Tips on Photographing Parades

Collage of parade photos by Jim Austin
© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reserved.

Americans on Parade,
A digital book that shares the joy of seven unique parades across the USA.

For this month’s Light Voyages column, I’d like to share 5 effective ways to take parade pictures. With these tips taken from my book, you’ll be prepared and be sure to take home some great images.

Scout for Shade Ahead of the Parade

Photos of people during a parade by Jim Austin 
© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reservef.

With few exceptions, parades are often held on bright sunny summer days. This is a set-up for images with blown highlights. Sunny, high-contrast lighting conditions create a wide tonal range of lights and dark tones that can be greater than what some camera sensors can handle. Washed out highlights are fine for some landscapes, but for portraits. They can be a problem.

As a solution to this contrasty light, I scout a shaded area of the parade route in advance. Shade keeps people’s faces out of the sun and lowers the contrast between highlights and shadows for more pleasing skin tones and relaxed expressions.

Develop the Details

Photos of people in a parade by Jim Austin
© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reserved.

Focusing on one single detail or specific part of your scene can clarify your vision. Parades present a blur of color that moves past you so rapidly that your compositions have to be seized even faster. Before you touch the camera, try to mentally plan the distance and angle you want to be from your subject. Study the light direction and the quality of light. Then, dial in your wide aperture of choice on your Aperture Priority (Av) setting as you think about how soft you want your background to be.

Since each parade has a vast array of eye candy, I try to focus on small details to show the personality or style of parade-goers. Specific details can be motifs, lines, or tones. For instance, fashion details like the earrings of a Portuguese dancer in a Massachusetts Parade( Photo 3) can be points of interest for the eye.

Photos of a Shriner during a parade by Jim Austin
© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reserved.

Zoom with Your Feet

Parades are a unique events that happen just once. They can pass you in a blur, especially if you stand still. I actively chased many of the images I made for Americans on Parade.

For instance, when a float, a face, or a motif passed by me too fast, I ran along side the parade route to get in front of that part of the parade. I ran to get ahead of the scene before it came by a second time.

For Photo 4, I walked up to the Shriner, smiling at him. As he and the driver were stopped in the parade, I snapped this shot before I took the circus event ticket he was offering. Because their car was paused in the parade, there was more time to include the yellow and red float in the background.

In Photo 5 I was drawn to the angles of the kilts and the road divider lines in the Beaufort, South Carolina parade, so dashed out ahead of them and got prepared to capture the shot.

Photos of people in kilts during a parade by Jim Austin
© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reserved.

Zooming with your feet is an approach I have written about that compliments the use of a single focal-length lens. It requires you to get close and move in with your subject, often within arm’s reach of the person you are photographing. With practice, you’ll find your compositions become pitch-perfect and you rarely stay planted in one spot to zoom only with your lens.

Create Color Contrasts

When I saw the red uniforms these high school marching band members were wearing in Photo 6, a crowded background behind the players interfered with an effective portrait of them, so I lowered the camera position. Now their uniforms could stand out, not against a busy background, but in front of a blue sky.

Photos of tubas in a marching band during a parade by Jim Austin
© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reserved.

Try Fill Flash

Sometimes it is not possible to take your parade portraits in the shade. Instead, consider using daylight fill flash to get better portraits. By filling in the shadows, your fill flash can also save you time by getting the tonal balance correct in the capture instead of boosting shadow detail in post-processing editors like Lightroom or Photoshop. While I could use use off-camera flash for parade photos for softer light, I prefer to keep the flash on the camera’s shoe mount. This keeps all the gear around my neck when I go chasing down an image. In bright sun, I don’t have to worry about red-eye, so a direct flash works well. If your camera and flash allow, try decreasing the power of your flash output.

Photos of people taken using fill flash by Jim Austin 

© 2011 Jim Austin. All Rights Reserved.

Enjoy your next parade photo adventure and most of all, have fun.

by Jim Austin

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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