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6 Tips for Getting Better Parade Photos

My last article I went over 15 tips for successful fireworks photography. This week I’m following up with 5 tips for better parade photos. I figured it is the season for parades and they’re so much fun I want to give you a few quick tips to help you get more engaging, stunning photos at any parade.

#1 Location, location, location

6 Tips for Getting Better Parade PhotosFind a good spot by getting there early and checking out the parade route. This seems like a no-brainer, but the lighting can be tricky especially if you’re in a spot where the floats and people are half in the sun, and half in the shade. So select a spot where you can either get them all in the shade (and have a shady background too), or all in the sun. Don’t be afraid to move if you find the location you selected isn’t working, for whatever reason. Maybe the lighting is bad, or the background is too busy or too bright. Then see tip #2 below!

#2 Use your feet

Unless this is prohibited by parade marshals or the local police (check first if you aren’t sure so you don’t get in trouble), don’t be stuck to sitting on your butt on the curb.  Get up and move around. Most people that attend parades find a spot and basically camp out there for the duration. But what do you see the real photojournalists doing? The guys and gals that work for the newspapers? Right, you see them following the parade and getting right out on the street.


Notice where I am standing here? In between the dancers, they literally walked around me!

**NOTE: do not get yourself in trouble, if the parade marshal or police tell you to cease and desist please listen to them and follow their guidelines. Perhaps find out ahead of time if you need special permission to walk the parade route.**

#3 Join the parade and a part of it

I followed this float for 5 blocks because their music was so good!

I followed this float for 5 blocks because their music was so good!

Joining the parade either officially, or unofficially can get you closer to the action. Volunteer to be security, or help out and ask if you can bring your camera along. You may get access to backstage areas, or being on the street in places that you might not otherwise get to go.  Many parades, at least here anyway, encourage people to get up and join in and march along behind the bands, or dance behind the floats with the great music. That’s part of what makes parades to universally fun. We have a parade called “Cariwest” which is a celebration of Caribbean culture and music. They highly encourage people to follow them and dance along the entire parade route. I love to attend this parade because it’s so colorful and I can get close to the action. Try to find ones like this, often in smaller cities or towns the rules are more relaxed, so get out of the big city if need be.

#4 If in doubt, back-light your subjects

As I mentioned earlier you can encounter some really tricky lighting situations at a parade. I tend to like to put the sun behind my subjects, then I expose so they are well lit and the background gets overexposed or blow out. I’m fine with that as opposed to the opposite of drab photos in the shade with no sense of drama and separation. The sun creates a rim light (outline on the subject) and separates them from the usual boring buildings behind them.

back-lighting1 back-lighting2

#5 Use a telephoto lens but get in close

Often in my beginner photography classes my students assume that the longer telephoto and zoom lenses are for photographing things far away. While that is sometimes the case, as in wildlife or birds, they have other great uses as well. See my article on “How to achieve blurred backgrounds in portraits” as those tips apply here as well. Using a longer lens and large aperture, will help you get the distracting background of the parade route more out of focus.


I also suggest you get physically closer to the people you’re photographing. This will do two things . . .

First it let’s them see you’re taking their photo, and allows interaction with them if only by eye contact. They know they’re on display in the parade and expect to have their photo taken many times. So if you are hesitant or tentative taking people’s photos this is a perfect opportunity because you have a whole stream of willing subjects literally parading in front of you (sorry pun intended). Sometimes you’ll get a great reaction when they see your camera like the series of images below. She turned, saw me, and I captured a few shots as she rotated and pointed right at me. If I were out on the street edge, likely that wouldn’t have happened.

6 Tips for Getting Better Parade Photos

6 Tips for Getting Better Parade Photos

6 Tips for Getting Better Parade Photos

Second, it will simplify your images and allow you to focus more on one thing at a time. Parades can be visually stimulating, and overly busy so getting in closer will help solve those problems. Pick one person, or one part of a float and get closer.

Float details

Float details

#6 Try to create a series of images that tell a story

Over on my own site I wrote “What is your message? Storytelling photography” and gave some examples. As you photograph the parade try and create a series of images that tell the story of the event, and relate it to someone that wasn’t there. What do you see, hear, feel, taste and touch? What is the main thing you want tell people that see your images of the parade? Journalists will say that you need to cover: wide, medium and long. What that means is show the big picture by shooting some wide shots; show the medium range like one person or one float; and show long or tight shots like details of costumes of floats or musical instruments.  Try to also capture some action images, dancers in mid-bounce, drummers with hands or drumsticks all a blur in motion. A story also needs a beginning, middle and end. Think of those things while you photograph and you may surprise yourself with the results.


Hmm, is it just me or are these firemen enjoying the parade just a little too much?!

Hmm, is it just me or are these firemen enjoying the parade just a little too much?!

Bonus tip

Don’t forget to drink lots of water, stay hydrated, and have some FUN with it!

Have a great summer (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and enjoy it while it lasts.

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Darlene Hildebrandt
Darlene Hildebrandt

is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through free articles on her website Digital Photo Mentor and online photography classes. She also teaches all about photo editing using Lightroom, Photoshop, and Luminar Neo and has courses available on all three.

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