So, I did go and take pictures of the Puerto Rican parade Sunday. With almost 1400 shots, editing them down becomes quite a job. More about that in the next post.
My selects are below, intertwined with my impressions from shooting the parade. Hopefully, my experience is of some use to photographers planning to cover this or other festive parades in the future.
The crowd loved to be photographed. A little girl looking bored, pepped up and struck a cute pose the moment she noticed my camera pointed at her.
You’d think I’m a popular guy, because every time I steered my camera toward the crowd, I got cheers and kisses thrown my way. People would call me over to be photographed. Only one time did a guy refuse to have his picture taken. He was a tough-looking guy with bright red sunglasses and a bright red bandana. Admittedly, I was right in his face, because it was extremely crowded. Still, it would have made an interesting shot.
Covering this parade as a stodgy white guy from the suburbs is like traveling to another culture. Tourists trapped in the crowd seemed lost. Two young orthodox Jewish women had expressions of horror on their faces as they asked a police officer how to get out of there (I missed that shot, couldn’t move around fast enough). The crowd was loud, the music was loud, the tattood guys in the back were oogling the girls passing by, sometimes a whiff of marihuana blew in the air, despite the enormous police presence. But it was generally all in good fun. People were happy and proud. I noticed one instance of a fight almost breaking out, but the bystanders and one cop cooled down the scene.
I didn’t walk the whole parade route. Instead I joined the parade at 56th Street and walked up on the parade route until about 65th Street, stopping at several spots to take pictures with a certain mix of the crowd in the background. Then I walked back to 59th Street and went into the crowd along Central Park as far as I could walk. At some point, bleachers for invited guests take up the sidewalk and Fifth Avenue is closed for several blocks. That’s where I went back into the parade route and walked up further. Last year, when I didn’t have a media pass, I had to walk up on Madison Avenue before I could again reach the parade further north. Close to the end point, I turned back and walked against the parade route to 56th Street where the final leg of the parade was just passing through. A good walk, all in all.
During the course of the parade, the sun drifted over the avenue and posed challenges. Some parts of the scene got sunny, others stayed dark. Shadows were harsh. People under the trees along the park were in the shade. The buildings along Fifth made the longer view into a contrast-rich mosaic. I generally let my cameras deal with the situation, but tried to avoid areas where I’d run into too much contrast.
I did shoot about 1400 images.
In the end I used two Olympus OM-D E-M1 bodies, one with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens constantly mounted on it, the other one with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 mostly on it. I once used the Olympus body cap fish-eye lens and I sometimes used the Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens.
The cameras mostly behaved fine. Under fast-moving circumstances like a parade and a crowd of excited people, you notice there’s still a slight lag in the EVF when switching cameras. Sometimes focus wasn’t immediately achieved, but since I often shot in slow bursts, the camera achieved focus often enough during a burst. The reason I didn’t shoot in fast bursts is that I would have ended up with way too many images.
I’m happy I let those cameras rip, because people were waving flags. I got dozens of shots where someone’s face is covered by a flag but the next frame is fine.
I used my lenses mostly wide open or at around f/8. The latter was actually not smart, since I found myself quite often in the shade and my shutter speed would slow down too much to freeze motion when I wanted to.
Generally, I was happy with my lens choice. I wish Olympus had already introduced the announced 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens, as I would like to have had a wider option. The 12-40mm was fast, sharp and performed well. I did miss the ability to have really narrow depth of field with that lens, though. An aperture of f/2.8 on a micro four-thirds sensor equals f/5.6 full-frame.
That was not the problem with the 75mm, which I used almost exclusively at f/1.8. This lens never disappoints.
I can’t say that about the 14-150mm. I had brought it because I wanted an option longer than 75mm (150mm full-frame equivalent). The lens was often too slow to focus. It’s not really up to speed for situations like a parade.
Looking back, I probably should have brought a few more small primes with wide apertures, such as the Olympus 45mm f/1.8.
With the exception of one pro with four cameras, the professionals covering the parade seemed to be using DSLRs exclusively, often with long glass. I probably would too if my livelihood depended on getting the shot. Many also had flashes mounted on their cameras, again a good idea if you have to capture celebrities in the contrast-rich environment. You want to be sure your main subject is well lit if you get paid for that shot.
I’m not a pro photographer and never used a flash. I had two small Olympus units in my bag, just in case, but I generally picked my spots with the overall lightfall in mind. Plus, I liked toying around with the shadows.
Below some more impressions from the 2014 parade.