Photographing Festivals

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Our first weekend in Tokyo,  just happens to coincide with one of the largest festivals in Tokyo.  Even luckier, it’s right in our neighborhood of Asakusa, which makes it easy to pop in an out over the course of the 3 days of festivities.  Since many of the students are going on Sunday, I thought I’d give a few pointers that came to mind as I’ve stopped by to shoot a little bit.

Research:  See if you can find out a schedule, and try to gain an understanding of the significance of the festival activities.  In the case of Sanja Matsuri, the Japan Guide website is a good source of information.  This allowed me to be on site for the opening ceremony.

Prepare:  Charge your battery, empty your memory cards (and bring extras) and wear good shoes!

Experience:  Festivals are a great time to meet people and have a good time.  Don’t get so caught up in documenting the experience, that you forget to experience it.

Eat:  Fair foods around the world are a treat!

Photographing a chaotic event like a festival can be a challenge.  So, how do you bring order to the chaos to make interesting photographs?

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014

Consider the background:   If you know that a certain activity, like a procession, is going to occur, then position yourself so that you can have an interesting background.   Look for large, simple structures, that can act as a framing device, or that will look good blurred when using shallow depth of field.  Even better, choose a background that gives a sense of place to the action happening in front of it.

Observe other photographers: When I got the festival on Friday, I wasn’t sure of the route, so I noticed a few photojournalist, and paid attention to where they were positioning themselves.  No, I didn’t steal their spot, but it did give me some ideas of where to stand, and what I wanted as background shots.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Get above the crowd:  I thought I’d have an easy chance of this, until one of the photojournalist I mentioned earlier, set up his step stool! Look around to see if  you can stand on a rock or stairway or get on someone’s shoulders like this little guy.

Pay attention to details:  The little things are the adjectives that make the story interesting.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014

Use all of your senses:  Listen for the sounds, if there are drums, there is a party!  While walking back to my hotel this afternoon, I heard the sound of drums, so I followed my ears to find a procession with children playing the drums, and carrying the shrines.  Doesn’t get much more adorable than that.

Photograph the crowd:  Festivals are not all about the parade or procession, the crowd enjoying themselves is also part of the story.

Eat:  Photograph what you eat.  Vendors are often more willing to let you photograph them if you’ve just purchased something from them.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Be mobile:  If you’re going with a group, it’s best to divide into pairs.  If your intention is to photograph, then more than 2 people can have a difficult time navigating a crowd.  Better yet, give yourselves a meeting place, so that you can follow the pictures, without keeping up with a crowd a friends.

Follow the Procession:  There are often good shots to be had as the parade waits to turn a corner, or allow the next float to catch up.

Linger:  Don’t be in a hurry to leave..  It’s not over til the Kabuki Theatre performs.  Just as I thought the festival was over I hear a drum beat, then a flute… next thing I notice there’s a Kabuki performance beginning on a little stage beside the shrine.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014

 

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