Summer becomes official this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, which means you can retire the down jackets and break out your Miami Vice white linen pants and flip-flops. With summer comes street fairs, county cook-offs, carnivals, festivals, and swamp-ass. With all of the activities come crowds and with crowds come interesting people, places, and things to photograph. Below are some ideas to help you capture interesting photos while elbow to elbow with stranger dangers.
Festivals of all sorts can attract many different types of people from all walks of life, with the good comes the bad. Seems obvious but don’t leave your bags unattended, don’t even set it on the ground next to your feet while you talk to a friend. It takes just a moment for a shady character, we’ll call him Sam… It takes just a moment for a Sam to run past, grab your bag, and disappear into the crowd with all of your snacks and gear (I assume you had snacks in your camera bag… Probably fruit snacks?).
Just like photographing in the city, don’t wander down creepy alleys between buildings or tents. Also, avoid clowns… Just avoid them. Why? Other than the fact that one of the most notorious serial killers (John Wayne Gacy) was a clown? The fear of clowns actually has a name, coulrophobia… Also, clown and devil are both spelled with five letters… Coincidence? I think not.
Seems pretty straight forward… Bring a camera.
The trick to good composition in crowds is making your subject, the interesting part of the frame, stand out against the camouflage of similar and distracting elements all around it. The three best ways to make your subject stand out are isolation, utilizing the environment, and perspective.
This is probably one of the more popular and easier methods of making subjects stand out in a crowd. You can use your aperture (shooting in aperture priority makes this easy) to open your aperture wide and render your subjects surroundings blurred and less distracting.
Another way to isolate your subject is to get close or compose in a direction that makes the subject look isolated. By moving around your subject you can find an angle where it looks as if the subject is standing all by themselves.
When I talk about using the environment I mean using anything naturally occurring on or around my subject. This could be lighting, structures, landscape, and other people (among other things). Using the subjects environment to isolate it or them means I’m not relying heavily on depth of field.
The photograph above has a sign with a very obvious arrow pointing to the subject in the frame. The subject in the photograph below naturally stands out because of the umbrella she is holding… Something that is part of the natural environment of the scene, not something planned.
As with any type of photography, you’ll want to change up your shooting angles in order to capture something from a unique perspective. In the photograph above I knelt down and waited a few minutes to capture this scene. The shot was taken on the Brooklyn Bridge during the busiest time of the day.
People, places, and things. Don’t limit yourself to one type of subject when you’re in a large crowd. If you keep an open mind you’ll capture far more interesting shots than if you approach the day looking for a specific shot.
When in crowds it’s tempting to only want to photograph interesting people but there are often other interesting things to photograph (the rides at a carnival, antiques, etc.).
Even though the bridge was extremely busy, simply looking up I was greeted with this beautiful scene.
Sometimes if you wait in a specific spot for a little while longer you’ll be presented with an interesting scene. The shot above was taken in one of the most crowded areas in all of New York City, Times Square. I waited for about 15 minutes for this particular sequence of people to walk by. The timing of the shot captured all three of them with a similar gait almost equally spaced from one another.
Next time you see a potential shot but are dismayed because you feel like there are too many people, wait a little longer and see if the stars align.
These are just a handful of ways you can capture interesting photographs in crowds, what are your favorites? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below and you can share your photos on our Facebook Page or on our Flickr Group.