Sometimes you’ll find yourself with a tricky photo problem. It’s not that you don’t have anything to photograph, but instead that you have TOO MUCH to photograph! In situations like that it can be tough to know just how to approach things in a way that tells a great story, without getting overwhelmed.
Today we’re going to take you behind the scenes of some shooting we did recently, and show you how we tackled that problem. Let’s go! (P.S. Feel like watching a video? At the bottom of the post you can see a bunch of our photos, along with audio commentary!)
Recently we took a little trip to Calgary, Alberta to check out the Stampede. It’s a rodeo and carnival dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth”. Not only are carnivals tons of fun (who doesn’t love a good corndog followed by some fresh mini donuts??), but they are incredible events to photograph! The lights, people, games, rides, food, entertainment—it all makes for fantastic material. But, as you can imagine, it can be really overwhelming when you are right in the thick of it, trying to figure out just what to shoot!
The first night we arrived, we were definitely feeling overwhelmed. Our cameras didn’t come out much, and we spent some time just observing. So there’s tip number one for you!
Tip #1: When trying to figure out how to photograph your surroundings, take some time to simply observe.
Whether it’s a festival, or a new city, it helps to give yourself an opportunity to soak it in, and get a feel for the place, without even starting to shoot. When you’re not concentrating on apertures and compositions, you give yourself more of a chance of figuring out how you’ll shoot to capture your surroundings.
And that brings us neatly into the second tip!
Tip #2: When you’re faced with an overwhelming amount of things to photograph, look for a theme to help focus your shooting.
It’s a sad fact that you simply won’t be able to photograph everything in the world. We photographers just have to get over that, and instead look for themes to help bring cohesion to our work. This is especially useful when you’re in a situation like traveling to a new country, or photographing a big event.
Here’s the thing. The more you focus on just one topic, the more details you’ll be able to notice that can help tell the story.
Here’s how we approached the Stampede.
When we were walking around the first evening, we found ourselves drawn to the midway games. We spent quite a bit of time just walking from game to game, watching people play. It become clear pretty quickly that there was more than enough material just in the games for a great photo essay. So the next day we went back, and spent a few hours shooting the games. As we shot, we found a ton of different elements of the games to focus on. A few were:
- The carnies working the games
- The players and their reactions, both winning and losing
- The tools of the games
- The prizes
- The rules
- The brightly coloured booths
- What was left over after the game
Had we spent more time, we probably could have found even more aspects of the games to photograph. But you can definitely see that just one small part of the carnival actually had a ton of depth to shoot! You could do the same kind of thing, but focus on the food, the rides, the people, the entertainers, the workers, etc.
Now, if you’ve spent time photographing events like this, you may know that it can be tough to balance actually experiencing things, and photographing them. Which leads to the last tip…
Tip #3: Set aside dedicated shooting time.
It can be exhausting to spend your entire time somewhere looking for things to shoot, simply because there is always something to shoot! As much as we’re all obsessed with photography here, we have to remember that enjoyment of life comes from balance. So make sure to spend time simply enjoying where you are, whether it’s a carnival, or a new country. Keep your camera handy, in case you see a shot of a lifetime, but don’t forget to just soak everything in.
Then, set aside some time where all you are doing is shooting. This will help you focus on the task, and immerse yourself in your work. You’ll also be able to be more patient, if you know that your only goal is to get a great shot.
So, with all that said, here is a video with a series of images that we created of the carnival games during the Calgary Stampede! You can see how we approached our theme, and shot a bunch of different details to try to tell a deeper story about the games.
Have you ever photographed a theme as a way to approach a big event? Let us know about it in the comments below!