The Cadiz Carnival or CADIZ CARNAVAL as the local Gaditanos call it, is an amazing spectacle. Many ‘Gaditanians’ totally live for this event, all year round. For a town that inhabits 124,000 people the Carnaval in Cadiz is quite an amazing thing in itself, but if I told you it’s one of the biggest carnivals in the world, second to Rio de Janeiro, it sounds almost impossible. It takes place in the small old town, on the plazas and in the narrow streets, and it goes on for more than 2 weeks! In Cadiz the carnival is a small industry in itself, and for many of the inhabitants it’s a full time obsession. I’m amazed at the talent, flair and wit that exists in this small 3000 year old city.


Coro Cadiz Carnaval


Shooting in crowds is difficult, and you have to be fast, because someone’s going to walk into the frame in a millisecond. I have to admit I took the wrong camera that day – I used the Fuji X-Pro 1 (a slow focuser) when I should probably have used one of my faster Nikons. In crowds you look for compositional patterns (it’s always a question of where to crop) or details, facial expressions, moments of communication between people, and often people relating to you. I often try to get high or low viewpoints. I love the expressions on these girls faces, although they may not seem to have a whole lot of love for the photographer. Smiles and waves to the camera are usually not what I want.

This image makes me think of what Lord Byron put it in a letter to his mother in 1809: ” . . .Cadiz, sweet Cadiz !  is the most delightful town I ever beheld, . . . “     ” . . .and full of the finest women in Spain . . .”   


Coro Cadiz Carnaval


This is a carnival more in the Venetian tradition than the Rio type street fiesta, and it’s famous for its satirical Chirigotas, who sing and play with amazing humour and expression, parody and word-plays. Some of them have simple costumes, while others are amazingly detailed. The Coros (choruses) who parade the Plazas on the first Sunday. I started taking pictures on the plaza, along with my student. We started early, while they were making up and preparing, and I feel that the best shots were taken before the procession – not during. The light that day was bright and flat, and there were no shadows or harsh contrasts, so my take on the flat light was to expose high, pushing it even brighter simply by upping the contrast, and letting pastels be pastels.


Cadiz Carnaval Plaza Mina


One of the things I do in a crowd is try to get high up (or sometimes low, if there’s space). Fortunately, my partner who I run Luzia courses with – Ignacio Fando – knows people and places, and we were invited to shoot from a friend’s balcony in the most pefect location on Plaza Mina (Gracias Mer!). Shooting tops of heads can be a problem from above, so you don’t want to get too high. First or second floor is perfect. You also want to try to get people to look up, getting a ‘connection’ in a massive crowd. The reward for having flirted and dwelled a bit with the players while they were on the ground came as they recognized us up on the balcony. You don’t want too much waving or recognition, but the guy looking straight at the camera leads you into the image with more engagement.


Cadiz Carnival Elvis


The official Carnaval contest, takes place at Gran Teatro Falla and we (Luzia) were fortunate enough to follow the Chirigota winners ‘Esto si que es una chirigota’ in their final preparations before the final, which they won! This Chirigota perform a satire on politicians and the Spanish authorities, and it’s extremely funny, even if you don’t understand the language. Make no mistake, this is not a performance cobbled together at the last minute. I really recommend having a look at their stage performance on video because it’s a finely honed act and while it’s responsive to the feisty audience, it’s no amateur act, and it really shows the best of the Cadiz spirit and humour. My shots are from the ‘dressing room’ in a local Peña where we – Luzia Photo Courses – were invited to hang out and accompany them through the strreets to El Falla. In terms of interpretation, I made these shots warmer and more low key.


Chirigota Esto si que es una chirigota


This shot was one of the hardest to get, as the room was totally packed. Normally I’ll jump up on a pile of chairs or try hanging from the chandelier to get the shot, but having fallen from the top of a ladder and broken my shoulder and arm last year, I’m now officially a wimpette who has recently discovered mortality. So I literally had to focus on one plane (the eyebrow guys), lock the focus and exposure (AE-L/AF-L) and then raise the camera in the air, just about able to see in the back LCD, the live preview. This was where the Fuji came in handy, with its live LCD and ability to get good quality shots on high ISOs, as well as its petite body. As you can see, the room was absolutely packed, and the air was filled with intensity and anticipation. This is the best shot I could squeeze out of the chaos, before we hit the streets in an informal procession to the theatre: El Falla.


Carnival Streets

If this inspires you to come, we run themed photography courses in Cadiz, and part of what we do is enable people to shoot in great locations and gain access where a visitor would never have a chance. As you can see, this year we backed a winner!