Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Around March 17 each year, most cities in the United States, celebrate Irish culture with a parade. I had the pleasure to photograph the City of San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2006 and again in 2008. I was hired by The Larose Group and the United Irish Societies for the City of San Francisco, California.
The first year I photographed the San Francisco Parade, it poured cold rain–not a soft drizzle, but a downpour. While it made for great street reflections, the images showed wet participants trying their best to enjoy the poor weather. (It’s a rare day that the parade does not have nice weather.) I attempted to keep my Canon SLR dry using plastic garbage bags and vainly tried to keep the rain off the lens. As it was my first parade I had photographed, despite the weather, I had a great time. And San Francisco is a great city to photograph anytime and even better, when you can stand in the streets and not worry about traffic.
Two years later, I was back for another great (and rain-free) parade. And what did I learn in time as a parade photographer? I learned when photographing a parade, you have to travel light as most of the time you have to walk quickly and then run ahead to set up the next shot. The parade participants don’t wait for you! You have to be willing to run constantly in and around people in both the parade and along the sidelines. (The first year I brought too much equipment with me and with the rain, had trouble accessing it while the parade passed me by.)
Photographing a parade is like photographing a wedding—it moves along quickly and you have to be able to anticipate what is coming up so you can plan to be in the right spot to catch the action. And like a wedding, most people are in a great mood so it’s easy to get many “happy people” shots.
I also found that you want to capture wide shots of the parade and include certain iconic groups represented in the parade (politicians, honorees, musicians, children, and animals). Additionally I made sure to get close-up of individuals as well as interesting details.
Along with the parade itself, I also took “behind the scenes” images of the parade which included the organizers, the grandstands, the police and fire departments, the crowds that gather, the vendors, etc.
I look back fondly on my days as a parade photographer and wish my mother, born on March 17, a Happy Birthday, and I wish her and you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!