How to Photograph St Patrick's Day

By Geoff Harris

After a long, dull winter, things start to get lively again in March and St Patrick's Day is guaranteed to bring out the green on Tuesday March 17.

While not everywhere celebrates it with the same gusto as Dublin or Boston, chances are there is something St Patrick's-related going on where you live.

Pubs and bars

The Irish are known to like the occasional drink, so bars are often great places to soak up the craic – particularly if traditional Irish music is playing.

A lovingly poured pint of Guinness is obviously a very evocative subject, but be a bit discrete about photographing drinkers, as they might worry they will end up on Facebook; alternatively be quite open about what you are doing and pass around some business cards so people can see you are a bona fide photographer.

Buying everyone a drink can help. Pubs may be a bit murky, so be prepared to ramp up the ISO and focus very carefully.

Modern SLRs should enable you to shoot up to about ISO 3200 without noise being a permanent problem, but don't expect miracles in low light.

With musicians, try to get close to them without getting in the way and use a fast, wide aperture lens or telephoto lens to blur out the background while keeping them sharp.

Focus carefully on the eyes and try to avoid blown out highlights from lights.


How to Photograph St Patrick's Day

If you are in a town or city with a large Irish population, expect some kind of parade.

My big tip for shooting parades is to take along a decent telephoto lens, at least 70-200mm, as it enables you to pick out details without lots of distractions (the heads of other spectators, bollards, police cars) getting in the way.

Participants will often be in fancy dress or painted green, so there are some great shots to be had. Use continuous AF (AI Servo on Canon) for parades and again, focus carefully on the eyes.

How to Photograph St Patrick's Day

For drummers and baton twirlers, deliberately setting a slower shutter speed can yield some nice motion-blur effects, which convey more of a sense of speed than if the subject was frozen by a very short exposure.

As any sports photographer will tell you, getting in a good position is important when shooting action, so try and get at least some shots where you are at the front of the parade – kneeling down as a bunch of burly bandsmen march towards you can yield some great results.

Or try and shoot a procession from above, maybe from a balcony or office building.

Small details

How to Photograph St Patrick's Day

Finally don't forget the small details that capture the spirit of the day – people drinking the ubiquitous Guinness, shamrocks, the Irish tricolour, kids in national costume, Leprechauns, cars painted bright green and so on.

When it comes to editing, be prepared to boost the saturation of the green (the Hue, Saturation and Luminance sliders in Lightroom are great) but don't make the colours so garish that it looks like a psychedelic St Patrick's Day!

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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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