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Photographing Carnivals

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Category: Portraits and People

Carnival Photography Tips - Summer time's carnival time in the UK and they're great places to capture a few colourful characters.

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Venice Carnival.
Above: Taken at a carnival in Venice. Photo by Steve Herring (sherring).

Festivals and carnivals are exciting events where there are hundreds of shots waiting to be captured. The Notting Hill Carnival is the well known Caribbean carnival that takes place between 26 - 27 August 2012, attracting millions of visitors from all over the world. We'll have more on the Notting Hill Carnival later in the month but first lets take a look at some general carnival photography tips.
 

Gear Suggestions:

You need plenty of memory and a bag that's small enough so it won't get in the way but big enough to carry a couple of lenses. If you're going to be shooting from the crowd, which most people do, you'll need a lens with a good zoom range such as a 50-200mm. If you're feeling brave and don't mind approaching people use a shorter lens and pack a wide angle for sweeping shots of the streets.


Technique:


Find A Spot To Shoot From

The main challenge you have at a carnival is finding a position that gives you enough elbow room to work in. At an event such as the Notting Hill Carnival this isn't very easy on the pavement but if you can find some steps to stand on, a doorway to lean against or a small wall to give you a better vantage point you'll be onto a winner as from one of these locations, you'll be able to stay in one place and shoot continuously without having someone knock you off balance.

Arrive Early

If you can't find a spot that gives you a little height you just have to get as near to the front as possible and watch out for the pushes. Although, a little research could give you the insight you need to find a prime position and it may also help you find out where the people involved in the parade set up. With this information you'll be able to get the colourful shots of costumes you're after without a giant crowd getting in your way.

Lighting Problems

Another problem you have is the light as unfortunately you can't tell the festival organisers when to start the procession or be at a certain point at a specific time so if it's mid-day when it passes you, you could end up with overexposed highlights, washy colours and harsh shadows. Later in the afternoon is better but if it gets too late the sun will be setting and the buildings will soon cast long shadows along the streets the festival goers are making their way down. Adding a little flash can help fill in shadows, particularly to faces that may be shaded by head gear and underexposing your shots can combat the overexposed highlights caused by the sun at midday.

Capture Movement

If you're at a carnival which has dancers and floats there will be plenty of movement so crank up your shutter speeds to freeze the action but also try getting creative with your blur and slow your shutter speeds right down to exaggerate the speed and movement in your shots. If you want to take a wide shot of the crowds gathered make sure you have a central point of interest such as a float as without it, the scene can be rather confusing as the viewer doesn't have a main focus point.

Shoot Portraits

As well as shots of the procession don't be afraid to ask individual dancers and festival goers to pose for you. Generally, they've spent so long getting ready for the event that they're more than happy to have their photos taken. Try getting some close up shots of the costumes while they're posed as the detail in them is often quite breathtaking and these, combined with shots of the procession and a few of the food and merchandise stalls will give you a great overall account of the day.







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