When we travel, there are often photographic opportunities at parades. In some cases we just get lucky that there is a parade where we’re visiting. In many cases we traveled to be at the parade, or at least include it as part of our journey.
For hundreds of thousands each year the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro are destinations unto themselves. The nightly parade at Walt Disney World is attended by millions each year. The oldest new year’s parade in America, the Mummers Parade, with its classic string bands and guady costumes, continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors, each year, to Philadelphia from every corner of the Earth.
You might happen upon a special parade like the one in my example photographs, the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series Victory Parade, which more than 3,000,000 attended. Travelers to Philadelphia that day got a big treat to be able to photograph and attend that parade.
You might be lucky enough to see a cultural procession in your travels like the Chichicastenango Sunday market procession.
The most important thing to remember about photographing a parade is that they have two sides; participants and the bystanders. By considering that, when you look at them you will see their contrasts, juxtapositions and incongruity, which will open up many photographic opportunities you would otherwise miss.
Floats can be beautiful, bands can be colorful, the parade can be fun, but if you’ve missed the crowd watching the parade, their reactions to it, and what they’ve brought to the parade themselves, you’ve let too much of the parade pass you by.
Parades and processions are demanding photographic subjects. Mostly in motion, by their very nature, you get little time to create a particular composition. Crowd size alone may make it difficult to move around, to get that special shot.
Here are my top ten tips for photographing a parade:
- Try to get to the front row. Alternatively try to find something to legally climb on to get over the crowd’s heads. Look for some kind of elevated vantage point.
- Scout out a position well before the parade, a day ahead perhaps. Use the web and newspapers to find out the details of the parade route, and the specific points along the route at which the participants will perform.
- When choosing a parade position, avoid busy backgrounds. Since you probably can’t move once the parade starts, this is critical. Choose an attractive, pleasant, or neutral background. Be sure of the sun’s position during your time at the parade. The last thing you want is to have to take your photographs looking into the sun.
- Find a position which has even light, not both strong sunlight and shadow. In a big city parade you might find a great spot under the shadow of a skyscraper.
- During parades people are always moving around. You can easily be pushed just as you take that marvelous photo you’ve been trying to get, so enlist a friend to stand with you as a buffer, or get near a lampost, trash can or something else you can for protection.
- If you made it to the front row, consider taking some photos sitting on the ground and looking up. Shooting up gives the illusion that objects in your photo are larger than life. It’s a different viewpoint which adds interest to your photos. It can also give you a wonderful background when you have a great sky overhead.
- Many parades include floats with moving objects and people. While you can try to anticipate their movement, I think you’d be better off taking a page from sports’ photographers. Set your shooting mode to continuous, (I generally use 5 frames per second). That way you’re more likely to get most of the people and moving objects facing you in at least one photo.
- You’re already close to the parade, but according to how wide the street is, you still might be at a considerable distance for individual subjects. Don’t forget to zoom in to them. I know you want a shot of an entire float, but concentrate on its details too, and on single characters or individuals on it, as well.
- If the parade takes place at night, try to use the parade’s own light sources, instead of your flash. Due to the distances involved it will probably be ineffective anyway. That way, you’ll be able to maintain the mood of the image. Don’t be afraid to bump up your ISO if necessary, but be circumspect about that. Sometimes a blur can be your best friend, especially when it suggests movement. You don’t always have to freeze the action.
- Don’t forget to take plently of photos of the crowd at the parade or procession. Those shots can be priceless.