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How To Photograph Carnivals

Techniques > How To Photograph Carnivals

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Category: Portraits and People

Carnival Photography Tips - For those of you heading off to a carnival this summer, here are a few tips to help you out.

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Carnival and festival season is once again upon us and these events give photographers great opportunities to photograph colourful, vibrant and exciting shots.

Look for stalls with interesting items.


  • A compact with a longer zoom will fit easily in your pocket when moving around the busy streets or pack a DSLR combined with a zoom lens. Don't forget that the Pentax cashback offer which includes DSLRs and compacts ends soon. Visit the Pentax cashback website for more information.  
  • Zoom lens, with a good range – means you can photograph people without getting in their faces and capture a few wide shots of the whole parade. It also means you're not carrying several lenses with you all day which can get tiring.
  • Camera Bag – Don't take anything too big as it will just get in the way and make sure you have it with you at all times. You don't want to create a security threat and you don't want anyone stealing your stuff either.
  • Memory – Pack spare memory cards and plenty of them. You can end up taking lots and lots of shots at events like these. It doesn't hurt to carry spare batteries too.
  • Support – There won't be room for a tripod so if you really do want some extra support take a monopod with you. Although, at big carnivals such as Notting Hill there may not be the space for one and you can end up getting in the way.


Elbow Room

If you have lots of space to work in without others pushing you or getting in your shot you're very lucky. You can try arriving very, very early to get a spot at the front of the curb and just be ready for the pushes who try to steal your spot. By arriving early it also gives you chance to scout around the parade route to see if you can find the participants setting up. If you do find them it'll give you chance to shoot a few portraits before the crowds arrive. Don't be afraid to ask people if you can shoot a few portraits as the majority of them will be happy to stop what they're doing for you and as the parade still hasn't started at that point, their hair and make-up should be perfect too. If you don't fancy the elbow fight try and find a spot that gives you a little height over the crowd. This could be steps leading up to a doorway or something in the street you can stand on. Either way, you'll be able to stay in this one location, photographing the parade as it passes without others knocking you or getting in your shot.

Light Problems

Your kit won't like soggy, wet days but bright sunlight won't do you any favours either as you can end up with shots full of harsh shadows and washed out colours. Couple with that exposure problems and you can find yourself fighting to get a decent shot. Later in the afternoon the light's lower and more even but the buildings which often run along the sides of the streets the parade makes its way around will start to leave long shadows. If you have exposure problems try bracketing and add a pop of flash to fill in shadows that dance across the faces of those involved in the parade. This works particularly well when they're wearing hats and large head pieces that shade the face.

Don't Miss The Action 

There will be a lot of movement for you to capture and if you want to freeze the dancers in your frame you'll need a quick shutter speed. If you want to be more creative, use a slower shutter speed to blur their movements so the speed they're moving at is exaggerated.

Wide Shots

Wider shots, showing the crowds, street, stalls and parade can be interesting but try not to overrun your shot with too many focal points. If the eye doesn't have something to focus on the shot can be rather confusing and look too busy.


Costumes often take hours if not days to put together so take the time to focus in on the colours and decorations on them. These close up shots work well when positioned against larger shots of the parade.

Street Candids

Try shooting from the hip to see what shots of the crowd you can capture and don't forget about the food stalls, merchandise booths and even the long, long queues for the toilets which all help you create a great, overall account of the carnival.

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