A Festival Full of Challenges: Francofolies 2015

Francofolies Festival La Rochelle 2015

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity of working together with Instagram to cover the Francofolies Festival 2015 in France. It´s a 5 day festival with more than 90 bands playing on 10 stages located all around and in the small fishing village of La Rochelle. This was one of the best festival experiences I’ve had so far, but also the one where I faced the most challenges. Why? Read on.

It all started out with an email. It was from Instagram, asking if I would like to work with them, covering one of the biggest festivals in France, the Francofolies Festival 2015 in La Rochelle. At first I thought it had to be a bad joke, because receiving an email from one of the biggest social media companies (Instagram was bought by Facebook recently, just in case you’d missed that) isn’t something that happens to me every day! However, I was curious and got in contact with them. One telephone call later and everything was set up. I was ready to be the official Instagram photographer for the Francofolies festival! Most people would now think that the hardest part had been done, but I can tell you that if you get a job like this, it´s always coupled with challenges you’ll have to master first. Let me explain.

You have to master the challenges first

I got the final approval three days before the festival began. I thought to myself, “This is going to be easy. I just have to book a flight from Vienna, Austria to La Rochelle.“ Sounds pretty straightforward, right? The first obstacle appeared when I was searching for a flight – there wasn’t an option for a non-stop direct flight. I found some flight plans with 2 stops but with a travel time of about 26 hours! (The normal amount of time to get there on a non-stop direct flight is 5 hours). This, of course, wasn’t an option for me and so I tried to find some other routes. One possibility would have been to fly via Manchester or Lyon to La Rochelle, but all flights were already fully booked. I was sitting in front of my computer and was starting to get a bit nervous. How was I going to get there? I asked some friends for help and they came up with another good idea. I could get a flight from Vienna to Paris and then take the TGV train to La Rochelle. This sounded like a good plan. Unfortunately, all trains to La Rochelle were also already fully booked. Damn it. “Don´t freak out and think what else is possible!”, I thought to myself. Then I had an idea – why not rent a car and drive there. If I could find a flight from Vienna to Paris, I could rent a car from there and drive the 500km to the west coast of France and get to La Rochelle! This was the best solution. I booked a flight to Paris and was ready to take on the next challenges.

On Friday, 10th July, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris at 8:00am and walked to the Rent a Car service to start the next leg of my journey. What I didn´t know yet was that this drive to La Rochelle would present it’s own challenges to me. It all started with a navigation system that wasn’t able to find the address of my hotel in La Rochelle. It took a 30 minute discussion with the service guy before we were able to get the navigation system up and running correctly. There was already a long queue of people lining up behind me, waiting to get their car. After trying 3 different navigation systems, I decided to just take one and start driving, at least in the direction of La Rochelle. The good thing was that the car rental company upgraded my car to a hybrid automatic Toyota Yari instead of a manual VW.
Once I started driving on the highway in the direction the navigation system showed me, I began wondering why it was telling me it would only take me 1:30 hours to get there instead of at least the 5 hours I had figured out beforehand. I checked the route and it showed me “La Chapelle“ instead of “La Rochelle“. It looked like the guy from the rental firm had entered the wrong final destination. I stopped at the side of the highway and found out that I was driving in completely the wrong direction. Luckily, I had decided to check it after only driving for 5 minutes, otherwise I would have lost even more time. You can imagine that I was already a bit “out of balance“. I entered La Rochelle into my Garmin navigation system and was finally on my way to this awesome festival.

But not for long.

Once I arrived in the area surrounding Paris, I got stuck in a traffic jam. Unfortunately, on 10th July, everyone in Paris wants to get out of there and takes their car to go on holiday! (Someone told me this the next day). I was stuck for – and this is not an exaggeration – the next 4 hours! I’ve never seen so much traffic and I’ve never been in a traffic jam for such a long time before. When I arrived at my first break at a highway restaurant, it was already 1:30 pm and I still had to drive another 400km. I bought a coke and a baguette (later on I found out that there isn’t much else to eat in France than baguettes!) and returned to my car. When I pressed the “On“ button (because there was no ignition key in my lovely upgraded car), nothing happened. It was dead. I started to panic and asked 3 guys next to me at the parking lot. What you have to know is that French people are very friendly, but they can’t or rather don´t want to speak English. For someone like me, who never took French in school, this is not a situation you want to be in. They tried to help me, but the car wouldn’t start at all. What should I do now? I called the service number of the rental company and they told me it wasn’t their problem anymore, but they could send a car mechanic to me. I just had to tell them where I was. I had no idea where I was, so the only solution was to find a waitress from the restaurant and give her my telephone to explain in more detail. I was sitting with a broken car on the highway, 400km away from my final destination and it was already 2 pm. I couldn´t believe that this was all happening and tried to start the car for the last time. AND IT STARTED. What the hell was going on here? I felt like I had been trapped in one of those hidden camera TV shows! I had no idea why the car was working again, but made a mental note not to stop anymore. I got back onto the highway and drove 4 hours at or above the speed limit. There was a lot of traffic throughout the whole journey and sometimes it was just on small country roads. At 7pm, after a 15 hour journey (I woke up at 4am in Vienna to catch my flight), I arrived in La Rochelle with just vapours left in the gas tank. Exhausted, but happy, I had to figure out how to open the gas tank cap, because there was no lock on that either. I asked another friendly French family for help, who again didn´t speak English, but they found a secret little button inside the car to open the cap. I also had to bring the car back to the car rental service in La Rochelle, but they had already closed. I called them when I was on my way, but after asking if they spoke English and getting a short but precise answer, “No“, I had no way of communicating with them about this issue. As my navigation system couldn´t find the hotel address, I used google maps and finally arrived at 7:30pm in my hotel. “No, we don´t have a parking spot at our hotel anymore. You’ll have to find a parking space somewhere else“. Exactly, why should they have a parking spot for me? I had been travelling for more than 15 hours and then I have to find a parking space in a small city where 10 000 people are attending a festival? Pffff. Ok, let´s search for one. I found a safe parking garage, rushed back with all my equipment to the hotel. I opened the door to my hotel room, dropped my suitcases, grabbed my photo equipment and ran to the festival site. Then it was only the minor issue of finding the correct address (did I mention that nobody on the street will speak English with you…?) and I arrived at exactly 9:00pm in the photo pit and ready to shoot Angus & Julia Stone (and worked until 2 am in the morning.)

Why am I telling you all this? I wanted to share this story, because I wanted to show you that for every success story, there are challenges and lots of hard work involved. Most of the time, people don’t know about the hassles and only see the end result. This might sound a little esoteric, but I’m a firm believer that if you work hard on your success, you´ll achieve it someday. Sure, I could have given up a couple of times before arriving at the festival. I could have complained about how unfair everything is. I could have just flown home to Vienna without shooting the festival. But I just saw this day as a collection of challenges to be overcome. Sometimes you have to master challenges in life to earn your spot. And this day clearly showed me that you can do anything if you believe in yourself, no matter the size of the challenges.

I know being a music photographer is a hard job and we´re faced with challenges all the time. Whether your memory card dies during a shoot, your name was forgotten and is not on the press list or you have a hard time fighting in the photo pit to get a great shot. I’m not saying that being a music photographer is easy, but, if you´re ready to take the challenges thrown at you and grow from overcoming them, you´ll be able to live your passion and live the life you dream of.

Tell me about the challenges you’ve faced as a music photographer and how you overcame them in the comments section below!

The Francofolies 2015 Was A Blast!

Back to the Francofolies festival. I was working directly with the organisers of Francofolies and was shooting for their official Instagram account. In addition, I was shooting exclusive backstage portraits of famous French bands and musicians and publishing my concert photos on the official Parismatch Instagram account (which is the french version of People Magazine). The funny thing was that I didn´t know any of the 90 bands playing the festival, with the exception of Angus & Julia stone, which is one of my favourite bands. France is similar to Italy or Switzerland as in they have evolved a local music scene that is hardly known outside their own countries. I learned a lot about French bands and really liked Sianna (French Hiphop), Radio Elvis (French Indie), Lewis Evans (Pop) and Coeur de Pirat (French Pop). See some of my Instagram photos here.

Instagram Photo Pass Francofolies 2015

Instagram Photo Pass Francofolies 2015








Radio Elvis


Keren Ann

Jesse Le Sommer, Bison Vinz-1

Jesse Le Sommer & Bison Vinz backstage fun

The Do

The Do




Yannick Noah

Coeur De Pirate

Coeur De Pirate

The 5 days in La Rochelle were a blast and one of the best festival experiences I’ve had so far. I met a lot of great musicians, music managers, DJ’s and photographers. If you’re into French music, make sure you visit Francofolies 2016. It’s worth it!

Tell me about the challenges you’ve faced as music photographer and how you overcame them in the comments section below! Read on here and get my tips on how to start living your passion!

Spread The Word
  • Sandra Rohrer

    Ich war auf einer Gästeliste für Ine Hoem Newcomerin aus Norwegen, eigentlich nur als Zuschauerin, doch wollte ich als Dank ihr was gutes Tun und Fotos machen inkl einen Bericht. Tja, Bericht gabs aber leider ohne Fotos. :-/ warum. Ich hatte sage und schreibe mehr als 2 Stunden von Basel nach Zürich mit dem Auto… (Normalerweise braucht man knapp 1 Stunde.) Stau, soviel wie noch nie. Und ich fuhr eigentlich früh genug ab. 19.15 sollte Ine auf der Bühne stehen. Türöffnung war 19.00. plötzlich Krieg ich im Auto im Stau noch ne Twitter Nachricht, ich spiele früher.

    Als der Stau dann endlich überwunden war fuhr ich meistens knapp über dem Tempolimit. Um 18.00 war ich vor Zürich City und dort stand ich wieder im Stau. Naja schlussendlich waren wir 19.10 im Parkhaus. 19.20 bei der Location, wir rannten zur Location. Und leider war die Location schon so voll und Ine hat schon denn 2ten Song gespielt. Ich hatte null Chance nach vorne zu kommen. Und dann noch das falsche Objektiv dabei. (Erkenntnis ich brauch ein 300mm Objektiv). Wie gesagt keine Fotos. Nach ihrer Show fragt sie natürlich mich persönlich: wie sind die Fotos geworden? Voll peinlich zu erklären: ich stand im Stau und kam zu spät. Es tut mir leid. Aber sie stand drüber. Ich hab ihr dafür einen tollen Bericht geschrieben, ich glaube das hat sie versöhnt. Mein Wissen ist schlauer. Ich fahr nun lieber viel zu früh los. Oder nehme denn Zug. 😉

    Der Witz, am nächsten Tag ging mein Flieger um 7 Uhr morgens nach Amsterdam. Ich war um 12 Uhr nachts zuhause und musste noch packen und an der Homepage arbeiten. Schlussendlich hab ich so 2-3 Stunden geschlafen.

    • Danke für deinen Bericht Sandra, Klingt auch sehr stressig. Es gibt Dinge die kann man einfach nicht ändern. Mir ist letztens sogar das Auto am Weg zum Konzert kaputt geworden und ich musst abgeschleppt werden. Also war es dann nichts mehr mit Konzert. Dafür klappt es beim nächsten Mal dann besser 😉

      • Sandra Rohrer

        Bitte gerne Matthias, ouuu ich hoffe mir geht mein Auto nicht so schnell kaputt. Irgendwann wirst über deine Francofolies Tortour lachen können. 😉

  • Bryan

    wow, what a journey! I don’t know if I’d be able to make that drive like you did. Bravo! Oh, and Great pictures, as always.

  • May Valentino

    Oh my….I fear travelling alone and in a foreign country, but congratulations to you and thanks for sharing your success and misadventures 🙂

  • Pierre Sirdey

    Dealing with the rain.
    In July, I had the opportunity to shoot the French band EZ3kiel at Paleo festival in Switzerland. They were going to play before Sting and I was very excited when I entered the festival with my accreditation, but this is when the rain started. Not a local fresh July rain, a heavy stuff with big drops that lasts hours and gets you wets everywhere under your K-way before you even think about finding a shelter. Of course my contact was not where we were supposed to meet because the place – an outdoor bar – was transformed into a swimming pool. This is also when I realized that my phone was still charging at home where I forgot it. So I managed to drag my soaked self out of ephemeral rivers to the closest not to crowded shelter which happened to be the press tent. I was starting to fear that this great opportunity was becoming not so great. How was I going to shoot them with this rain? I have to say that EZ3kiel are also well known for their outstanding light show witch meant to me, not staying only on the covered sides of the stage, but the rain, the mud, my Nikon, how was I going to cope … ? I was starting to forced myself to think positive when I saw a friend at the bar of the press tent. He helped me to get in touch with my contact, we had a few beers, the heavy rain stopped, I dried a bit and I went to the backstage to meet the band. The concert was amazing. I could shoot them from everywhere, stage, pit and a scaffolding tower behind the public were I had to walk careful not to move a big laser, part of the show. The rain had started again, but this time it was light enough to shoot from outside. It was even impressive on the pictures as they looked like they played under the rain.
    2 weeks ago,I had this time to film the Swiss band, Elvett, formerly known as Aloan, at Rock Oz’Arenes festival. As a habit, a heavy rain plus a strong wind started just as I got my accreditation to get in. A big tent even took off the ground to crash onto Elvett’s backstage tent. How was I going to film them with my Nikon and my gopros ? Miraculously again, the rain stopped an hour before they played and everything worked well. Later, I could even enjoy Shaka Ponk playing in the big arena. I was very lucky to avoid the rain 2 times, but how is next time going to be? How does a rock star photographer deals with the rain when he’s not lucky ?

  • ED

    Nothing special, some people do this every week for 10 years as music photographer! Overrated cunt u r!! Cropped arms and guitars, what a beginner r u & people pay for this shit!!

  • definitely had me laughing at your challenges with getting there… so much stress with traveling! really great to keep a positive outlook! love the pic of your office there : )

  • Mark Turner Images

    Hey Matthias! Your story reminds me of my first international artist shoot and the hassles that went with it. They were also my favourite band and I came so close to missing out, I could have cried.
    After driving four hours I got to Sydney and made my way to the gig. Got to the box office and they had no record of my name on the door. I talked for a few minutes and was told media passes for the whole tour had been hit and miss (which made my heart sink) but luckily I noticed a band member leave the venue. The band was from England and I thought “OK, so what’s up the road that would appeal to a Pom? A pub and a curry house.” 🙂 I found her in the curry house and explained my situation. She got me in the door and introduced me to the tour manager. He got me to the band manager (my original contact) and he sorted me with my wristband. After earlier talking about the usual three songs rule (which the band aren’t a fan of) he also gave me a second wristband that meant I didn’t have to leave after three songs.
    Can you imagine a massive fan of the band having the whole pit to myself after the third song!!!
    It was a magic night and reminds me that sometimes you just have to think out of the box.
    Your site is looking great and I’ve sent a young photographer your way that wants to start out in gig photos.

    • thanks for sharing your story Mark! Sometimes we just have to fight the challenges ;). I know the feeling when you´re alone in the photo pit after all the other photogs had the leave. This is the real beauty of being a concert photographer, working with bands directly without any limitations.

  • bentley harden

    At least all of your troubles had amazing outcomes! Matthias, I was wondering if I could ask for help. I have been browsing through your blog posts on concert photography for beginners – all quite informative and helpful, I might add – but I haven’t found anything regarding building a portfolio. I have been shooting festivals (and concerts…but mainly festivals) for about two years now with a Canon sx520 (point and shoot) camera from the pit or railings of the balcony. I have the equipment available to start shooting professionally, but I have not been able to obtain the correct credentials to access the pit. I was wondering if you could give me advice with building a portfolio and asking the right people/companies the right things. Thank you for your time!

  • Brian Band

    My biggest challenge is Red lights on stage. They totally blow my shots. The only way I have figured out how to deal with this is to change those pictures to black and white- this saves many a rotten Red picture!

  • tony alves

    I’ll say this, I would have a huge problem if I couldn’t get to a gig on time. I don’t drive is really a big reason why
    Fortunately where I live has a great public transportation system. And I’m not affiliated with a publications. I have been e-mailing bands heads of publicly and more times than not I get approved. But I want a magazine to at least give me a break.

    • Hi Tony. This festival was definitely a special one. Normally I go by car to the venues in Vienna and it just happened once that my car broke down on the way to the gig. Working directly with bands is a good strategy. Regarding the magazine work: try to start working with local online magazines or blogs that can get you access to the bigger shows.

  • Anderson Ferret

    Hi Matthias

    Would like to tell you my history with photograph to you.

    Since I met your site, I started to study your guide, watch your videos because I love heavy metal. That was the main reason.

    I love Metallica, Rammstein and some other bands that you worked with and I thought: I will try that too!

    I was just an amateur photographer at the time and I am still learning.

    So, as a Brazilian, born in the same city of Sepultura, having a thrash metal band as hobby, i imagined that would be easier to find some new bands so I can work with.

    I was wrong 🙁

    I stop to think what I could do and then I received a invitation from a dancing group so I could make some photos. No big deal at that time.

    I thought would be easy but again, I was wrong.

    Lot of movements, lights, low lights, bright colors, smiles, the expression on each dancer’s face, all of these, was a challenge. A real one.

    How could I get the feeling of those professionals? Not only take a photo but try to capture their happiness into the photograph?

    So I remembered some of your advices. ISO, speed, lens, b&w pics and I started to apply those informations on that.

    Today, as I said before, I am still learning and will always do, but with your advices, I could adapt into the dance business all your knowledge.

    I would like to thank you for everything and share with you some of my work.

    Again, as a Brazilian, I need to work with a low budget equipment because here everything is so expensive to us. Even batteries are expensive but I am doing my best to acquire the best on every concert / event.

    I am also looking for a internship at any photograph school in the world or maybe, be an assistant of a professional photographer. I would love some of these opportunities. 🙂




    Thank you again


    Anderson Ferret

    • Terry Harger

      Hello Anderson I too am an amateur just beginning this hobby a year ago or so. I worked in stage production industry for 35 some years and almost 60 years old now (November) I too like heavy metal and I like Matthias’s information on rock concert photography. However,I don’t mind if I get to shoot anybody on stage. Keep doing it.

  • Terry Harger

    Matthias you have an eye for this profession and what you share with everybody is really awesome and you know we all appreciate learning the information you provide for the individual looking to have a good time in the profession. My biggest challenge really hasn’t hit me yet as I’m just starting to get involved in the profession. Thank you Matthias.