There’s no doubt about it, London’s Notting Hill Carnival has enduring appeal to street photographers – and each year it attracts us in our hundreds. However, it is fraught with dangers for the unwary and photographers should be aware of some ‘ground rules’ in order to stay safe and to get the best possible pictures.
I have been involved in photographing in hostile environments for many years and have set out a few thoughts which I hope will be helpful.
- Travel light: take the minimum gear possible. Don’t flash your latest DSLR and expensive glassware around – instead, take an old compact which you’re not afraid of losing.
- Blend in: don’t dress or behave like a photographer or look ‘out of place’ in any way; ideally wear dark clothing and don’t carry a photographer’s bag (I use a tatty old North Face rucksack). Avoid any clothing or behaviour that may draw attention to yourself.
- Know the geography: ideally, do a recce before the event to familiarise yourself with routes in and out of the event, escape routes and, of course vantage points. Be aware that public transport will be a complete nightmare so be prepared for a long walk to a bus, tube, train or taxi point. Print off a map of the route and of the area.
- Leave any expensive watches, jewellery and other valuables at home. Don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose.
- With such a huge influx of people into the area, you will probably find difficulty in getting mobile phone reception so, if you’re with other people, ensure you have an agreed meeting point in case you lose anyone.
- If challenged when taking someone’s photo, smile, say ‘thank you’ and walk away. Most of the time, this will diffuse the situation.
- Sunday is ‘children’s day’ and is quieter and more relaxed (and arguably safer) than Monday, which can get a bit lairy.
- Public transport will be a nightmare. Notting Hill Gate is exit only from 11am-7pm both days and Ladbroke Grove station will be closed on both days. Check the latest travel information from TFL before leaving home.
- Go easy on the rum punch and the Red Stripe. Both are in plentiful supply and their effect can creep up on you. Too much of this stuff will make you drop your guard and lower your defences. Do, however, take a bottle of water with you.
- Avoid the clichés and the predictable shots. Let the tourists take the pictures of the main parade and the stall holders and, instead, concentrate on what’s happening behind the scenes, above eye level, in the shops, in gardens and outside the pubs.
- Work quickly and unobtrusively. Use a fixed lens (I’d recommend a prime between 24-50mm) so you don’t waste valuable seconds zooming. If you’re shooting with a cheap compact, as advised above, keep it at the wide end of the zoom range.
- Set your camera to a high ISO (I use 1200 to1600) which will give you a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and avoid blur.
- Try some dramatic, dynamic shots from a very low angle (but watch you don’t get trampled on).
- If you’re shooting people’s faces, be discreet. Going in too close or ‘monstering’ your subjects could provoke an angry reaction.
- To help you focus on producing a meaningful and interesting body of work, treat the day as a ‘project’. Perhaps visualise your set of images in a small book / zine or as a series of framed prints.
Most of all, relax! Take your time, walk slowly, absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the experience.