Parade Photography Tips

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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Some Older Comments

  • Boston Digital Imaging December 31, 2008 02:30 am

    Some great tips when shooting for a parade.

    It's important to rely on a variety of different angles and not in terms of where you are positioned, but what you are shooting. Take pictures of the parade participants, the crowd etc...also move around, don't stay in one place. This will give you a better chance of getting some really great photos.


  • Aaron Snyder December 25, 2008 10:08 am

    Always remember that people in a parade, for the most part, want to be looked at. Also as the famous conflict phtographer Robert Capa said "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough." For this reason get off the side lines and try to walk in between sections of the parade. This lets you get shots straight on. I like to use a slightly wider lens 20-50mm and get close to get a bigger feel. I also like to mix things up with a longer lens -- people have great expressions.

    This biggest things to look out for are backgrounds, thats why the straight on shots work best because you have more of the parade in the background. I have some great shots from the Ohio University homecoming parade here:

    Hope this helps everyone. Merry christmas. Your tips are always appreciated.

  • Robin Ryan December 24, 2008 02:22 am

    Get high, get low, and choose your target. Shoot at 5.6 or lower to keep the focus on the object of interest. Don't hide - you want the person to look at you. Use the light and shape of larger instruments to your advantage.

    I got caught in an impromptu Oaxacan parade last year -

    I was pretty happy with the results

  • Rosh - new media photographer December 24, 2008 01:42 am

    Hey, just a few thoughts of my own.

    As a newspaper photographer, I've shot tons of parades. Sometimes 3-4 in a day.

    I would always use the triangle method Wide, medium and close-up. Always looking for the details.

    If your behind people there is nothing wrong with holding your camera high (as implied in the post) and just shoot, I did it all the time.

    Also, remember to look away from the parade and photograph all the interesting people watching. Kids are always great.