For a travel photographer, the various cultural festivals around the world, present some of the most stunning photo opportunities anywhere. Here are 10 of the best for you to visit
There are so many cultural festivals worldwide that compiling them into a short list is almost impossible. In fact, every festival ranging from a local fair to the huge world-renowned ones, can all be incredible to visit and photograph. But to help you choose, here are a few of the world's most spectacular, colourful, and photogenic festivals.
Every summer, thousands of people head to Black Rock Desert to engage in a celebration of self-expression. What started in 1986 on a beach in San Francisco with the burning of an 8-foot-tall figure has now grown to an incredible spectacle with over 70,000 attendees. The festival is famous for its elaborate sculptures and art installations and culminates in the burning of a giant human-shaped art installation. As you might imagine, the photographic opportunities are almost endless, day or night, and the most exciting part is that you will never know what or who you may photograph.
The words “kaleidoscope of colour” are often used when describing some of the colourful festivals of the world. But arguably, there is no other event where this well-coined phrase is more appropriate. But beyond the spectacle of painted faces, Holi also has a fascinating and deep-rooted religious origin. Besides marking the arrival of spring, Holi celebrates the Hindu god, Krishna. There are those who believe that the festival derives from the mischievous Krishna dousing his milkmaids in coloured water. Whatever the origins of this spectacular festival, one thing that is for certain is that as a photographer, you will be guaranteed some stunning photos.
Albuquerque Balloon Festival
The world’s largest balloon festival is one for anyone who loves photographing these flying objects. Albuquerque's skies are filled with a dazzling array of hot air balloons every fall. You can marvel and rattle away plenty of photos of these flying art pieces from competitions to races and more.
Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival
There are many great reasons to visit Thailand as a photographer, but the best might be to see and photograph these two festivals. They occur concurrently around November each year in Thailand but are at their magnificent visual best in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Yi Peng festival will allow you to photograph lantern-filled skies. Whilst Loi Krathong will provide captivating shots of locals floating away their negative thoughts in the form of candles in rivers all around the city.
Note: Photographically, this is a challenging festival to capture as most events occur at night. Brush up your night photography skills with our dedicated guides.
The most fantastic show on Earth needs no introduction. Dating back to the 1700s, the Rio Carnival is one of the largest celebrations in the world, attracting over a million people. This presents some challenges in capturing great photos of the carnival, due to the sheer number of people attending. So your starting point should be to do lots of research and planning of how and where you want to take pictures during the festivities. Your reward will be a marvellous selection of photos that will hopefully showcase the Rio Carnival's beauty, colour and energy.
I often recommend this carnival to anyone who wants to improve their portrait photography. During the carnival, the entire city basically becomes your outdoor studio full of models who are more than happy to pose for you to take photos. The great thing about it is that all will be happy to spend time modelling for you in return for some of the photos to be sent to them. With so many elaborate masks and costumes, you really have endless possibilities for compositions.
Celebrated on the tenth day of a lunar month, Bhutan’s festivals (Tsechus) are amongst the most colourful and spectacular in the world. They take place across the country in various temples, dzongs and monasteries throughout the year with the two most famous being the Paro and Thimphu festivals. Photographic highlights of the Tsechus are the masked dancers that re-enact myths and historical events, but there are also plenty of opportunities for photographing the locals as well.
Día de los Muertos
The “Day of the Dead” is anything, but a sorrow filled event. Originating thousands of years ago from the Aztecs, Toltec and other natives, this celebration can now be found all over Latin America. But it’s arguably at its grandest in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is all about celebrating the dead rather than mourning them. Taking place in November, people dress in funky costumes, wear extravagant makeup, sing, and dance in the streets and make offerings to their deceased loved ones. There are also parades and parties all over towns and cities making it one of the most photogenic festivals in the world.
One of the biggest challenges of photographing festivals will be the crowds of people that will no doubt attend the celebrations. So if you really want to capture a festival that few westerners have a chance of photographing, head to the remote country of Chad for the Gerewol Festival. This incredibly colourful festival is famous for its young Wodaabe men, who decorate themselves in jewellery and makeup to find a partner. Naturally with a festival like this, the photo opportunities are immense, and you will not be disappointed with your results.
It is believed that these religious festivals, celebrated four times in a 12-year cycle are the largest gathering of people in the world. Millions of pilgrims decent upon the sacred sites of Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain along the riverbanks to bathe themselves in the holy waters of the rivers. From the locals bathing themselves to the iconic holy Sadhu men, these festivals are unlike anything else of Earth.
Festivals are fantastic events to photograph. The sheer number of different photo opportunities means that you will always have the chance to capture unique photos. But festivals are not always the easiest things to photograph So to capture the best photos and ensure that you stay safe, you should do your research and have a plan. If you do that, you will end up with some of the most outstanding photos you will ever take.
- AuthorKav Dadfar
Kav is a full-time photographer and author of 400+ articles. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Magazine Photography of the Year competition and leads small group photo tours around the world.View all articles