The 2010 University of California, San Diego SUNGOD festival was held on May 14 and it was a blast. Eight bands, comedians, circus performers (with a twist, but more on them later) and a dance tent with DJs spinning tunes all day.

As a photographer, it was a long day. The doors opened at noon and ended at midnight.

First lets talk about the bands performing that day. Here they are in the order that they played:

  • Diversion Sound
  • Crash Kings
  • B.o.B
  • Michelle Branch
  • The Parsons Red Heads
  • Thrice
  • Relient K
  • Drake

I will have a separate post about the non musical acts that performed during the day a little later on.

Shooting all day festivals are tough. The restrictions are the same as most shoots, three songs in the photo pit and no flash. That means that the eight bands there is a total of 24 songs or about an hour of shooting during an eight hour day. Then there is the light. It starts out bright and directly overhead and makes it tough getting any kind of dramatic lighting and ends up being a standard stage lighting shoot.


Lets start with the headliner act: Drake. Drake is Aubrey Drake Graham, a Canadian actor and musician who became known for the role of Jimmy Brooks on the television series, Degrassi: The Next Generation. He has worked with Lil Wayne, Birdman, and Kanye West. The stage setup was rather boring with Drake being the center of all the attention and the lights. His musicians were relegated to the back row and were nearly invisible during the show or at least for the first three songs of it.

I started the Drake set using the 70-200mm f/2.8, but as first song progressed I switched to the 24-70mm f/2.8 getting a wider view on the scene and finally I switched to the 16mm f/2.8 fisheye to make sure I got some of the surrounding lights and stage in the shot. The stage was a mix of different lighting styles, from color washes and spotlights to the newer LED lights and even bounced lasers. I shot the set (like most of my concert shots) in manual mode, adjusting the shutter speed between 1/80 and 1/250. FOr the last of the three songs, I switched back to the 70-200mm lens to get s few closeups but with the set mainly backlit and no spotlights these lacked the drama that I really wanted.

Relient K

Relient K is hard to describe the first time you hear them, which for me was at this show. Part punk, part pop and highly energetic. They put on a great set and was one of the best bands to shoot that day.

For this set, I again used the 70-200mm, the 24-70mm and the 16mm fisheye all on the Nikon D700. There was plenty of space to move and work in the photo pit but some of the other photographers and videographers present didn’t quite understand the idea of shoot and move and staked out a spot for all three songs.

All the shots were at ISO 1600 with shutter speeds from 1/125 – 1/250 and f/2.8


Thrice was probably the hardest rock music of the day and would have been a blast to shoot if it wasn’t for the terrible timing if the lights. They took the stage at 7:10 and the sun hadn’t quite made it to the that great evening light and the stage lights were a little dim to really fill in with color. What we were left with was a band playing in shadows with very little hope of getting a great lighting moment. We would have been much better off shooting their last three songs but thats not the way it works.

For this set I stuck to the 70-200 for most of the shots since who wants a fisheye view of a bland stage rafters.

The Parsons Red Heads

The Parsons Red Heads are another band that is hard to describe, with a 60s pop sound, mixed with that indie folk that seems very popular today. The crowd knew and enjoyed them. They have a pretty distinct look and it would really be fun to shoot this band under proper concert lighting but since they were playing in the afternoon, it was all bright sunlight.

On the plus side, the light was so bright that I could use low ISO and high shutter speeds, while still using a relatively shallow aperture since the backgrounds were very bland and I needed every trick in the book to get the musicians to stand out.

Michelle Branch

Michelle Branch was great. She had a great attitude and friendly banter with the crowd and sounded great.

There was not much movement on the stage. The challenging part was to try to get some drama in the images. Again, I chose to get in tight with the 70-200mm since it kept that drab, boring background to a minimum.


B.o.B. aka Bobby Ray is a young musician from Atlanta, Georgia who has the #1 album in the country when this show was shot. The real question was why was he on in the middle of the day?

Flat light and a very crowded photo pit along with ugly backdrops made this a real challenge. I think the hardest part was to watch him go out into the crowd, but since it was after the first three songs, NO PHOTOS PLEASE. He did make it down to the crowd for a minute or two during the first song, but when the young fans started trying to rip off his clothes he climbed back up on stage. You can see in the later photos that his red belt is hanging off. I shot this set with the 70-200mm lens mostly because he didn’t come close to the side of the stage I was on. It was very difficult to get from one side to the other with the combination of security and videographers.

Crash Kings

Crash Kings

Diversion Sound

Diversion Sound, a local band opened the festivities on the main stage. I got the stage late and shot from outside the photo pit using the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. The light was really flat since the show started at 1pm.