It never rains at Wimborne Minster Folk Festival: John Tilsley on shooting in unexpected conditions

It never rains at Wimborne Minster Folk Festival: John Tilsley on shooting in unexpected conditions

Some photographers need the conditions to be ‘just right’. Others savour the challenge of adapting to the whims of the elements. Take Tony Worobiec, for example, who believes there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad landscape choices in certain weather conditions. In this blog, Fotospeed photographer John Tisley tells the story of shooting at Wimborne Folk Festival, where embracing the weather conditions helped him to create some of his favourite images taken at the event in 20 years.

“The second weekend in June is always the Wimborne Minster Folk Festival, a favourite event for me. I have been going to it for at least the last twenty years – it’s a wonderful event for a photographer who wants to photograph people having fun. I don’t know if it’s the quantity of alcohol consumed, but both the performers and the audience lack inhibitions – they positively enjoy being photographed. This is particularly true of the sixty plus dance teams which I concentrate on when I visit. Each team has a unique uniform, which are highly colourful using a variety of different fabrics, and most teams also wear elaborate facial make up. These costumes accentuate the energy of each dance. The diversity of the event is hard to comprehend. There are men’s teams, ladies’ teams, mixed teams – cross dressing is positively encouraged. Then there’s the music. Some teams have a single accordionist, others a vast band with drums and brass. It’s always there as a background to your photography.

“Photographing the event is a real challenge because the one thing you can guarantee is that it will be a blazing hot weekend with bright sunshine. Imagine all those bright highlights and dark shadows, not helped by vast amounts of white trousers and dresses, and a plethora of black faces. Everybody is on the move – obviously the musicians and dancers, but also the audience. You have to think very carefully about where to photograph, to minimise the contrast and maximise the movement. You also need to shoot lots, knowing that many images will be spoilt by the intrusion of a stray person, stick, or handkerchief.

“This June’s event was no different. The forecast was good – there was the possibility of a rogue shower, but the map indicated these well to the north of Wimborne. It never rains at Wimborne Minster Folk Festival, so I left my waterproof in the car, a mile from the venue. I started off as usual getting wide angle shots of both dancers and musicians. Then I moved in much closer to photograph the action and to get some candid portraits. Then, after an hour, I noticed a change. The sun had disappeared, it began to darken… was that rain I could feel? The teams kept on dancing. It was rain. The clouds were really black. Suddenly, a torrential downpour, the rain bouncing off the square. What to do? Well, just keep on shooting. The pictures were all around me, as everybody ran for cover. As the rain eased, the dancers kept dancing, adapting their dance to the conditions, the wet surface of the square reflecting their efforts. Then as they were finishing their second dance the sun came out! Perfect lighting, the magic of photography. I knew in that moment that I had bagged a complete section of prints for my new talk. Let’s hope for sunshine and showers next year.”

Find out more about John Tisley at

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Tags: wimborne folk festival, rain photography, printing, photography, john tisley, festival photography