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May 19 1146

Vans Warped Tour 2016: A Photography Exercise

When my band Yellowcard did our last ever Vans Warped Tour in 2016 as part of our Final World Tour, I wanted to make the most of every aspect of the experience. I decided to use my down time when I wasn't playing as a photography exercise. My goal: to capture the essence of the tour.

I'm not sure how to describe my style of photography or which genre it would fall under, but what I know for certain is that my main goal with my images is always strong and powerful composition focusing on utilizing simplicity and depth. That goal usually leads me to shoot landscapes and other somewhat more sparsely populated areas, as busy locations make what I'm trying to accomplish more difficult because there are too many elements and distractions.

I'm never satisfied with what I shoot when I have to rush, which is why an important part of my photography process is slowly and serenely exploring a location. I feel like a photo mission for me isn't as much about going looking for opportunities to try to create photos as it is about taking my time and waiting for potential photos to make themselves known to me, which can sometimes take awhile. I consistently find that some of my favorite photos from any given shoot happen to be the ones I take when I'm almost done and about to leave, because that's when I feel the most comfortable and familiar with the location.


When it came time for my band to do our last Warped Tour in 2016, I was very excited to take advantage of it from a photography standpoint, and I decided my goal was to try to capture the essence of the tour. Having done it five previous times, I felt I was in a good position to be able to accomplish that. I didn't know exactly what it would look like in photos, but being very familiar with all of the aspects and subtleties of the tour, I felt confident it would naturally reveal itself to me over the course of the summer. I also recognized that it was a very intimidating idea for me because it is an extremely busy and energetic environment with very few opportunities for sparseness and calm, which is very much the opposite of my normal preferred shooting conditions. Nevertheless, I embraced the challenge because pushing yourself to work outside of your comfort zone is precisely what forces growth as an artist.


Warped Tour is a summer festival tour affectionately referred to as "punk rock summer camp" by the bands and tour production staff, and I started my project by focusing on capturing exactly that: the backstage, behind the scenes, and day off moments that show sides of the tour most of the public doesn't normally get to see. It also served to ease me into the project as it was usually easier to find peacefulness away from the public areas of the main festival grounds each day. 

Warped is held in many venues around the country that happen to have some surprisingly serene areas nearby. For example, at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, FL, the catering area for the bands and tour production directly overlooks the ocean. Aside from the sound of the stages, it is always one of the most peaceful and relaxing backstage setups of any Warped venue. Many other Warped venues have conceptually similar features: areas of unexpected calmness extremely close to the high intensity of the festival, and I wanted to show this side of the tour because it contrasts with how people normally view it.

I pretty quickly got into a groove of regular shooting, felt good about the project, and started to venture out to start the true challenge of shooting on Warped: huge, loud crowds filled with tons of elements and distractions everywhere. I was determined to stick to my constant core photography goal of strong composition with simplicity as much as possible, and somehow translate that to the bustling Warped crowds. At first it was pretty intimidating and overwhelming, but when I reminded myself that I had nothing else to do aside from playing a 30 minute Yellowcard set each day, I was able to really take time to focus and start implementing my normal process. I started slowly wandering through the crowds and becoming comfortable with the locations, and taking short cuts through areas off limits to the public to explore and search for nonstandard perspectives of the crowd and surroundings.

Before this summer, I had never previously done any live music photography of any kind. A few weeks into the tour I realized I had a perfect opportunity to expand my experience even more and try shooting bands, and being friends with most of the bands on the tour gave me the access I needed to shoot how I wanted. I could move all around the stage and sometimes even out onto it, always trying to get the best perspective. One thing I really wanted to incorporate into some of my live photos was showing what it's like from the musician's perspective, which isn't aways what you see when looking at live music photos.

Having spent the first half of the tour doing backstage/behind the scenes/crowd shots, I decided to spend the last half of the tour pretty much just shooting bands, hoping it would round out the entire project in terms of variation of content.

I've been so incredibly lucky to travel the world with my band - it's given me the opportunity to see places and things many people don't get to see. It's allowed me to have some amazing opportunities for photography and I've made it a point to take advantage of them as much as possible. Warped Tour 2016 started out as a challenging and intimidating exercise, but ended up being one of my favorite photography experiences of my life.

Follow me on Instagram: @ryanmichaelmendez

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