This blog has been relatively quiet for the last few weeks. The reason is I have been busy covering some festivals and carnivals. Early this month, I was covering a gathering of Venetian costumes in the beautiful gardens of Annevoie in Belgium.
For me this was a follow-up of my attending the Carnival in Venice last February. Last week I was at the 30th kite festival in Ostende (also in Belgium)
and last week-end I attended the LGBT festival in Brussels :
Three different instances with one common point : Making great pictures is complicated by the necessity of dealing with large crowds. I thought it might be useful some advice that are usually present in most instances :
1/ Arrive early and/or stay late.
In such events there is usually an official parade of some kind. In my experience this is rarely the time to make the best images. if People are in a defile, your mobility is going to be reduced and even if you can get in the middle of it (press card,luck,..) your subjects are usually looking on both sides to wave at the crowd behind the barricades. Better images are possible when you arrive before the walk officially starts
2/ Carrying your equipment.
When photographing in crowded environments, quick access to the equipment is often key for getting the right picture at the right moment. While I usually prefer a backpack for carrying my equipment when traveling, a shoulder bag is much better when shooting in crowded spaces, especially if you can access your camera from the top without opening your bag. My favorite line is this one or this one
3/ Choosing the right equipment.
At the risk of shocking some of you, I think here the common mistake is to take too much equipment. Very often, I see photographers who seem to spend more time changing their lenses, adjusting their flash or tripod settings than composing their image. Better to arrive prepared, which means, among other things, to get an idea of how close you will be able to get to the subject, to check sites that show you the exact location, spotting the location the day before (when it is possible).
4/ Getting ready when waiting.
In such events as the ones described in this article, your time to make your image is going to be short because you will likely be competing for space and time with other photographers and, alas, the selfie crowd. Therefore you need to adopt your way of working with the circumstances. Do not wait until this is your turn to check your aperture and speed settings , or flash or battery charge level, change the lens if you are going to use another one that the one currently mounted on your camera… Showing your subject you are ready for him or her and use the short time you have to direct the subject and refine your composition will produce better images.
5/ Incorporating the subject in its environment
In crowded spaces, a normal reflex is to try tight compositions either by getting close to your subject (most likely in front of other people) to capture your subject or by using a long tele lens. This could result in nice images but often tend to produce predictable, boring images. If you are working on a complete series on that given subject, you want to have some pictures framed loosely to incorporate elements in the composition which speak about the event. If you ever get to put together an exhibit or a book on a given subject, it is important to have images that can be used to introduce the subject. (the picture of the kite festival shown hereunder was made just for that purpose).
6/ Remember to vary angles of views, perspective and way of seeing
Being surrounded by hundreds or thousand people taking pictures of a popular event allows you to see the standard picture made by most. I am often stricken by the lack of imagination of people photographing a popular venue. Not following the common path is often the first step towards interesting images. There are many ways to achieve this : change your perspective by lowering your camera or shooting from above , or shooting the event before or after (at the kite festival some of my favorite images were made before the kite was inflated)
or maybe putting the main subject in the background ( like here for the event with the venetian masks)
7/ Keeping your eyes open.
Ok so you are somewhere covering a given event. This does not mean you should forget to keep your eyes (and your mind alert) for other photographic opportunities, not directly related to the event, which may present themselves. As a matter of fact, I cannot count the number of times when the best image I brought back when covering an event was in fact not about the event.