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Photographing at Festivals: Faces in The Crowd

If you enjoy street and action photography, festivals are the place to go. Festivals offer actions and colors in a single place that only a few other scenes can match.

However, a festival is not only a place where you can capture staged actions; it's also an excellent venue for candid people photography. This is what I usually do when I can't get a perfect spot to capture the actions: I turn my camera to the spectators. They can provide pictures as lively and fascinating as those of the event itself.

What do you need to do to get good candid photographs of people at festivals?

Scan the crowd often and look out for interesting faces and expressions. People cheering and laughing on a performance, for example, can make marvelous subjects for candid photography. Sometimes, when you get lucky, you can also find a rare candid moment of people doing things that is otherwise hard to get anywhere else. Just a couple of weeks ago while I was photo-hunting at a festival, I spotted a child playfully running and playing among the crowd while his mom was chasing after him. The scene was very expressive and was a perfect candid photo op of people.

There are basically two approaches you can take about capturing faces in the crowd. First, you can use a telephoto lens. This kind of lens is very useful especially when your position is at a distance away from the scene you want to photograph. The shallow depth of field and the narrow view of a telephoto lens enable you to isolate the subject and throw the background details out of focus. The characteristics of telephoto lens, which as you know tend to compress perspective, may also come in handy especially when you want to capture the different facial expressions in the crowd.

If you only have a standard or wide angle lens, or if you happen to be in the middle of the crowd, take advantage of your position by looking for interesting subjects near you. Unlike the first approach with the telephoto lens where you can observe your subjects from a "safe" distance and somewhat take your time in choosing and aiming at your subject, the use of standard or wide angle lens requires that you aim and focus swiftly, so that you don't lose the candid moment in front of you. (Remember, the subject's awareness of the presence of your camera can change the scene from candid to posed, which of course will make your photograph less interesting.)

Text and photos by Eki Qushay Akhwan.
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