6 Tips for Getting Better Parade Photos

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

Find 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.

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Peru (Aug 31st - Sept 13th, 2019), Thailand, and India (Oct 28th - Nov 11th, 2019). To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

Some Older Comments

  • Darlene Hildebrandt September 26, 2013 05:14 am

    @mimi nighttime brings it's own challenges. I suggest this:

    #1 get to the street about an hour before the parade and stake out a spot, otherwise you'll be 5-10 layers of people back and see nothing

    #2 if they allow you to use a tripod use one

    #3 you might need to increase your ISO otherwise everything moving will be blurry. Depending on your camera go to 1600, 3200 or even 6400 if you can still get good quality images.

    #4 use a wide aperture, biggest you've got. If you have a 50mm f1/8 use it at 1.8 - that will allow for faster shutter speeds. https://digital-photography-school.com/why-a-50mm-lens-is-your-new-best-friend

    #5 keep your shutter speed faster than your focal length (read this to help https://digital-photography-school.com/5-tips-to-for-getting-sharper-images)

    good luck and have fun!

  • Mimi September 25, 2013 02:04 am

    I will be in Disney World at Christmas time and would love some tips on shooting some great nighttime parade pics. Ay suggestions? Ty

  • Darlene Hildebrandt August 12, 2013 05:43 am

    @stan awesome can't wait to see them!

  • Stan Mah August 11, 2013 02:56 pm

    Thanks for your tips Darlene.
    I went to Cariwest today (2013). Using your suggestions, I got some great shots.

  • Darlene July 20, 2013 06:45 am

    @Steven - I can't honestly remember I'd have to go look in LR but I think I just took my 70-200 f4 and that's it. I tend to keep it simple for photo walks and events and go one lens.

    @stacie thanks so glad you liked it.

  • stacie July 5, 2013 05:27 am

    Love this acticle on how to photograph parades! And your recent comment on metering for them & not the background helps too :)

  • Steven July 4, 2013 11:27 pm

    Hey there. Awesome photos! I love the color and contrast your images have. They also have a vignette about them but wow the color and blacks are amazing. Which lens did you use other than the telephoto? love the tips, I know u I inspired lots with this article

  • Darlene Hildebrandt July 1, 2013 01:02 pm

    @EJ yes when there are barricades you need permission to cross them. That's also why I suggested small city parades where the rules are a bit more relaxed usually.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt June 30, 2013 09:13 am

    @paul No I didn't use flash on any of them, just spot metering and made sure to expose for them not the background. I just pull out some detail later in LR but usually let the background go white

  • Paul Plak June 29, 2013 06:07 pm

    Hi Darlene, yes having a DSLR with a serious looking lens will help most people (viewers, participants and security) accept you want to be in the front and move around. I also try not to get in their way (this is very important) and will kneel down so they still can see it all (as I'm a fairly big fellow), and this gives you nice low viewpoints and perspective too, without too many disturbing backgrounds.

    It's also a good tip to go some place higher up (stairs, window in a public building) to have some overview, but don't stay there all the show, you need variation in viewpoints to make the series enjoyable if you want to show more than 5 photographs.

    On the backlit photos, did you use fill-in flash ?

  • EJ June 29, 2013 02:48 am

    Here is some parade stuff. All taken behind a baracade. Being on the wrong side of the barricade can land you jail and a hefty fine. http://www.getitwright.net/parade2012/index.html
    They were taken with Nikon D90 and 70-200mm F2.8

  • Mridula June 29, 2013 12:45 am

    Great umages and I liked the one about keeping the sun behind most. Have to try it out. I hesitate and recently found the idea of shooting with a 75-300 less daunting.


  • Evelyn R June 28, 2013 11:21 pm

    Great article and great shots! I am photographing our annual parade that raises money for the local hospital (children's ward) in November, so some of these tips will be good reminders for me :)

  • Darlene Hildebrandt June 28, 2013 12:39 pm

    @Alicia - nope just good old Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada where I live. We love our festivals here!

    @chuck thanks for that, good ideas. I was at the big parade in NYC in the village one year, it was chaos but spectacular!

    @doug that was the idea! Did you read the fireworks one too?

    @Philip, Sharon, Brian, Hansel - thanks for your comments

    @tish - the model release thing is a bit tricky and is different in each state and country so don't take what I say as the end all be all answer, do your own research for your area. But generally, when in a public place you do not need a model release. BUT the bigger picture is what you plan on doing with the photos later. If you are just taking them for your own use or for editorial (like a magazine or teaching like this) you do not need a release. If you want to sell the images or use them to sell a product then ideally you should have one.

    But if you just want to go to the parade, take some photos and put them up on Facebook, no you don't. BUT again I'm not a lawyer or legal expert so don't quote me on it. Perhaps this interview I did with lawyer John Corcoran will help: http://www.herviewphotography.com/2013/05/14/interview-with-john-corcoran-photography-law.html

    @colin if you meant to share an image we didn't get it

    @scottc, guess that's where experience and assertiveness also come into play. For this one I showed up about 15 minutes before the parade did. Found an intersection that wasn't so packed and pushed my way through to the street where I could move around. Put a big lens on and look like you're supposed to be there and everyone assumes your press LOL. I just own it, and I'm only 5'0" so what I lack in size I make up for in pushiness LOL. You've got some great shots!

    @lenny exactly! What a great location you have, you never have to worry about finding parking.

  • Lenny W June 28, 2013 08:39 am

    Good article! I live 3 blocks from the main parade route in Mazatlan, MX and we have tons of parades. I have found some great shooting opportunities by going 2 hours early especially when there are floats etc.. I can generally walk and shoot anywhere I want with no problems and there is not much of a crowd to contend with. Many of the participants are bored with waiting for things to start so you can get some really good poses from them because they are thrilled to have something to do!

  • ScottC June 28, 2013 08:31 am

    This is a great article, I learned about parades by photographing Fasching parades in Germany and a ST Patrick's day parade in Dublin.

    Without Tip #1, you can forget the other 5 because they won't matter. Staked out a spot in Dublin 3 hours before the parade started and defended it with my elbows, if I'd waited another 30 minutes I wouldn't have been near the street.

    Dublin and Fasching Parade Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157634361310213/

  • Colin Green June 28, 2013 08:28 am

    Pic from a recent parade in my home town. The girl noticed I was taking pictures, smiled and waved... Then when she noticed someone she knew I also caught that. Hope you like them...

  • Hansel June 28, 2013 06:46 am

    Really awesome shots! I love how you've filled the frame with all those colours and captured their emotions!

  • tish June 28, 2013 06:09 am

    Great article and fantastic images. Brings up a question though...If you are photographing at a parade (or in my recent case, a music festival), do you need releases for all the people you photograph? I am assuming being in a public place is a factor?

  • DougS June 28, 2013 05:52 am

    Thanks for the tips Darlene. Just in time for the parades on the 4th. :)

  • Phil Walker (Philphotog) June 28, 2013 04:59 am

    Some excellent tips in your piece. I intend covering the famous Lonach Highlanders' March through Donside (Scotland) in August when the Frobes and Wallace clansd combine in this special occasion before the highland games in the afternoon. Usually the clan cheif is none other than Billy Connolly (yes - THE Billy Connolly who is the local laird at Candacraig House). Have covered this event before but will use some of your ideas this time just to see what I can do. Many thanks for your articles. Cheers Phil Walker, Perth Scotland.

  • Chuck Wohl June 28, 2013 04:19 am

    Look for a "smaller town" Gay Pride Parade...typically held in May and June. Great costumes in the parade and on the streets, drag queens, flags, local bands, floats and more. The Parade in New Hope PA is very accessible and is held each May around Mother's Day. This small town has Marching Bands from NYC and Washington DC.

  • sharon June 28, 2013 04:05 am

    fanTAstic article! very helpful! THANKS!

  • Brian Fuller June 28, 2013 03:19 am

    I haven't seen a parade in so long that this makes me want to go attend one and shoot it.
    I do agree with the small town direction in order to get close, but my small town would have given no real interest in decor. Only the big expensive-to-put-on parades are going to have the color and vibrance of outfits and floats.


  • Alicia Mattheson June 28, 2013 02:34 am

    Love the shots!! Where is the location?
    Looks like the Caribbean, or a Caribbean Carnival in Europe or the USA