Mayday Dancers in Sofia, Bulgaria

Mayday Dancers

It’s May.

All over Europe Spring has started and hopefully the winter’s over.

Here in Bulgaria, Mayday is an important national holiday.

For some there are political overtones but for most people Mayday is a day of celebrations and in the towns and villages the folk dancers have been practicing hard throughout the winter to get ready for the festivals, starting on the first of May.

I’m lucky that I live overlooking the Boris Gardens, the largest park in Sofia modelled partly on St. James park in London.

Early in the morning I can hear musicians practicing and I know there’ll be some festive entertainment.

I’m sure there’ll be some Mayday Dancers.

This year the sky is clear and the sun is shining – it feels fine – but of course there’s a photographic problem straight away – how to deal with the harsh lighting.

The dancing itself started at about 11 a.m.

I was there doing my best to photograph the Mayday Dancers.

Mayday Dancers – Photo Facts.

It’s one of the main problems of festival and event photography that the photographer can’t choose the timing.

The Mayday Dancers have their own schedule.

You know that midday sunshine is not ideal but that’s when the dancers are dancing.

The problem is the great contrast.

Looking at the dancers you can see the bright white of their costumes and the dark shadows round their eyes.

It’s not practical to use reflectors and while I’ve tried fill in flash in the past this rarely works.

I decided to find a position where the sun was directly behind the dancers with no harsh light falling on their faces.

This is a recipe for flare and so it’s best to have clean lenses.

Also check any filters. I was pleased that I’d recently acquired efficient lenshoods.

As I was shooting from a fixed position at some distance I decided to use a telephoto zoom – in this case my 70-300mm Canon.

From past experience I knew that I would need

a fast shutter speed – to prevent camera and subject movement.

a reasonably small aperture to get as much depth of field as possible to cover focussing errors.

And – most important of all,

controlled exposure to avoid burnt out highlights.

To overcome these problems I pushed up the ISO to 400 so that I could use a fast shutter speed while avoiding unsightly noise.

I’m a RAW shooter anyway but in this situation RAW is the best choice as there’s a lot more exposure latitude.

I took a few test exposures and then studied the histogram until I could see which shutter/aperture combinations would avoid highlights.

I then set my camera settings on manual and counted on the sensor to deal with possible underexposure.

One of the joys of digital photography is that you needn’t worry about ‘running out’ of film.

There are a lot of Mayday dancers.

This type of photography needs concentration and good reflexes but still most pictures are destined for the bin.

I was happy to get a number of ‘keepers’ and I’ll be ready for the festivals throughout the summer.

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Stock photography by John Rocha at Alamy

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