Mardi Gras: Photographing Street Festivals and Parades

Photographing Street Festivals and Parades

Happy Mardi Gras!

I’ve visited New Orleans several times so far, at times, around Mardi Gras. I love the beads, masks, and parades that take over the entire Crescent City.

But Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) is one of the street festivals some of us hope to attend and capture in pictures and words. That brings up the question: how does one get to cover a street festival and/or parade?

Pre-Mardi Gras Parade and Beads. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Throwing Beads. NOLA. Photo by Alina Oswald.

First of all, find out everything you can about the event you’d like to cover ahead of time. Do not wait until the day before the actual event.

Do your homework: research the event; find out how or who can get press passes for that particular event. If you write or photograph for a publication that covers similar events or if you are a student working on a project and you’re on a student assignment or working on a project documenting such an event, you have a good chance of getting that press pass. It also helps to be able to provide links to samples of similar work. If that’s your first time covering such an event, it’s okay. Just explain why you’d like to cover it.

Check out the contact for media or press coverage on the event website. Sometimes you might have to complete a form. Other times, you might have to send an email. Ask (politely) for a press pass and explain why you need it. Sometimes, in exchange for that press pass, you might be asked to share a few images or a link to images and/or articles about the event. Usually, after applying for the press pass you get a confirmation email or an email response with further instructions. Do follow those instructions.

On the day of the event: make sure you have your gear ready. Get there early. Make sure you have a picture ID with you. Get your press pass and place it somewhere on you–around your neck or on your clothes–so that everybody can see it. Attend a pre-event press conference, if there is one. Take notes. Ask questions, if needed. Prepare your questions in advance, in particular, if you have to write a blog post or, even more important, an article documenting the event. Whenever possible, in particular with pictures (and also if you want to use a quote from someone), it’s usually a good idea to introduce yourself and tell them what magazine you’re working for (if that’s the case). Usually, people see the media passes, and expect to be photographed. Usually, there’s no time for chit-chat, but, whenever possible, and again, in particular, if you plan on using that quote or picture, explain to people briefly what or why you’re photographing them or writing down their words.

Take your time photographing before the event begins. Cover the story from all angles possible. Write down (or record) notes to self, if necessary. They’ll come in handy when working on pictures, in post.

A few other things to remember:

Mardi Gras beads on Garden District fences. New Orleans. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Don’t miss the start! That first row of marchers makes usually one of the most important shots.

Don’t be in anybody’s way! Keep your gear and yourself safe. Follow the rules.

Photograph and take note of everything–marchers, audience, bts type of images, etc. Be aware of everything that’s happening around you, as much as possible. Remember, you can’t really ask them to ‘do it again.’ It’s a one-time shot.

After the event, go through your images and select a few that, as a body of work, tell the entire story. If you promised sample images, do keep that promise and deliver those images. If you have a written story to submit, do that, before the deadline. This truly comes in handy if you want to report on annual events on a regular basis.

While covering the event, don’t forget to be safe, and also to enjoy the experience. After all, that’s why you are there in the first place.

Have a safe and Happy Mardi Gras! Let the good times roll.

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

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