A Definitively Unprofessional Guide to Parade Photography

In terms of photos your aunt wants to you show, parade photos are in the middle-tier of boring-ness. They’re more exciting then photos of her kitchen remodel, lake vacation, or friends she hasn’t seen in years. But, they are not as interesting as photos of her hysterectomy recovery, flood insurance photos of her Franklin Mint plate set, or that time she ran into Patrick Swayze’s dad at Subway.

A parade is a collection of energetic happy people attempting to make a permanent impact on their audience via signs, floats, music and tricks, while making a temporarily frustrating traffic situation for non-attendees. On paper it’s photography gold, and the instinct is to capture everything at once, but the beauty is in the individual excitement, emotion and story. It’s a constant flow of photography opportunity, and each individual moment is fleeting.

My lens of choice is a zoom lens, preferably my 70-200mm f/2.8L II lens. This is perfect for the details, but comes with the most dangerous risk/reward ratio. To start, here are some of my favorites.

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Who’s Left and Who Cares

Look Music Aficionado, I took a similar image to the one you used from Getty Images.

This article about 19 classic rock bands discusses the number of original members on tour with them today. In many cases these old bands only have 1 or 2 original members but still tour under the name that brought them fame and success in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s very factual, but doesn’t answer the question of “does it matter?”. For these bands, and for me, the answer is not really.

Chris Thile and Bela Fleck played a prime-time slot at this year’s Grey Fox Bluegrass festival. There is little debate that they are currently the most proficient musicians on their instrument; mandolin and banjo respectively. If they were replaced with the banjo player from Mumford and Sons, and the mandolin player from R.E.M., it would not go unnoticed. They are players that are not easily replaceable. They achieved their fame not because of their image, but because of their mind-blowing ability to play their instruments in a way that redefined a genre of music. I, for one, would be disappointed if there were substitutions.

The same could be said for a local, independent band. There’s a certain charm to seeing a local band in a small venue and crafting their backstory. They are a group of people who met at a local music school and for the love of music got together and started a 5-piece Americana band. They struggle with rent and bills, but that’s not important. They could technically be replaced by studio musicians; the same studio musicians that played on the latest P!ink album. They don’t have the same fictional backstory that I can easily apply to the group of young, struggling musicians. I, for one, would be disappointed if these were the substitutions.

But Classic Rock is different. The band names are household names that outrank any individual contributor. Would I care if the bass player from Kansas was replaced with a teenager who borrowed a bass from his cousin and looked up the Kansas tabs on ultimate-guitar.com? Probably not. Would I notice if the original drummer for Deep Purple was replaced by a robotic manikin and a drum machine. Possible not. But the key is, I don’t think I’d really care.

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A Definitively Unprofessional Guide to Fiddler Photography

A good photo of a fiddler should convey some sort of emotion, but what does that mean exactly, besides sounding kind of obnoxious. I’m not saying that a fiddler is lazy, but they tend to have the most downtime. They may be vamping, which for non-musicians just means they’re pretending to play so they don’t have to leave the stage and sit with the road or kitchen staff. Or they may be smiling and looking at the ground; holding the fiddle by their chin just in case they want to jump in and contribute. They also may be playing which is the ideal time to take their photo. That’s lesson #1. The fiddler should be, or pretending to be, playing and/or otherwise engaged.

An active fiddler makes a lower-case “r” shape. The fiddle is the shoulder and the tuning pegs/scroll is the terminal. For those that have forgotten the anatomy of a lower-case “r”, here’s a refresher.  Since the stem (human body) is much longer than the shoulder (fiddle), and the fiddler tends to stand-up, the simplest photo is taken vertically. This captures the entire subject, and since the subject takes up the majority of the frame, the focus is forgiving. But these full-body photos tend to be boring, and have a snap-shot feel to them. For example:

July 2015. Brittany Hass with Tony Trischka and Territory at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.

It’s a fine image, but it looks like a photo that her aunt could have taken with her iPhone if she snuck up close enough (“hey, I’m her aunt”). So to get a more interesting photo, and ideally the preferred horizontal frame, one must get closer, chopping off the unnecessary legs of the fiddler.

July 2016. Kimber Ludiker with Della Mae at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.

July 2015. Kids at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Oak Hill, NY.

July 2015. Sara Milonovich with Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.

July 2016. Kate Lee with The Mark O’Connor Band at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.

July 2016. Maya de Vitry with the Stray Birds at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.

While those photos don’t look like they were taken with an iPhone, they are also not entirely interesting. I want to get closer, and have a photo with true depth. A fiddle, a face and 2 hands are what’s important here as all other body parts are non-vital to the fiddle playing, and therefore non-vital to my opinion of fiddler photography.

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A Definitively Unprofessional Guide to Hula-Hoop Photography

When I find myself with a camera at summer parades, festival and walk-abouts, there’s typically a hula-hooper that finds their way to the receiving end of my camera lens. But what makes for a good hula-hooper photo? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I don’t have the answer, but that won’t stop me from making something up. All photos are my own and taken between 2010 and 2016.

If pressed to answer this question I’d come up with a few quick rules, or at least things I instinctively think about when shooting the subject.

  1. The face should the the focal point, and any movement/blur should be with the hoop itself, or the body.
  2. The entirety of the the hoop should be in frame.
  3. The photo should be landscape/horizontal when possible.
  4. The eyes should either be showing, in sunglasses, or clearly looking a certain direction, but the subject shouldn’t be looking at the camera. Basically no mid-blinking shots .

In reality I would never follow those rules, especially since the window of opportunity may be relatively small to take the shot.

To start, here are some shots the follow the 4 rules:

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Jason McGorty