*The following story takes place in August of 2014 in Jersey City*
As much as I enjoy other cultural parades and festivals, the one I enjoy the most is the Puerto Rican Day Parade and Festival. I may sound biased here since I am Puerto Rican myself, but also because of my childhood memories. The Puerto Rican Day parade has been hosted in Jersey City for over 50 years and is one of the most celebrated parades in the city. Growing up, the parade would be and still is run down from Montgomery Street all the way down in front of City Hall on Grove Street. Living on Wayne Street as a kid, it was an easy access to early front row seats.
As a kid, the parade was great as I enjoyed the music, the food, the man with the shopping cart carrying inflatable cartoon characters and Puerto Rican flags, and meeting up with friends and family members. As an adult today I don’t get excited for the inflatable balloon cartoons, but I still enjoy the music, food and meeting family members and friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.
When I was assigned to cover the parade and festival by my freelance photography job I was beyond thrilled! Not only was this going to be the first parade to take photos of for my job, but it just so happened to be for the Puerto Rican Day parade.
I ended up taking a lot of photos that day for both the parade and festival which I ended up sending to the Jersey City Brand Ambassador team (the freelance job). I did, however, add my favorites into my own album collecting and I’m sharing here my personal favorites.
The parade took some time to get all the way down Montgomery Street. I was getting frustrated because I wanted to take the photos of the parade and get back home to upload them to the brand ambassador team so I could rest and take photos later on at the festival.
Plus, it was getting hot weather wise and I can only tolerate the heat for a short time. To keep myself occupy, I walked around to take some photos of the crowd. I was shooting in program, set my ISO levels at 200, white balance at daylight and no changes of the exposure composition.
Of all the photos I took of people waiting for the parade, this one to me was my best. Standing across from city hall, I went with a full wide shot for this photo (Photo Above). I wanted to capture the stage where the music would be on at full blast (event though music was playing on the floats later on). I also wanted to capture the audience full of proud Puerto Ricans anticipating the parade.
I focused a lot on taking photos of people for this photography outing for job purposes and because it was a big parade so you’re getting a large gathering of people. Of course, I was going to get as much Puerto Rican Flags as much as possible starting with this photo.
The parade, which was supposed to arrive in front of City Hall at around 1:00 P.M, finally arrived an hour later. I was excited as all my frustrations went away. It was finally time to test out my photography skills. What’s great about parades is that they go slow enough to take multiple shots.
After taking a few photos of the parade coming down Montgomery Street, I switched my attention on Grove Street in front of City Hall. It was crowded on my side of the street, but I found a good spot to settle to take photos.
A group of kids dressed in vintage Puerto Rican clothes from perhaps the 40s or 50s came down dancing salsa (Photo Above). I thought this would definitely be a great potential shot. Thanks to my height (I’m six feet tall) I was able to get a good zoom in for a medium shot. I framed the kids in the middle as the center focus of the photo while having the crowd in the background watch with joy. I could have zoomed in much closer, but I decided to keep the tree on the far right of the frame to keep that perspective of someone trying to get a view.
I switched my attention from the young dancing Puerto Ricans and turned to my left to take more photos of the crowd watching the parade passing by. I zoomed in slightly to frame this medium shot (Photo Above). I was more interested with the Puerto Rican family on the left of the frame, holding their flags. I’m not sure if they were bored or serious, but they interested me nonetheless.
Despite taking close photos of people, I had to do it for my job, but I was comfortable to do so since I was wearing a City of Jersey City badge around my neck so I seemed legit; perhaps maybe too legit since some people thought I was working with the Jersey Journal.
As the parade continued to make its way down, I walked along with the parade and crossed the street to stand between Grove and Mercer Streets to get a different angle for more shots. On this corner an elderly Puerto Rican man had on this great Puerto Rican flag style shirt (Photo Above), so of course I decided to take a photo of his back to capture his shirt.
I didn’t frame the man in the middle and instead framed him on the left because of the parade on the right side, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. Just seconds later, a vintage Volkswagen was passing by and I took the shot on command. It was a good thing that I had the shot ready to go with a zoom in for a medium shot. The crowd in the background and the people on the corner left shaking hands adds a nice touch of atmosphere.
Still taking shots of the corner of Mercer and Grove, I looked down to see what was coming down next. This time a large group of men were walking down with a long and large Puerto Rican flag. They were coming close to me at the corner and I wanted to take a photo of the flag, but I had to take it quick before I lost my opportunity. The only way to get an aerial shot of the flag (which I was aiming for) was to get to the top of steel steps of the bleachers in front of City Hall.
The only problem was that I had to cross the street with the parade going on and find a spot in the bleachers with time against me. Luckily, there were a crossing guard letting people cross the street, so I ran across to the stands of the bleachers and quickly found a spot as I squeezed my way through. The highest I could get was the middle area steps of the bleachers. I made it in time as the giant flag made its way past the Mercer Street corner I was standing at.
Not wasting anytime, I set up my camera putting it up high as I stretched out my arms just high enough so I could preview the shot on the LCD screen. I went with a full wide shot making sure I had all of the flag stretched out along with the crowd looking onwards on both sides (Photo Above). I decreased the exposure composition so that I could get some shadows in since it was really bright, sunny afternoon.
The best all of is the gorgeous blue sky on this day, showing how beautiful parades can look and all the red, white and blue compliments the photo very well. This photo ended up being posted on the Official City of Jersey City’s Instagram account later in the week after I had sent the photos to the Brand Ambassador Team. It is hands down my favorite photo of this outing.
When the parade was all done, I went back home (which was a three block walk on Montgomery Street) to upload all the parade pictures to the Brand Ambassador Team and rested for a few hours. Around 5 P.M the music from the Puerto Rican festival was blasting through my bedroom windows as it was being hosted at Exchange Place. The Puerto Rican festival is a three day event from Friday to Sunday and is hosted at Exchange Place.
Growing up, I remembered the festival taking place at different locations including a spot on Grand Street near the old Boys and Girls Club building before all the old apartment buildings were knocked down in place of newer condos. In the last few years the festival has been hosted at Exchange Place along with many other cultural festivals in Jersey City. I can’t blame the event planners; it really is a great spot to throw a party.
Anyways, I made my way down to finish my second half of the day of photography work. Luckily, just like the parade, the festival was only like three blocks away from me. I walked up and down the Exchange Place area on Montgomery Street as large crowds gathered, but it wasn’t too hard to navigate around to take photos. For this late outing, my camera settings didn’t change except that my ISO levels were set to 400 and the white balance to shade.
I took plenty of photos of the festival, but just like the parade I decided to showcase my best ones. In this particular photo, I wanted to capture the best part of the festival: authentic Puerto Rican food. I went on the side of the food vendor tent to capture the food originally as I zoomed in for a medium shot (Photo Above).
I was happy to capture the moment when the woman reached over the plastic food guard to point out what she wanted to eat. Something like this is exactly what I wanted for this photography outing assignment: interaction and action of people in photos.
Lingering back to the concert stage area in front of the Katyń Memorial stage where the Puerto Rican bands were playing, I paid more attention to the people who were watching and loving the music. I spotted this bicycle member (he had a bicycle not a motorcycle) waving his Puerto Rican flag gracefully to the beat of the music (Photo Above).
I was fascinated with his passion as I set up my shot going for a wide shot putting the man and his flag as the center focus of the photo while all the other people looked onto the stage. What’s also great about this photo is the trees, one that has its leaves turning brown and the other with barely any leaves at all as August is about to come to an end with September and autumn coming around the corner.
There were plenty of vendors on the Exchange Place strip on Montgomery Street with one vendor having plenty of Puerto Rican merchandise. I took a few photos of the merchandise including this one with the straw hat (Photo Above). I switched to aperture for this shot as I always do with my extreme close up shots, zooming in really close in the Puerto Rican patch on the straw hat. It was a quick single shot and everything went to plan, including getting the blur effect in the background.
I went back to the concert stage area one last time and luckily I was able to find a spot in front of the stage, standing behind a steel fence. The music and the beat were great and even though I don’t speak Spanish or understand it (despite being Puerto Rican) I still enjoy the music. It takes me back to all the holiday gatherings with my family dancing their asses off all night into the break of dawn and seeing older family members laughing, drinking and joking around in the kitchen.
I was thrilled to get the spot I was in to take this golden photo (Photo Above). Switching back to program, I zoomed in for a medium shot just enough to get all the band members in motion playing their instruments. My favorite part of the photo is capturing the singer in a moment of happiness, about to dance to his own music. The background of the two large Puerto Rican flags and the base of the Katyń statue somehow added a great touch to this shot.
With the sun going down, I went back home to upload the rest of the festival photos to the Brand Ambassador Team. I was tired and exhausted, but was very satisfied with my work that day. Once all the photos were sent, I put my camera away for the day to give it a rest for the next outing adventure. I went back down to the festival to hang out with my family.