Festivals are full of life and terrific subject matters for any photographer. While photographing festivals can be lots of fun, they can also be quite challenging to shoot. Festivals photos are documentary oriented shots, as you must be able to quickly grasp what is going on around you, while at the same time compose a picture that actually says something about the vibe of the place and the people that are enjoying the festival. Swift decisions are a must and in those fractions of a second, you will surely find something that was well worth turning into a still image.
Here are a few pro tips to get you started:
- Before heading out to photograph a festival, do some research about its cultural context and study the schedule so you know what you really would not want to miss out on.
- Check weather conditions to know more or less days and nights you will have ahead, and how they could affect your pictures.
- When traveling there, try to find a point of view as to what would like to capture wether it is people, colors, lights, textures or anything that will make you focus on your subject matter. However, do stay open for new angles or takes of things you did not think about beforehand, surprises and improv are part of the excitement of shooting at festivals!
- Because of that, consider mounting a zoom lens that will allow you to go from wide angle to telephotos in a matter of seconds.
- And last but not least, do take extra care of your equipment as in large crowds some can get lost or even stolen. But don’t worry too much, just be aware of your surroundings and enjoy the ride!
Here are our selections of the best festivals to photograph from around the world:
Notting Hill Carnival, London, UK
For a city as organized as London, it is amazing that the Notting Hill Carnival takes place every year during the holiday Bank weekend at the end of each August. There is so much happening on the streets with a great sense of improvisation in the air, that it quickly becomes a life affirming event. It will be packed for sure, up to the point where you could literally be walking on thin air due the volume of attendees. But it is so rich in people, color, music, food, art, and culture that it is just too good to be true… and as you can imagine, loads of fun to photograph!
Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France
In May, everyone wants to be in Cannes for what is clearly the cinema event of the year. What takes place in the theatre is one thing, the most amazing movies and exquisite selection of films, but what happens outside the venues is a whole other world. It is both the glamour and anti-glamour. The red carpet is so crammed with photographers and camera crews that standing there you will have to address the big screens to check out the stars walking up the steps to the Lumiere theater. Nevertheless, what makes Cannes such an interesting place to photograph isn’t so much the glitz guests, but rather the people that come from all over the world to attend the festival. You will find a wide range of old and young people with some smart dress and others so light on clothes they could just as well go undressed. In a nutshell, it is a sort of a circus mayhem.
Glastonbury Festival, Glastonbury, UK
Many of your favorite bands could end up on Glasto’s lineup late June and of course, you want to be there. Problem is, unless you are a press journalist or photographer, you won’t be able to get too close to the stage because this is such a massive event with multi-venues that you might as well just enjoy being there and feeling the music. But then again, this is what makes it a wonderful photo shoot. Glastonbury is an unleashed adventure in all senses: attendees from all over the world camping out for days and nights sharing music and experiences is an absolute theme subject for any photographer. You can imagine what you will see and capture with your lens throughout the fest.
La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
Have you heard of a food fight festival? We have to assume La Tomatina is one the best of the lot: for throwing tomatoes at each other, that is. In Spain on the last Wednesday of August in Buñol, a small town near Valencia, people gather around one hundred metric tons of ripe tomatoes thrown in the streets. It is, to say the least, incredible. The festival also features music, dancing and fireworks. Do take a proper cover for your camera gear, some good goggles, and get ready to clean your lenses plenty of times. Be sure to duck and dive!
Holi Festival, India
This is such a fantastic place to be at this time. Around the end of February or beginning of March on the last full moon day, the Holi Festival is a triumph of good over bad. People get together, hug and wish each other Happy Holi. The colors express joy and renew relationships among the people. Needless to say, but wouldn’t it be a wonder to photograph? Few words can describe what it feels like to be there, so we think pictures have more to say than words.