Seek Out Festivals And Celebrations

Consider scheduling your visits to overlap with potentially photogenic local festivals. Festivals often have many key ingredients for engaging imagery, including happy people who are pleased to share their joy with you, colorful and unique clothing or festival settings, and a celebratory mood overall, which can translate to lively images. Also be on the lookout for celebrations that you weren’t aware of in advance.

In some rural areas, such as the tribal areas of the state of Chhattisgarh in India, villagers (perhaps encouraged by a donation to the village from your local guide) may be willing to perform traditional rituals and dances specifically for your group. During a visit to one of these villages, we had several hours with multiple groups of dancers. Such arrangements can present rich possibilities for action and portrait photographs.

Some festivals get so popular that they are almost overwhelmed with other tourists, who can mar the authenticity of a scene. Consider the Paro Tsechu festival in Bhutan, typically held in March. While all the ingredients mentioned at the beginning of this section are present, there are also hundreds or thousands of tourists, and it can be difficult to capture a festival image without them. Meanwhile, similar tsechus and other festivals are held across Bhutan at other times of the year. During our two June weeks in Bhutan, we photographed three beautiful tsechu festivals in out-of-the-way towns and saw very few tourists. But we needed to invest in day-long drives on precarious mountain roads instead of driving an hour from the Paro airport to the tsechu festival there.

During a visit to Jaipur, India, we headed out for what we expected to be a routine late afternoon of street photography. We started following what seemed to be a wedding procession—always an exciting proposition in India—along the streets. We learned that this Ganguar festival included an event that casts girls and boys as brides and grooms and celebrates simulated weddings for them, complete with elaborate clothes and makeup. That “wedding procession” led us to a park area with dozens of “wedding parties” all begging to have their pictures taken!

One challenge with photographing such dynamic events is that you may need to shift on short notice between wide-angle and telephoto lenses. To maximize your flexibility, you can carry two bodies, each mounted with one of the two lens types, say a Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM lens on one body and a Canon EF 70-200mm F/4L IS USM on the other. I carry the two bodies on a harness so that I have instant access to either focal length range as necessary for the image opportunities I spot.

Zoom lenses give you critical framing and subject isolation flexibility. In the particular pair of lenses above, the longer reach of the 24-105mm lens, compared to a common 24-70mm alternative, gives you more telephoto range on your wide-angle camera, potentially saving you some camera/lens swaps.

Image stabilization can help you preserve the convenience of handheld shooting, even in low light and even for lighter and smaller lenses with relatively slower apertures like ƒ/4. With a slower lens, you may need to use higher ISO settings, but with modern cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, such settings work well. While shooting in aperture priority to control your depth of field, you can set a minimum shutter speed for the expected subject activity level and have the camera automatically boost the ISO level to achieve that speed.

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