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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Three Little Known but Photogenic Festivities in New York City

Santacon- A premature holiday celebration, Santacon, is the annual spree of thousands of mischievous Santas throughout the boroughs of New York City. The celebrants start out in eleven different spots around the city early in the morning and crowd the subways and sidewalks in an effort to join each other in one secretive location. Participants dress in creative and colorful costumes, ranging from reindeer to elves, Christmas trees to presents, and everything in between like ZZ Top Santas and Gangster Santas, surprising children and tourists alike. The event is really a "joyous" pub crawl, where Santas fill up in bars, sing dirty versions of classic carols, dance on strip poles (with clothes), give unconventional gifts, play wacky games, and party. Every year they are in a different photogenic place: whether it be the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, the Empire State Building, or the A Train, they crowd the metropolitan area with their crazy colors. This year the eleven different groups (each with hundreds of Santa participants) rendezvoused at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. The locations are changed every year and are not unveiled until hours before in an attempt to avoid a police presence. Santacon is a must see spectacle, with a growing number of celebrants and ever more photogenic locations each year.

When photographing this event, be sure to bring a wide angle lens and prepare to be on the move. It's important to find a unique perspective in order to fully capture the colorful crowds and give context to their surroundings. Patience is key here, as the best shots are at the climax of the day: the meeting point. If you don't live in NYC don't worry, it's an international event: Just remember, if you plan on joining in, make sure to bring a paper bag.

Phagwah- If you were to guess where this photograph was taken, would you say Richmond Hills, Queens? If so, you're right. Every year the small, ethnically diverse community gathers to celebrate their own Ghanese version of Holi (a predominantly Hindu celebration)--called Phagwah. What starts out as a relatively innocent cultural event transcends into a colorful and energetic spectacle on Liberty Avenue once a year. As the small floats, bands, and costumed celebrants finish their journey across the neighborhood, they wander into a local park. Here, an amazing visual spectacle occurs when a dye war of sorts breaks out. Pounds of dye are shot into the air and flung on to unsuspecting, strangers faces. The sky becomes thick with baby powder, yellow, red, green, orange, blue, and "special mixture" dyes (powders mixed with a liquid for easier use). The scene resembles that of a Jackson Pollock painting, where exposed skin or a lack of a certain color is like a red cape to a bull: it must be further "painted."

If you plan on photographing this event you need a lot of protection: for both you and your camera. Wear clothes that you don't mind getting ruined and make sure you properly cover your camera body (to protect it from the showers of wet, "special mixture" dyes). Stay on the lookout for unique portrait opportunities: preferably those dressed for the occasion in traditional clothing and people with the most colorful faces. When trying to frame the scene as a whole, hold the camera over your head so you can capture dyes in the air. Since this event tends to mirror action photography, put your camera on burst or continuous shooting mode and try to adjust your settings beforehand (or use automatic).

Pillow Fight- Although pillow fights are usually the purview of young kids, there's one day a year that everyone can get in on the action. After all, it's not often that you're allowed to swing pillows at strangers without consequences -- sometimes more than a thousand of them. Which is why this celebration is attracting more and more crowds every year. The one in New York City starts quietly, with a few more people than usual hanging out on park benches. And then, slowly, as one person jokingly hits another, more and more pillows are whipped out of their bags until an all out war is ensues.

One major consideration in photographing this event is angle. In order to capture the scene effectively, it's best to portray the scene as a whole. In Union Square, there are only a few places you can get the vantage point required to do that. For wide angle shooting there are park benches and poles nearby, or if you happen to have a telephoto, you can cross the street to a nearby store and try to get some height. Again, an action photography approach works best here. Don't fear getting right in the middle of it all. If you're lucky, you might even get some feathers in the air as pillows break apart from the impact. Capture the energy of event for the biggest win.


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Chase Guttman is a talented and passionate, award-winning photographer having shot everything from landscapes to wildlife to portraits and events all around the world. Chase Guttman is also an affordable NYC assignment photographer, ready to fulfill your photographic wishes with his distinct style and attention to detail. He also runs this popular photography tips and guide blog, with weekly insights into photography that helps everyone from amateurs to pros better their photographic skill. Visit us at our website:

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