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Parade Photography Tips

At this time of year there are many Christmas Parades – but how do you photograph them and get great results? Steve Philipp from Heuristic Research shares some parade photography tips.

If you are a photography enthusiast, like me, you’ll have great expectations when a parade comes to town. (If you are there in some official capacity as a photographer, you’ll know what to do, so this article is probably not for you…)

The problem is: we expect spectacular PHOTOS because of spectacular REALITY. But a barn door may turn out more interesting because of its texture, unique lighting, and composition, whereas you are about to manufacture a lot of pictures in dubious lighting from the same spot.

You snap a few hundred pictures, and when it comes to reviewing it on the computer, you are disappointed. All pictures are kind of contrasty, dark, and very static, because you were with others and got stuck in one place where you could see over the spectators’ heads. That means hundreds of pictures with the same withered tree or wire fence as a background…

What can be done to enliven these pictures?

On the technical side, pay attention to the fact that this is the season for Christmas parades, and in many places it means cold. The sky is usually drab gray, and people tend to dress in dark clothes. Counter it with two different kinds of measures:

  • Zone Metering – Go with the zone (or averaging) metering, forget the spot meter. If your camera is a late, high-tech model, it MAY be clever enough not to push those dark clothes to an 18% gray, but the safest thing is to take a few shots of the spectators before the parade begins and do a -0.3…-0.7 EV exposure compensation if necessary.
  • Vivid Colors and Reduced Contrast Settings – If you have a choice of settings for contrast, colour mode, and so on, try this: vivid colours, but reduced contrast. Enhanced sharpness with normal noise control. This should prevent dark clothes from creating unpleasant patches, and good colours and generally pleasing pictures.

Try to stand where a sudden snowfall won’t force you to cover the lens and quit altogether. Normally, you will get stuck in one place because you’ll never know where you can find a spot where you can see above the spectators, so choose a covered high spot and look in the direction where the parade comes from, so you can get a nice frontal shot. Pay attention to ugly background objects, they are deadly if repeated in every picture! Move if necessary.

For a typical parade spot, a 120 mm (in the old 35 mm film sense) lens is about fine. It should be a zoom, so you can also concentrate on the surroundings, the spectators. Prepare to take at least 200 pictures.

Don’t worry about folding LCD backs or contorting yourself, just take shots blindly if you have to and check the results at once, you’ll get the angle soon and this will make you faster.

The fun starts with the post-processing: cropping will be the way to make your images unique. Try to see if similarly dressed people in diagonals can fill the frame, as it is often the case with parades. In any case, crop tight, so the background is not repeated each time.

And don’t forget the spectator reaction, often this will be your best collection of pictures and will set you apart as the “observant” photographer!

What Parade Photography Tips would you add to Steves? Feel free to share your parade photography in our share your shots section of the DPS forums.

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