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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shooting festivals

I love festivals. Both as a photographer and just to go along to. They always seem to bring out the best in people and the party atmosphere is always contagious.

It's not long now till I head off to photograph Sapporo's big snow festival so to get into the mood I've decided to post some festival pics over the next few days and talk about what's involved.

The first thing you want to do is see if you can get a Press pass. Even if you're not shooting for a job you can often make enquiries to the organisers and they can see about getting you some access to places the public can't go.

That's what I did for the Yosakoi Festival. It's a giant street party where groups of dancers compete against each other while walking in a big circuit around the main streets of central Sapporo.

Having a press pass meant that I could walk in amongst the dancers, stand in the middle of the street and just about go anywhere to get the angle I wanted which was fantastic. The only thing you had to be careful of was that you didn't get in the way of either the dancers or the other photographers and TV crews.

If you can't get a pass make sure you get to any parade an hour or so before it's due to begin. The dancers will all be there ready to start and you can get lots of portraits before the parade proper starts.

Shooting at night like this you can't really use a tripod. Unless you're going for a blurred motion effect you usually want to freeze the action. In conditions such as this it often means waiting for a lull in the movement. Like this shot here where the dancer held this pose for a couple of seconds. How do you know when there's going to be a lull?

You don't! And that's the beauty of digital. You just shoot and shoot and shoot and see what comes out. You can try and predict peak moments of action, make sure you always have the camera up to your eye so that you can get the shot (if you see it with your naked eye by the time you get the camera up it's too late) and then let her rip. You can rest your arms when the action dies down!

Using a flash also helps freeze the motion. Here's the problem though. You'll be shooting under artificial lighting - usually some sort of yellowish halogen type thing. Your flash pumps out a white light. That means that everything in range of the flash will look a sickly white colour whilst everything outside the range of the flash will be a nice warm orange. The solution is to put a piece of orange cellophane over your flash. That will turn the colour of your flash the same as the surroundings.

Just remember that if your camera is in Idiot Mode it will default to something like 1/60th second. If you're in a place that is darker than that your background will turn out pitch black. So you need to shoot in either Aperture Priority or fully Manual. I usually just put my camera in Manual mode, set the shutter speed for about 1/15th second or so and leave my aperture at f8 and take it from there.

And if you shoot in RAW (which I recommend you always do) you can fine tune the white balance afterwards. Remember you'll need a higher ISO to help freeze the motion and let your background burn in.