.  I made it by attaching a GoPro to my camera and recording most of the things I photographed. It works really well, gives people your point of view and makes your camera look like a badass. Read about how to do it yourself here.

Alright let’s dive right into this thing. I’ll start off with what I packed, it changed about a week into a tour when I went home for a bit, but this is the gist of it.

Pelican 1560


  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 580ex
  • Canon 580ex II
  • Canon 17-40mm L f/4.0
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Various CF cards
  • Various SD cards
  • Pelican memory card case
  • 3 Pocketwizard Trancievers
  • Pocketwizard Mini TT1
  • Cables
  • Speedlite mounts
  • GoPro and all its accessories
  • 8 extra Canon batteries


SKB 2SKB-4814W Deluxe ATA Golf Travel Case


  • Manfrotto 681B with a Manfrotto 234RC Tilt Head
  • Avenger A2030DCB
  • Avenger D600 Mini Boom
  • Photoflex FVMOD7 Octodome

Lens caps are useless, it’s okay to have shit on your lens. I also had my backpack with my computer gear, hard drives, clothes and toiletries in it.
My walk around setup was pretty simple. It was all made possible by the Moneymaker. Thankfuckingod for Holdfast. This thing ruled and changed my shooting experience all summer. I could basically hold one or two cameras with me all day while still having my hands free. In addition I had my GoPro on top of my camera along with spare batteries and CF cards in my pockets.


I always pack light, as I keep all of my gear in my bunk, this way no one can mess with it. If someone were to spill a beer on my lens or ash on my laptop, I would be so bummed and only blame myself. So much shit goes down on the road, you really have to look out for yourself and keep your shit together.

Before heading out on the road I tried to set some goals, truth is I don’t think I achieved them. That being said, I don’t think I should even be setting them. Not to say that don’t have something you are working towards, just getting anymore specific with my goals always kicks me in the ass.

For example, I had two projects I wanted to shoot, and those were two of my main goals. But once I got out on the road they just didn’t make sense and weren’t realistically going to get done without forcing them to happen. If there is one thing I should have learned by now is that if you have to force it, or if it becomes too difficult to do, sometimes it’s not worth doing. Man I sound like such a hopeless undetermined loser right now haha. But I’m not, I just feel like when I do create something new and awesome, I am usually the last one to know. I attribute this to the fact that everything just improves at such a steady increase that the next step up never seems like it is that crazy.

For example, 5 or 6 years ago I was in high school listening to most of the bands I shoot today. If six years ago I said man in X years I want to shoot all of my favorite bands I think I woulda been bummed, because I wouldn’t be happy with myself until I made it happen, and then what? I did it, now I’m shooting my once favorite bands from six years ago and I wasn’t happy with myself until now. Or it could have worked out differently, I could have never gotten to shoot these bands and I would be a shit storm of depressed and mad at myself. BUT without knowing it I just slowly kept staying stoked on what it was I was doing. I didn’t notice it right off the bat, it probably took me three years to really realize that it works best this way, and even now I get the feeling I am not doing something right from time to time. It always catches me off guard.

So yea, everyday I just focus on having a good time and doing something a little bit better, no need to set high standards or establish dreams, just have a good time and then in three years be like damn, I did all of this? When did this happen? Like Mitch Hedberg says ” I’m tired of following my dreams. I’m just gonna ask where theyre going and meet up with them later.” I am not exactly sure if this is what he meant, and he’s dead, so I will never know, but this is how I choose to interpret it.

So after first week or two of shooting I threw my goals out the window and just tried to focus on making good photos, everything became easier and nothing felt forced- the way it should be. Natural.

Shooting Warped Tour is rough. Not to sound spoiled, I am very fortunate to have the relationships I have that enable me to gain access to the areas I shoot from, but that being said- there are still some things about Warped that make it difficult, especially after you experience it everyday for a month or so.

I shot all day long, on stage, off stage, backstage, by the buses, at catering, parties at night, and from the photo pit. So take your everyday normal shooting situation in natural light, you know you gotta worry about your usual: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lens choice, angle you are shooting from, subject, whats behind the subject, which way they are facing relative to the light, and then add some of the following.

The pit is filled with a lot of younger photographers. Warped is great for giving young bands, photographers and interviewers their first shoot/show/interview. But this means you get some other crazy noobish qualities, no hate here, it’s just wild to see. The pit usually has 15 other DSLRs, 6 point and shoots, some hot girl head banging and singing along, oh and dude with an iPad! Too sick. Don’t believe me? Scope it.

In addition, while you are shooting, concert-goers are raining from the sky after just having the time of their life getting groped by all the people between them and the stage, topped off by a burly ass security guard that just got more intimate with you than your doctor.

In Detroit, someone threw their water bottle at the stage. They usually don’t allow caps on sold items at Warped- because a full water bottle hurts a lot more than an empty one, and goes farther. But you could bring your own bottle, so this guy threw his and it was still frozen from when he left home that morning. Homie next to me was pelted with it and resulted with a bloody head, I felt for him. I got hit in the chest with a full bottle when I was shooting from stage at Warped a few years ago. It knocked the wind out of me, made a huge thump, and the whole band laughed while playing. I have never been caught so off guard, stoked it missed my camera cause that would suck.

Warped is hot as ever, usually located on a massive slap of concrete and sometimes a bunch of dust as well. In addition, the bus area where we hang when not in the venue has 50-100 buses running all day- this means tons of hot air being blown all over our bodies. It gets hot! And you sweat and then dirt sticks on you. My nose gets super sweaty and messes with my LCD screen too. I subtracted my hair this year, so the sweat traveled down my face more freely, best/worst decision ever.

LOT LIZARDS. So everyday there are XXX amount of girls that literally just hang out in the lot and try to sleep with band dudes. You can usually spot them because they all barely wear any clothes or are wearing heels or some deadly concoction to a rocky ass venue. Most of the times the clothes don’t fit properly. Don’t get me wrong, I am guy, I like to look at nice looking ladies, but some of them need more clothes and I am in photo mode so I am all about making good photos. They are the ultimate photo ruiners. I guess I am supposed to be there to photograph what really goes on, but they look so out of place to me. A bunch of dudes kickin’ it, having a beer and having a good time and over here on the right we have a girl all dressed up like it’s Saturday night in Miami Beach. No hate to the gender as a whole. It’s just a few who ruin it for the rest.

Alrightttyy I am done bitching and being selfish on these views. You wanna know what is awesome about shooting Warped, well Warped in general? Every single other thing you can think of, and even the ones above can be positive. Here is me having fun with everything and not being totally focused on myself list —

It’s great young photogs get to shoot Warped, it gives them a chance to shoot a concert they might otherwise not be able to shoot, and it’s interesting to see what their images look like. I wish I could go back to not knowing at all or having any experience and just get that instinctual “this is an awesome shot”, now my shooting gets cloudy sometimes and I have to zone out to get in the shoot mode.

Water bottles getting thrown at you. Okay, I lied, this just sucks, no positive side. No one likes to get hit with things that can both hurt you and ruin your camera.

Warped is hot, but it makes for awesome photos. Skin is saturated, glossy and full of imperfections that just amplify people’s often hidden character. It always kills me when people want their imperfections photoshopped out. I mean, pimples/acne I understand, but freckles, dots and stuff like that are so bomb. I like photographing guys for this reason, in our own eyes, as well as other people’s eyes- one can look more shitty and still be attractive. Girls, not so much. this isn’t’ something I am saying is how you should think, this is just sorta how we are raised to think, in USA at least. I don’t know, it just is.

Lot Lizards. It’s part of life. I guess I shouldn’t hate, I just don’t agree with the lifestyle. I can’t honestly say I like taking photographs of them.

Never a shortage of subjects. With 800ish people on the tour, 70-100 bands plus crews- there are tons of people to photograph. The hard part is knowing them all. I almost never photograph someone I don’t know. I feel like it’s an invasion of space. I often introduce myself quick through a mutual friend, ask if they mind that I photograph them and then go from there. I can remember faces so I know who I can and can’t shoot. I feel like this is the best way to shoot, otherwise all your shots are just going to be them looking out of the corner of their eye going “wtf man stop creeping on me”.  Another solution is to just duck behind a road case and shoot ’em with a telephoto. Bam bam and peace out. Their soul will just be gone without explanation.

So much going on always. Whether it be morning, night, or middle of the day I have something to shoot. I love it that way, I can be in shoot mode all day and do my thing. I basically hang out with friends and shoot in-between. It’s nice to have a camera because people usually just let me do my thing and don’t talk to me. I like to talk to people but it makes me anxious and all that goes through my head is “damn I should take a picture of that”. I’ll usually say a few things and then walk away and take more pictures.

I feel at home. The friends I have made on the road the past few years have become real good friends. When I’m home, I am usually on my computer or hanging out at home getting work done. So going on the road is my favorite, nothing but homies and photography.

Alright that’s a good intro for me. Let’s get into my trip.

Shootin’ Warped isn’t easy. This isn’t easy, well for me it isn’t. I look through people’s daily posts and I think, damn, why didn’t I think of that? I’ve shot this thing for almost a month straight and I still can’t get some shots people are getting.

I took 28k photos over the summer. For every image you do see, there are about 70 images you won’t see. I like to think of those as my rough drafts. I take a lot of images, I love the digital age. How long until I can just record my day and then go through later and pick a frame/ adjust the depth of field?

One thing to think about when looking at these images, or shooting images of your own is that most people won’t know who any of the artists in the shots are. I mean everyone in the “scene” will, but take a random person you sit next to on the airplane- most of the time they don’t know any artists that haven’t gone mainstream and are played the radio. So take away the caption, take away the title, are you still left with a good image? Or just a tattooed guy with a funny haircut and a slick looking guitar. I always tell myself that most people don’t know anything about anyone I shoot. I always get reminded this when the person next to me on the airplane asks, “What do you do for a living?” I respond, “Self-employed, I am a photographer, I travel with bands.” They next question is always “Oh Like who?!” and then I have to go into some long explanation about how they won’t know any of them. But they do well, and they are some of my best friends.

continue to part 1