Fresh Ideas For May Day Photography

By Geoff Harris

What to Shoot This May Day Public Holiday


Today is May 1st, an important day in many parts of the world. As well as marking the start of summer and the promise of rebirth and renewal, it's also a day loaded with left-wing political significance in many countries.

When it comes to photographing May day you have a lot of options, so here are some ideas to get you started...

Traditional European celebrations

Dominic Lipinski/PA
May day could be a quite a riotous event in rural areas, characterised by lots of boozing and coupling, but it tends to be more civilised these days. Maypoles and Morris Dancers offer some great opportunities for more creative techniques.

With Morris Dancers, you can try shooting them low with a wide angle lens to capture their choreography, and this can look particular good against a suitably picturesque background – an old church, tower or similar building.

You can select a slower shutter speed to blur out their movement and convey more of a sense of speed, but try to keep some element of the background sharp.

Try shooting with a tripod, or an image stabilised lens if a tripod will slow you down too much. Maypoles are even more suited to motion blur effects as the movement is much more predictable.

Another approach is to focus on the faces of the participants – Morris Dancers in particularly tend to have weather-beaten visages, and favour spectacular beards. Their costumes and badges can be colourful too.

Religious celebrations and political events

Kerry Davies
May day is hugely important to pagans, so you probably won't need to go too far to find a group celebrating the arrival of summer. Famous shrines such as Stonehenge or Avebury will obviously attract crowds, so make sure you take a longer lens (e.g. 70-200mm) so you can catch details and faces while shooting as a spectator.

Some pagan groups might not want you to take pictures of the participants during the actual ceremony, so be considerate. Take a portrait lens to capture the interesting faces and diverse characters.

It's often polite to ask people if you can take their picture, but discourage posing and big cheesy grins. If you choose a more secular event, such as political rally, again take a long lens so you can isolate details, as well as a range of other glass.

New ways to shoot nature

As well as the done-to-death shots of spring lambs and apple blossom, try some new ways to shoot nature, such as zoom burst. This is a fun way to give a 'warp speed' look to colourful trees and flowers; quickly pull the zoom in and out at a relatively slow shutter speed (say under 1/60 second).

It's a technique that needs practice, and is not a good idea to try with lenses with an expensive electronic zoom mechanism, but it can yield really striking results.

When it comes to woodland shots, try using a telephoto lens to compress the perspective on tree trunks, or try shooting trees by lying on your back – a new angle on the scene can be refreshing. Well taken macro shots of spring flowers will always delight; focus carefully using manual focus and a tripod, where appropriate.

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Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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