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Santa’s helper, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Every November for 9 or more years, our family – grandparents, brothers, nieces and nephews, has gathered in the same spot on St. Joseph Blvd in Orleans, at the same time, 5:30pm to watch the Santa Clause parade of lights. This year the weather was kind to us, so those who came prepared stayed warm for the 2.5 hours it takes for the parade to run its course.

Photographing parades like these calls for preparation, good timing and a bit of luck. The lighting is mixed with street lights, assorted coloured lights on the floats, and truck lights both front and back. Shooting RAW is almost essential if you want to have maximum control over the WB later in LR.

As for lens selection, I went with a short telephoto for maximum flexibility. My ISO was at 800 and my f-stop was as wide as I could get it, around f/4. Then it gets interesting.

As the floats move by, you have to pick the right spot for focus and exposure, I usually went with the middle focus point and took a reading off either a face or a tone that would prevent the highlights from blowing out. Panning is usually needed too but in the picture above it looks like I grabbed the shot during a moment when the float paused. That’s the anticipation bit. You need to be aware not only of what’s coming but also what’s happening in the front as well. This way you can adjust your focal length, and decide on what part of the action you want to capture.

Keep your framing in mind as well. Its true that you can shoot wider and crop out some unnecessary details but try to keep that to a minimum so as not to end up with too much noise in the dark areas. This is part of the preparation. Take the time to examine your location, what will you need to exclude (the bright Tims sign perhaps or the nicely decorated sex shop not far from the church. These are all important decisions.

I enjoyed the night very much. I tried shooting into the floats as they went by. When I had the focus and exposure right, luck gave me a moment when a couple kids were clearly enjoying the ride. The best part is that at the parade, I wouldn’t normally be able to see these moments.

November is over and Santa has arrived at the malls. Hum, have I been good enough this year to get that Wacom tablet?