Mardi Gras 1 Krewe of Cleopatra

The picture is the thing. That’s what I say. No matter what happens make your picture.

A wise old professor used to say that sometimes the hardest part of making a picture is getting there. He’s right.

Even if you are working in your own city that is still true.

When I photograph a Mardi Gras parade, I leave home which is very close to the parade route, at least 90 minutes ahead of starting time.

If I wanted to work from St. Charles Avenue (Where the tree streetcars run.) I could simply walk a block and half and be there.

I don’t.

I like to work from the start of the parade where all the little pictures are. Krewes preparing. Marching bands rehearsing. Paraders hanging out. Everyone loves to be photographed and that’s what I do.

But, getting there is hard.

The backstreets are already being jammed up by buses carrying the parade participants.

So, I leave very early.

There is a natural parade line break point on my street. I drive through the crowd when the stoplight changes. I head upriver on St. Charles, I drop down to the parade starting point behind it.

Now, I’m approaching the parade from downriver. I get as close as I can and start looking for parking. Because I arrive early, I usually find a space just about where I thought it was be.

I walk to CC’s coffee house, order and sit. Because I’m usually by myself a group of NOPD sits at my table. I ask them questions about the parade and they ask me questions about cameras.

Knowing them helps on the parade route.

Keep in mind, I do all of this so…

I can find a parking space.

There was a year when I worked eight parades at night. I parked in the same space for eight nights.

Day parades are different. If you are photographing a big one, you might have to arrive at 8am for a noon start.

It’s a lot of work.

Compression. A lot of photographers use telephoto lenses to get closer. I work closer and use them to produce compressed images or graphic shapes.

That’s what I did this time. I crowded as much as I could into one picture.

Working at night both helps and hinders. It forces you to shoot wide open at your widest F-stop. That’s good in this case.

It hinders you because you can’t always get a high enough shutter speed to protect the image from motion blur.

Sometimes that’s a good thing.

If the subject is in sharp focus while everything is moving around them that’s a pretty good picture.

Usually, the whole thing is a crap shoot.

It helps if you’ve been doing it most of your career and know how to compensate for some of it.

The biggest trick is to always shoot about three frames. Bam. Bam. Bam.

The first and third frames are usually out of focus or have too much motion blur, but the middle frame will be sharp and the image you hope for.

That all has to do with the body’s natural motion. Tense. Relax, Relax too much.

Stay safe, Stay strong. Stay mighty. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Look after each other. Stay relaxed.


Everybody needs a lift.

A little help with their friends.

I have to laugh. Look at the two people in front. Look where the woman has her hand. I don’t know about you, but my head as never been used for a hand rest. I guess the guy doesn’t care. And, everybody is having fun.

I made many pictures of these folks, from standing in the street to deciding to mounting the guys’ shoulders and getting back down after they caught a few beads. They were laughing. So was I. I moved from this scene to a couple of others, as I normally do.

I changed the series. I said I would do that. I’m going to post a little “lost” Mardi Gras work over the next few days. Because I want to. I haven’t seen some of these pictures in a long time. When I cull for my agencies or for Storyteller, I pick the best images. At least, as I saw it then. But, there are sleepers. Pictures that I like better now.

That’ll happen. That’s why I say that you should let your new files or film marinate. The further you distance yourself from the emotions of actually being on the scene, the clearer you’ll see the images that matter.  Don’t be like me and let the images sit for a couple of years or so.

I didn’t go out for Krewe du Veaux last year. In fact, I didn’t photograph Mardi Gras as much as I normally would. I have to think about it for next Carnival Season. My physical health is one issue. But, like everything else in the world, the crowds keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s getting harder and harder to work myself into position.

I’m thinking about this now because like an athlete who plays a particular sport, I have to train and then get parade ready. It’s better to do that than to try to “play myself into shape.” That only works for the youngest of athletes. We’ll see how it goes. At least the dogs won’t let me walk less than 2.5 miles a day, every day. Of course, that’s not exactly speed walking. All of them, especially the all seeing dog, like to poke around, smell stuff and amble toward their destination.


It’s all in the eyes.

The street.

A place that I enjoy working. I like to make pictures that are a slice of time. Photographs that are a glance. On the street.

Pictures that are an image of an idea.

Pictures that take you there.

Pictures that let you feel.

Pictures from the inside.

Pictures that are from my insides. From my eyes. From my brain. From my soul. From my heart.

That’s the deal. My deal.

Sometimes it works. Often, it doesn’t. It worked a lot this past Sunday. You’ll see over the next few days.

The picture. I got stuck in the middle of the band. That happens when you work closely. Those out of focus areas in front of the tuba player are other band members. I was working on the inside. Just that close. The tuba player’s reflective sunglasses are what caught my eye. Even though we were in constant motion, I managed to make three good frames of him. Photographer’s luck. And, my ability to walk sideways and forward at the same time. The development and post production was easy after that.

That’s it for a Monday morning.


Through the crowd.

A hard picture to make. And, a very lucky one.

Sometimes I like to shoot into the crowd. Wait, wait. That’s not what I meant. I’m not that guy. The crazy guy. With too many guns. Let’s try this. Sometimes I like to photograph into the crowd.

There. That’s better.

I like to do that with a long lens. It compresses the subject matter. And, used properly long lenses can help me to make a more graphic statement. I rarely use a long lens to get close. I have feet for that. And, knees. And, one good hip.

While I was working the Dumaine Street Gang second line, I realized that just about everything I wanted to photograph would be impacted by the crowd, which was pretty good-sized with our nice day and their reputation.

So, I played to that. Yesterday’s picture was one way of handling it. Today’s picture is another. Today’s is a harder picture to make, because compression images depend a lot on luck. After all, I couldn’t see what was happening on the sides of this picture. People could be moving into the frame and I might not see them until they mostly fill it. In fact, you can see that almost happening.

The rest is fairly simple. A good exposure means a lot less work in post production on a documentary type picture.

Today is a quiet day.

It is The United States official day of mourning for the late President George H.W. Bush. Federal offices are closed. Most businesses are open, but I have seen a lot of flags flying at half-mast. As I wrote earlier, I’m not that much in mourning. The man was 94 years old. He lived a very full life. He lived many people’s’ dreams. For me, it is a day to think and to say goodbye in my own way. As you know, that means something to do with pictures.

After all, the work is the prayer.


Count the cameras.

See what I mean?

Look at all those people taking pictures. There are six smartphones that I can count and I think a see a seventh hiding behind the blue umbrella. That’s a lot of pictures made in just a few minutes. That’s a lot of uploads to these folks’ favorite social media. That explains why various social media talk about such high numbers of uploads.

It’s also a lot of noise. Not a lot of signal.

I mentioned to a Storyteller friend that the marginal to good pictures posted online was at least 80 to 20%, which is an old business ratio. Truth be told, it’s probably about 97% of posted pictures that make up the marginal side. There are so many pictures being posted each day that it is almost impossible for the good ones to be seen.

What to do? What to do? What’s a wise man to do?

If you are trying to build a career these days it’s tough. You can use various tags as a couple of friends of mine do to alert the gatekeepers to your new work. With luck, they’ll see it.

You can build a community, like many book authors do. Hopefully, enough people will see your work and may want to do a project with you.

You can work at your photography in such a way that it becomes unique and go old school by sending emails and other reminders like postcards to your selected gatekeepers. The warning here is simple. Don’t do it too often or you become a pest.

You can buy mailing lists. That’ll get you breadth but they may not be current. It’s a shotgun approach.

You can do what I do. Target about ten companies with whom you really want to work. Combine everything above and try to develop conversations with them. Don’t be pushy. Be yourself and show them work that fits their needs. Of those ten — remember the 80-20 rule — you’ll be lucky if two of them want to work with you. And, that might be in the year after you started your campaign. The cool thing about this form of relationship building is that visual gatekeepers will take you with them since they change jobs frequently.

A couple of other issues.

Don’t be competitive with photographers on the scene. Help them out. Good street cred is as important as anything. Besides, the only person to compete with is you.

Understand that even if you take a mind-blowing picture, there might be 20 other pictures that are just as good, or good enough. And, it’s likely that you’ll never know it. Don’t worry about it. I go out there because I enjoy it. The work that puts kibbles in the dogs’ bowls isn’t anything like this. Even if you do something else to pay the bills, come out because you have a real passion for it. That means all the subjects you enjoy photographing.

This picture. This was as intentional as it comes. I’ve been talking about pictures, picture quality and the numbers of people producing pictures for a while now. And, how people take them. I started looking for pictures on the street that could illustrate my words.

I suppose I found it. I knew that I wanted to have some subject in the foreground. The two women fit that nicely. The rest came from keeping my head on a swivel. Like a bobble head.

Yep. A bobble head. That’s me.


Through the neighborhood.

Where’s Waldo, indeed.

As you know, I’ve been skulking around my archives since I can’t really moved about at will. I found this picture. I made it back around a hundred years ago. Or, 2014. It says a lot about New Orleans.

Because.

This a second line that is so closely packed that it looks as if they are a mission of some kind. Or, they are waiting for some big concert. Then, you see a tuba. Ah, you start to think.

That’s about the point when you probably should open the picture as big as you can. You’ll see things that makes New Orleans the place it is today. Look at the top of the picture at both the left and right corners. The one way signs. This is a corner, at which for no rhyme or reason, the city changed directions of the street. Imagine this pre-Katrina. This was a fully functioning neighborhood.

Then, there is Waldo. Well, not really Waldo. A photographer friend of mine. He’s right there in the middle. Sort of. See the woman wearing red pants and a black shirt? Walking  just before the Cadillac car? Look just behind her head. You’ll see a guy pointing a little video camera. That’s him. Funny. I never saw him when I made the picture. But, when I downloaded and opened it up, there he was. Plain as day. Or. something like that.

The picture. These are the kinds of second line pictures I wish I could make. Always. I make a lot of “coming out the door” pictures. I’m in the middle of the scrum. That’s fine if you do it once or twice. But, after reviewing fives years of them, aside from the moment, they all look about the same.

If I look at my photographer friends’ pictures, they do too. Aside from post production techniques, most of our pictures look the same. And, why not? We all learn from each other.  My goal in my last days on the street was to make something a little different. Note that. I didn’t say better. I don’t know if it’s better. I said different.

There’s a reason for the sameness. We are all working from the original template laid down by the late, great Michael P. Smith, who documented all of this for thirty years starting in the early 1980s. He generally worked from the front and tried to drift into the right place. Waldo, or Christopher Porche-West as he is really known, also started about that time. His difference came by inviting fully suited Indians into a studio and making formal portraits of them. Some of his work lives in the Smithsonian. A place, where I’m pretty certain my work will never reside.

There is also a good amount of luck in this picture. Normally, once you are inside of the bounds of the route, it’s hard to get outside. I managed to find a back door and did that. But, I didn’t come out where I hoped. That would have been at the front of the second line. Instead, I came out here.

Turns out, it wasn’t such a bad location.


Playing in a crowd.
Playing in a crowd.

Brass Bands and me.

You know me. I like brass bands. I like them best when they are chaotic. When they are working in the street. When they are surrounded by a crowd. You also know that I like to layer my pictures so that you get some sense of the scale and depth. I was lucky last Sunday. I seemed do that a lot.

Easier layering came from a couple of adjustments. One, obviously, was the size of the crowd. It was huge and compressed into a tiny side street. Two, was my own positioning, which was mostly trapped on that same side street. Finally, it was my choice of lenses. As you know, I’m not a big gear guy. But, I’ve been working with a very short telephoto lens — a 60mm that sees like a 90 mm — which forces me to keep more of the crowd in the picture. Even when I’m focusing on somebody in the middle of it.

Deep inside, I’ve always known that would help, but the old photojournalist in me kept saying, “longer is better.” And, sometimes it is. For instance, if I worked with a 300mm, I could have possibly made a nice portrait of the saxophone player. But, that would be a little isolating at a second line. The scene matters to the picture.

Of course, my second camera body has a short wide angle zoom on it. I can work even closer with that.

I haven’t talked much about the second line, itself. Those of you who have been around for a while know what it is, even if you don’t live in New Orleans. For those of you who are newer to Storyteller, I invite you to poke around a bit. The search function works pretty well. Just type in second line. You’ll be bombarded with posts from the past few years.


The stare.
The stare.

The thing about second lines is that everyone is a participant .

Even photographers. Even the beverage vendors. And, the food vendors. None of us have permits. Nor, do we have any special right to be there. The only folks that do have a parade permit and a police permit are the social clubs who host the second line. Even for them, parades are fairly chaotic. The do get to control about a 20 yard piece of street in front of the mainline and that’s about it.

That’s the blessing. And, the curse.

Y’all can imagine why. For me, regardless of the pictures, it’s just great exercise. It’s like being in the middle of a sporting event. Something like rugby comes to mind. That’s how I think you have to look at it. You’re going to get bounced around. You’re going to have people jump in and out of your “perfect” picture. Oh well. So what. Whatever.

Smile.

Then, there are guys like the one on the cowboy hat. He’s at every parade. He rarely talks to the photographers on the scene. And, look at him. Not only is he blocking my picture, but he’s blocking the little boy and the woman in the tiara who is trying to take a picture of the little boy. He thinks nothing of it. I left him in the picture because he’s part of the scene and therefore, the picture.

The karma gods did intervene. He turned to stay ahead of the second line and ran… into me. I wasn’t moving. I was busy. Taking pictures. I’m a good-sized guy. He more or less bounced off of me and spent the rest of the parade trying to catch up to it.

Oh well. Stuff happens.

The benefit of being nice and playing by street rules shows up in the third picture. She saw me, dancing and smiled for me and… well, there you have it.

The top picture is sort of fun. The cat in the hat (See what I did there, Doctor Seuss fans?) backed up to pose for me and ran into the big guy in the very cool green suit. He wasn’t amused.

Oh well. Stuff happens.

The pictures. Those nice open overcast skies are the best thing for making pictures like these. No deep shadows and the light looks like it was made using a giant soft box. Nature’s soft box. So. ISO 100. F5.6 at about a shutter speed of 500th to 1,000th. These pictures can be enlarged to fit a huge wall with no technical gyrations.

In the way.
In the way.

Dancing.
Dancing.


Street schooling in The French Quarter.
Street schooling in The French Quarter.

Getting schooled on the street.

Tour groups. In The French Quarter. Some are historical. Some are architectural. Some are spooky. Some are musical. A lot of them are just a long walk with a group of random people.

Because.

Although most of the tour guides are licensed, they don’t all know their stuff. I’ve heard historical or architectural tour guides say things like, “This is an example of  architecture.” Or, telling really gruesome ghost stories that never happened. Or, saying that a launderette used to be a recording studio where rock n’ roll was invented. Oh, wait. That one is true. But, the other two? Not so much. After all, my out buildings are an example of architecture. Or, at least a carpenter with a blueprint and a hammer and nails.

The picture. This is one of those pictures I made on the way to someplace else. I like making pictures of tour groups in The French Quarter as I am passing by. They are so busy learning misinformation that they don’t notice me as I take picture after picture. One of these days I’m going to ask them to jump up and down and dance in the street. You’ll know if I do that. You’ll see it here.