Photographing the Fremont Solstice Parade

Sparkles and Pearls

For many years while living in Seattle, I didn’t attend the Fremont Solstice Parade. The reasons had more to do with logistics and timing—it wasn’t convenient when we lived in Renton, which is further south, but now we’re a short bus ride away from the Fremont neighborhood (which hails itself as “the center of the universe”).

There was also a hint of my Idaho-bred conservatism at work. The Solstice Parade is probably most famous for the naked cyclists that precede the parade itself, and Fremont is decidedly counterculture. I long ago embraced more liberal thinking, but there’s still a shred of “I can’t believe people are riding around naked in public!” that bounces among a handful of synapses before I come to my senses.

The shock of nudity wears off quickly amid the full spectacle of the parade. And now, after attending several times, I find myself looking through my camera’s viewfinder differently than in the past. This year, I took fewer photos of naked people and tried to be more deliberate about what I was shooting.

Let me amend that: It’s impossible to not include naked people in shots of the parade, but I wasn’t photographing naked people because they were naked. Believe me, there are many attractive folks who are covered only in thin layers of body paint, be they dressed as (from last year) unicorns, assassins, superheroes, or Sith lords.

Part of that had to do with location. My family and I, along with two other families, staked out a spot near the beginning of the parade route. It was good for seeing everything, but the cyclists started out in a couple of large bunches, making it difficult to see—much less photograph—everyone. Last year we were toward the end of the route, and got to see several waves of cyclists who pedaled the route four or five times as the parade inched down the streets.

Also, I think many of the riders are still cautious at the start, despite having spent hours on makeup and undergoing a sizable throng of photographers in the staging area. So not everyone looks like they’re comfortable being the naked center of attention of thousands of people.

My Favorite Art of the Day

That said, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm and creativity on display. Many riders and parade participants were happy to smile for the camera. After all, many of them, I suspect, live ordinary lives during the other 364 days of the year where they don’t get to release their inner tiger or My Little Pony-lover.


My-Little-Pony Rider

The people that stood out the most to me did so because they were genuinely interesting. Although the green-haired woman in the first photo above had my favorite body paint work, my eye (and therefore my camera) was drawn to this robot steampunk photographer, who would frequently stop and pose—not as if taking a photo, but just selling the entire look. For several moments I felt like I’d been dropped into an alternate-reality 19th-century fashion catalog.

Robot Steampunk Photographer

Being in the right spot is key in all of photography, and I did like our spot. A canopy of trees provided a dark, leafy backdrop to many shots, and the sky was mostly clear with some wispy clouds for variation. However, I also spent the entire time sitting on the curb—I had an unobstructed view of the parade, but I didn’t want to stand up and block the people behind me, who were assembled six-deep on the sidewalk. My five-year-old daughter also spent some time sitting on one of my knees, which requires lots of creative contortions to capture some shots.

I was there to enjoy the parade, though, not to pursue a photo assignment. Next year I may try to get a photo pass, which enables photographers to roam the parade route. If so, I’ll rent a good telephoto lens to aim for a shallower depth of field. This year I used my trusty Nikon D90 with an 18-135mm lens that has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at the zoomed end. I’d like to isolate subjects better and leave the bystanders on the other side of the street blurred.

If you’re in Seattle att the next summer solstice, I highly recommend attending the parade and then enjoying the rest of the Fremont Fair. It’s really a wonderful celebration of being alive. And it’s an especially great opportunity to capture photos that we wouldn’t ordinarily make in our day-to-day routines.


[If you want to view more photos from this year’s parade, the Fremont Solstice Parade 2013 group at Flickr has a large sampling.]

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  1. Awesome photos. I just moved to Seattle so this was my first chance to see the parade and I’m glad I did. I had a fun time shooting a parade environment with manual lenses. The lens I used was a Vivitar Series 1 70-210 3.5 It was fun having to manually focus, adjust with the aperture ring, and shoot in M with stop down metering. It was fun though!


    1. Sounds fun and challenging. Welcome to Seattle!


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