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Photographing the Emma Crawford Coffin Races

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A fantastically dressed participant of the Emma Crawford Coffin Races. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • A fantastically dressed participant of the Emma Crawford Coffin Races.
There are some events I love to photograph every year just for the fun of it. The annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races in Manitou Springs is one of those.

Every year I get to make portraits of people who are fantastically dressed, with costumes and makeup truly over-the-top. As photographer, it's hard to pass up that kind of opportunity.

But while I love to shoot it, it's definitely not easy.

This event is crazy. Thousands come from all over to attend, and making a dramatic portrait with so many people in your backgrounds, foregrounds and middle grounds is just plain hard to do.

My strategy, which I settled on years ago, is to attend the beginning of the event where the participants gather before the parade. Shooting at this time allows me to stop people and ask them to sit still for a quick portrait.



Equipment-wise, I keep it simple. I bring one camera equipped with my favorite lens, a Canon 50mm f1.2 that has this incredible bokeh (shallow depth of field).

I shoot with it as wide open as I can get away with, usually 2.0 or shallower. This allows me to take pictures and significantly blur the background and my foregrounds.

When I do this, I can isolate my portrait subject and create something really unique. Looking at the photographs, its almost hard to believe it's as busy as it is. But, that's the point. I want to create a portrait or paint a scene that stands out from all of the other pictures you might see of this great event.

The next time you're photographing in a busy place, try this technique to create dramatic, quiet pictures that jump off the page or the screen at you.
Happy shooting!

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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