The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade is a pretty big deal here in NYC. Last year, due to Super Storm Sandy, the parade had to be canceled which caused a lot of hardships for the parade organizers. The parade is a totally community/volunteer effort and has become an important part of the life of NYC, inspiring the imagination and creativity of citizens and visitors alike. The organizers were able to resurrect this year’s parade with a lot of hard work and contributions, finical and otherwise, by many people. You can read more about the Parade, it’s origins and artistic aims here.
First, I was testing out a new shooting technique that I picked up from Steve Simon, who also know as the Passionate Photographer, at his seminar during the PhotoPlus Expo here in NY. The technique uses the autofocus and continuous shooting modes on my DLSR camera. Rather than using the shutter release button to focus, I use the AF button on the back of the camera to either lock the focus on a still subject or track a moving subject. The shutter release is then programed only to fire when the camera is fully in focus. It takes some getting used to, but it is a very efficient way to shoot in a complex environment.
Also, the parade takes place at night and I decided that I would go super simple and just focus on composition using natural light and a single lens. When I am shooting a parade or festival, I almost always shoot with two camera bodies, one each with a wide and a zoom lens (17-55mm and 70-200mm). For Halloween I went with one body, one lens and no flash (Nikon D700 + 50mm f1.8). It was very liberating!
I find that the more gear I have the more my attention is on my gear and not on my subject or what’s happening around me. That night I saw a lot of photographers frantically running around with loads and load of equipment; it made me glad I was not one of them! Now, I know some of those photographers will produce some amazing images because they had all that equipment. And, someday, I’d love to experiment with some of those techniques. However, not having that equipment at this moment I made the conscious choice to go the other way and keep it simple.
About the lighting, the NYPD sets up gigantic spot lights on certain streets to augment the ambient light in certain areas. These lights are gorgeous! Nice, clean bright white light that, when you find the sweet spot(s) perfectly lights up the subjects as if you were in a controlled studio situation. Thank you NYPD =)
So, keeping it simple allowed me to stand in the middle of the stream of people and, for that split second, engage with them in a very intimate and personal way. In an environment like Halloween, everyone naturally wants to vamp and play for the camera and to give you their best pose. But I’m not interested in their pose, it’s not the authentic them but an image they are projected. I want to see the person behind the mask, doubly so because they are wearing an actual mask!
After looking through all my photos what I saw was that I had a lot of really close in, intimate photos that were portrait like in nature. They also turned out to be the most interesting and in focus given that I was shooting with the 50mm and the autofocus technique. Everyone and their dog has photos of Halloween costumes and people doing funny things. What I captured that night was something more intimate and personal so I thought Black and White would better convey that closeness.
Black and White tends to reduce or take away information, while color adds more information. I want you, the viewer, to be connected to the subject and not be distracted by the costume or the environment. So, taking away the color strips away elements that would take your attention and reenforces the connection to the subject. So much of Halloween is about color, flamboyance and creativity … but it is also about who we are being and, who we never get to be.