Photographing Festivals

Kim Eung Hwa Korean Dance Company

Kim Eung Hwa Korean Dance Company

If you are looking for bright, colorful subjects to photograph, head for the nearest festival. If you live in one of the nation’s big cities, there are probably several major festivals to choose from.  If you don’t, do a little research. Google is your friend.

The Asian Festival in Columbus, Ohio is one of my favorite events. I try to arrange my schedule so I can be there when Memorial Day Weekend rolls around. I consistently get some new favorite images every time I go.

Some covered festival stages are open to sunlight. Try to pick a time of day that the stage is all in the sun, or all shaded from the sun. It is a nightmare to shoot when the stage is half in sunlight and half shaded. The contrast range is just to great for a camera sensor to handle. At the Asian Festival in Columbus each group performs several times on Saturday and Sunday so you can pick the time/s you want to shoot to get the light you want. Don’t just plant yourself out in front of center stage and shoot away. Sometime you get more effective photos by shooting at an angle from the side. Move between numbers, or shoot the group at more than one performance over the course of the weekend so you aren’t moving around in front of people and blocking their view.

You can get some great images of various groups as they perform on stage, but you can also get great images of individuals and groups when they aren’t on stage. This group was waiting to go on stage and they were quite happy to pose for me while they were waiting for their turn. It is best to catch groups before they perform, especially on a hot day before they perform and get tired and sweaty.

Portraits of individuals and groups usually look best in soft light. I saw another photographer asking performers to face the bright sun. The shadows on their faces were harsh and their eyes were squinting due to the bright light. Soft light is usually best for portraits.

For portraits a shutter speed in the 1/60 to 1/125 speed range is fine. when a group is dancing on stage you will need shutter speeds closer to 1/250 to 1/500 second to freeze or mostly freeze the action (unless you wait for some of the pauses in the dance). You can go the other direction and use long shutter speeds to blur the dancers. For fast enough shutter speeds in the shade you will need to boost the ISO setting on your camera

I don’t want to miss anything when I shoot a festival so I almost always have two cameras and lenses ready to go. For the Asian Festival I had a 24-105mm lens one one camera body and a 70-300mm lens on the other. When I am using one camera, the other is hanging off my shoulder and ready to grab in an instant. Another option is to use a “do it all” lens in the 28-300mm range, but do it all lenses generally don’t have the same image quality as two separate lenses covering the same focal length range. Besides, if one lens dies on you (it happens), you still have at least one lens to shoot with. In addition to the two lenses on my cameras, I had two more in my backpack, a 17-40 mm lens and a 15 mm lens.

The same goes for having two camera bodies so you aren’t out of business if one quits. I get emails that go something like this, “We were in Alaska [Hawaii, NYC, France, Tahiti] and our camera quit working . . . ”  If you are going on a trip of a lifetime, it is just crazy not to have a back up camera, no matter how inexpensive. And no – there are times a camera phone just won’t cut it. I don’t consider my camera phone a true back up camera, not if I am doing something really important.

Some photographers have a two DSLR cameras. Some have a DSLR as a primary camera and a point and shoot camera as a back up. Some photographers shoot with two point and shoot cameras. Do whatever works for you and your budget. When I head out with one DSLR instead of two, I usually have a small point and shoot camera as a back up. For less than the cost of 15 rolls of film plus processing (back in the day), you can get a pretty respectable point and shoot camera.

So go find a festival and have fun!

Photo Data: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 24 mm. 1/80 sec;   f/11;   ISO 400.


Kim Eung Hwa Dance Company

Columbus Ohio Asian Festival