Each year, at the end of the Cherry Blossom Festival, Washingtonians get a chance to celebrate Japanese Culture at Sakura Matsuri. Now in its 56th year, the Sakura Matsuri Festival offers up a mix of martial arts demonstrations, dance and musical performances, saki and sushi stands, and, of course, hundreds of cosplayers taking on the personas of their favorite characters.
A gathering like this is a “target-rich” environment for a photographer. Everyone is dressed in fabulous fashion and is eager to pose for you. “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” one reveler told me. “Cosplayers actually want to have their photos taken. They just like to be asked.”
On the other hand, summer festivals also pose considerable challenges for photographers. The bright, cloudless sky was perfect for people attending Sakura Matsuri, but intense and unforgiving when viewed through a camera. And, there are so many distractions at a crowded event that can ruin a good photo. For every acceptable picture I took this year, I must have had 20 that were unusable. You need to use every trick in the book to boost your success rate. Here are some lessons learned from this year’s shooting:
- Stay Shallow: I often shoot with a very shallow depth of field at crowded events to make my subject pop and soften distractions in the background.
- Bring Your Filters: To get a shallow depth of field in bright sun, consider a neutral density filter. Meanwhile, polarizing filters can reduce glare on DC’s intensely bright days.
- Move Your Model: Your subject wants his/her portrait to look good, so if there is a bank of porta potties behind them, ask them to move.
- Work the Angles: At crowded festivals there is always someone or something in the background that can spoil a good shot, so it can be helpful to shoot from nontraditional angles. For example, try crouching below your subject and aiming up so that she has a bright blue sky behind her rather than a lemonade stand.
- Consider Black and White: Shakura Matsuri hits you with its bright, bold colors, and so it may seem a shame to go with black and white. Still, B&W can minimize distractions and give you a classic look.
- Get Close: For portraits, try cropping everything away except your subject. See below for some of Victoria’s beautiful close-up portraits. You won’t miss any of the extraneous details that were left out.