Carnivals and processions are an opportunity to abandon rules and conventions and throw yourself into freestyle photography. That doesn’t mean that you should abandon all planning and technique. Aim to capture the vibrancy and energy of carnival by using slow shutter speeds and selective flash.
Capturing the energy and vibrancy of street festivals and carnivals is a huge challenge. There is always so much going on that you struggle to know what to focus on. It’s best to approach carnival photography with the same light-hearted attitude as the participants. Go click crazy and enjoy your carnival shooting!
Anticipate the action
During street parades and processions always keep one eye on what is coming your way next. The sooner you spot a spectacular costume or a photogenic character, the longer you have to prepare your shot.
Walk procession routes in advance. Make a note of any attractive backgrounds and useful high ground. Also check sunset times so you know when the best light is due.
Portraits are great but…
Carnivals and Mardi Gras parades bring out the exhibitionists: While it is tempting to try and get a shot of every character you see, don’t overdo the portraits. Traditional close-up portraits don’t show your subject in context. Shooting carnival is all about getting interesting people in their surroundings. Take a step back and include plenty of background in your portraits. Otherwise they could have been taken anywhere!
Wide angle shots capture atmosphere
A telephoto lens gets great portraits but tends to blur out background details. Carnivals and processions are all about the overall commotion. Use a wide angle lens and get into the thick of the action. That way your subjects will be large enough to grab attention, but the background will tell the story.
Look for details
With so many happy people milling around it is easy to miss out on detail photos. Shots of a mask on the floor, a drink on a post, or close-ups of costume details add an extra dimension to your photography.
Harness the power of blur
The biggest challenge when shooting a street procession is to capture the energy and movement that you see. This is impossible to record using fast shutter speeds and blur. Knock your shutter speed down to record movement and blur. Don’t be afraid to use shutter speeds of a second, or even longer, once night has fallen. Second curtain synch flash is your most powerful tool. Use it to freeze faces at the end of along exposure.
Ignore the viewfinder
Carnivals are spontaneous, and you can best capture this by ignoring the viewfinder and shooting on the fly. Simply point your camera into the thick of the action and fire away. Don’t worry if most of your shots are unusable. The ones that do come out will show carnival in all its glory. Checking the results all the time wastes valuable time. Trust you instincts!
Climb up high or get down low
Mast photographers stand on the sidelines and photograph from head height. Make your shots stand out by getting above the action by standing on a bench, or kneel down and shoot upwards.
Photographing a carnival or Mardi Gras is a great excuse to throw away the rule book and experiment. Take advantage of the fact that most people are happy to have their photos taken and snap away with abandon.
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