This month I got to cover two unusual street events in Europe.On the first Saturday of April, there are over 50 cities who participate in the “international pillow fight day”. I covered this event for the first time last year in Berlin. This year I decided to go to Amsterdam instead which turned out to be on a much larger scale. A few days ago, I was in Paris to cover the “color run” which takes place in different cities (lots of them in the USA). On both occasions, I was reminded how important it is to be prepared to avoid some mistakes and make the best of it. I thought it might be useful to share my recommendations for those of you who might be interested to attend and photograph this type of events :
- Prepare your event.
When you have decided to cover a street event, the first thing to do is prepare for it. If you are not familiar with the location and/or the event itself, it is a good idea to search for information on the website. Most events have either their dedicated web page or a Facebook page. In addition to practical information, you may also images taken during the previous years that may inspire you. Additionally contact the local tourist information office which may have information about it.
- Arrive early !
The preparation stage does not eliminate the necessity of getting there early. First of all some events require some kind of check-in through security or to get a pass. There are also some events which may have some gates or lanes so getting there before the big crowds will allow you to get to the best spots first.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
I guess this one needs some explaining. I have covered hundreds of street events over the last decade and I cannot count how many times i have observed the following : Say for instance you are going to a carnival to make pictures of people in costumes. That should not preventing you from recognizing and capturing another kind of image opportunity presenting itself during the event . Last year I went to Osteende (Belgium) to photograph a festival about air balloons. I took several hundreds pictures of balloons and got some good pictures but ended up with a picture of musicians walking in a street as my best picture while I was there.
- Think of the Non-photo stuff you will need.
Ok, as a photographer you are fully aware that you need to prepare your photo bag wisely. if you are going to be in a crowded environment with little moving room bringing your tele-zoom may not a good idea. You also want to avoid to carry more than necessary for many reasons ( avoid fatigue or attracting too much attention..)
For those of you who are interested here is what I took to both events :Ricoh GRII with its hood and the 21mm optional converter along with my Olympus Em5II along with a few lensesThe pillow fight event requires you to get REALLY close to the people fighting (think anywhere between 3 to 7 feet) and autofocus is not that useful because of people arms moving and feather flying all over so, not surprisingly, I ended up using the GR almost all the time. I usually like to take some time composing my images carefully but in such events this is NOT an option so you will normally get a lot of hits and misses (arms moving in front of your lens,..). This is why the larger buffer of the GRII along with the snap focus are invaluable assets in this case.For the color run, I was not able (or willing) to make all the pictures in the middle of the runners.I idid use the GR for the “yellow part” of the race but covered the “blue part” of the race from above the track and for that the focal length of the GR just could not cut it. Therefore, I used my 40mm and my 70-200 equivalent Panasonic lenses for most of the time.But my point here goes above the photo equipment to choose. Instead I want to stress how important it is to think of the OTHER stuff you need. If you are in a long event in a unpredictable climate you may need rain protection for yourself and for your bag. In the case of the two events illustrating this article, getting a surgical mask was REALLY useful ( and you can get them for almost nothing in your pharmacy). Had several of those at the color run which saved me a lot of coughing and could have used those at the pillow fight as well.For the pillow fight you want to think carefully about the fabric of the top layers you are going to wear as feathers are everywhere and will really “stick” to cotton or, worse, wool clothing.In this case wearing synthetic is a better choice.
- Communicate and exchange !
When you shoot in really crowded environments, you never know how identifiable the participants are going to be . Acknowledging people during such events makes for a much more pleasant experience and proposing people you have photographed for a while or close-up is usually a very good idea. So make sure you have business cards (and/or a small notebook with a pen) handy. And if you plan to maybe cover this event again in the future, this is a great way to make some contacts that will be grateful and helpful in the future.
Happy Shooting !