Techniques for shooting a Christmas Parade at Night with a D800?

Started Dec 5, 2012 | Discussions thread
yvind Strm
Veteran MemberPosts: 4,127
Re: Techniques for shooting a Christmas Parade at Night with a D800?
In reply to Al Giordano, Dec 5, 2012


As someone else said - you need to go there in advance, in similar conditions. Both to get a grasp on the lighting conditions, but also to find a good spot.

Spot considerations: Will you shoot the parade from the side, or do you want more frontal (maybe possible if there are turns). Do you want to shoot at level with the parade, or a bit higher. Then you need to look at background. Find a place with a "calm" background. No commercials, lit or unlit. No poles. And on the day, you meet early, so noone else takes your spot.

Decide for your self if you want to freeze action, which can be stunning, but boring, or you want to try panning. Or a mix. That is your creative choice. If you choose to vary, make sure you know the settings for all situations. Your preparations will tell you. Write them down, and practise at home. The more you are familiar with handling your camera, the better. Which way to focus closer? Which way to set shorter speed, which way to stop down the lens? Where is the flash exposure controls, and how do you increase/decrease it? It has to be second nature. Train, train, train.

When you have found the spot, try to figure out if you will be shooting in several directions, or just in one. Try to place some test persons in the actual position of the parade, and see how light falls. If you go all ambient, you need to make sure that the light on the faces is decent, and not all/partly in shadow. Try to have some marks or something to indicate the normal distance (and note som other longer and shorter distances to). This is because distance will affect your settings, so you need to know the approriate distance.

Now you measure in all directions you will shoot. Hopefully, its not too different. You crank up the ISO as much as you prefere, considering noise. Did I mention that you have to shoot manual if you want to work with flash/ambient? Oh - you need to shoot manual if you shoot flash/ambient. This is of course more demanding, but the reward is higher.

Lets say you get an ambient exposure of 1/60 and f:5.6. You then take your flash and calculate the strenght needed for f:5.6 for that particular distance. You might need to dial the flash strenght a little down. Next is to decide the ratio between ambient and flash. In our example, with 1/60, you get both the flash and ambient equal. Normally you would want the person lighter than the background, to have them "pop" a little. Its a matter of preference how much, but I suggest you try with 1/2 to 1 stop. For one stop darker background, you will set the shutter to 1/125. You do NOT use the aperture as someone else suggested, because that will affect both ambient and flash exposure. (In the shortlist at the end, it will appear as it is the aperture that controls the ratio, but it isn't)

It is very important to understand that for shooting at other distances (given the same ambient conditions) the ONLY thing to change is the power of the flash. It is NOT neccessary to change the shutter or aperture. With this in mind, you need to be aware that twice the distance means you need 4 times as much light. Half the distance means 1/4 of the light. So make sure you have a normal working distance/flash strength that gives you flexibility to shoot longer distances. (And remember extra batteries.)

What if the subject carries candles or other lights? You then need to adjust the ambient light setting; use one or two shorter shutter speeds. Of course, this affects the background, but nothing to do about that. Remember to revert to your default setting.

The above setting will freeze the surroundings reasonably well. What if you want to combine motion and flash? The idea would then obviously be to increase the shutter speed, and let the flash fire either at the start or at the end of the exposure. I like at the end. And what speed? Again, by preference. But, let's say 1/15. Also, as the blurry part of the person is only lit by the ambient, you might want to go back to a more balanced ambient/flash. So lets return to the original measurement of 1/60 and f:5.6. With 1/15 this gives us f:11. Now the flash is 2 stops under, so you need a new calculation of flash strength.

So, switching between the two "takes", you need to change the flash strenght, and shutter/aperture.

I am a great fan of tripods, but do not think it will help much here. You will be able to shoot more freely, and a big tripod in a crowd will not make you popular, and will be leaned on and kicked - so your shots will be even worse than without.

For choice of focal length, again personal preference. Do you want overviews? (Remember flash light fall-off) Or do you want to pick individuals? Remember to think DOF into the calclulations also.

Also remember that you can only adjust the shutter speed up to the flash sync time.

That would be all you need to know. The only thing to be aware of is that no battle plan ever survive combat. So, no matter how well you plan, you will find that the distances you predicted is useless, there are more or less ambient, crowds are uncooperative etc. etc. To beat this, you have to remember the principles, and quickly adjust.


  1. Measure ambient, with the shutter speed you want to use.
  2. Aperture one down to get ambient light a little darker.
  3. Calculate flash strength for the resulting aperture and desired distance.
  4. If distance changes: ONLY change flash strength.
  5. If darker background is desired, use shorter shutter speed. If you need to keep the shutter speed, use smaller aperture and increase flash strength

Hope you can make some sense out of this, in spite of my non-native englsih. Happy shooting.

Al Giordano wrote:
I'm looking for the proper technique and strategy for shooting a moving parade at
night..Seems like a great challenge. Obviously using a tripod is a must. Plus I have no idea how much light I will be working with. I will assume I will have street lights overhead. Should I shoot in ambient light with the high ISO or shoot flash? Should I pan the floats?


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Kind regards

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