how to photograph a festival
“Festivals are fun. Even solemn events are incredible times to meet local people and see your destination when it is at its most characteristic. Visit Pamplona outside of San Fermines and it’s a drab industrial town. Visit during fiesta and it comes alive in a riot of colour, exuberance and sangria! Similarly, visit any of India’s great religious festivals and you’ll get an insight into the real nature and beliefs of the people and their culture.
Festivals can be tough to photograph successfully, but here are a few simple rules to help you to get the most out of the experience…
Find out what is going on
There is no substitute for knowledge. Find out what is happening and when. Check times and routes for processions and then walk the route to look for good vantage points. Try to get a schedule of events and see what things you want to photograph. Try to find out the things that really sum up an event and make sure that you are there to photograph them.
Don’t just get hung up on the main events though. Some peripheral things can say more about the festival and be easier to get close to. Look for people getting ready for processions, impromptu gatherings or people eating characteristic dishes that relate to the event. All of these will present great photo-opportunities and give you a more rounded coverage of the event.
Carrying too much gear will not only tire you out by the end of the day, it will make it harder to move fast and weave through crowds. Pack down as much as possible and use a small camera bag if you can. But make sure that you have a couple of spare batteries and a number of memory cards. If the festival includes anything messy, such as the Lao New Year water-fights, or the Spanish Tomatina tomato fight, then don’t assume that you won’t have things thrown at you because you are a tourist with a camera! Bring along protection for your camera, such as a bespoke rain-cover and use it at all times!
Put things in context
Whether you are photographing a person or a plate of food, try to shoot it in such a way that you give it a context. This can be easily done by including something to do with the festival in the background. For instance, if you are photographing a band at an elephant festival, then compose so that you include some elephants in the background. Your shot will not just be more visually complex, it will have a greater meaning.
Remember to enjoy yourself
Festivals are meant to be fun. Even relatively solemn religious festivals can be a great source of pleasure for those involved, and most cultures will be happy for you to share the experience with them. Don’t hold back: get involved in everything that you can (bearing in mind local culture and sensibilities) and not only will your pictures show a greater sense of engagement, you will have memories to treasure.”
Steve Davey is a writer and photographer. He leads his own range of photography tours, with all of the land arrangements provided by Intrepid Travel. The next tour is Impressions of Ladakh in July, 2013, which visits this high altitude region of India. It will be a perfect chance to try out these tips when you visit a couple of unique festivals! More information on bettertravelphotography.com/phototours/ladakh.
Photo: © Steve Davey