University of California Riverside Native American Powwow


University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 200mm, f/2.8 for 1/800 at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Background

The Native Americans are a proud people with a rich and storied heritage. One of the activities they perform regularly are powwows, which are events where tribes meet to share kinship, socialize, and compete in dancing and singing. These powwows attract tribes from across a region with the larger ones attracting tribes from throughout the United States and Canada. It is a truly awesome experience to attend one of these gatherings. Tribe members young and old participate and it is inspiring to see that they preserve their heritage and traditions, and share those with the general public through songs and dances.

University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 70mm, f/4.0 for 1/100 at ISO 400, circular polarizer

University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 70mm, f/2.8 for 1/60 at ISO 100, circular polarizer

How to get this type of shot

This is the second powwow I have attended, so I knew what to expect in terms of the venue layout and performances. Powwows are generally scheduled during the day, which usually means harsh midday lighting. Given the time of day (it was around 3pm) I decided to locate myself so that the performers were front lit and shot facing east from the far western end of the stage. This turned out to be serendipitous because bleachers lined the east end of the stage providing a break in the ring of tents making up the stage.

University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 200mm, f/2.8 for 1/800 at ISO 100, circular polarizer

University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 200mm, f/2.8 for 1/800 at ISO 100, circular polarizer

From my previous experience, I knew that it was going to be a challenge to get shots without the tents in them. Although the bleachers helped, getting clean compositions without the brightly colored tents meant: 1) Shooting from a low perspective so that sky and trees and not tents filled my background (this perspective also gives people a “larger than life” feel since you are shooting up at them), 2) Zooming tight and filling the frame and 3) Using a large f-stop (in my case f/2.8) to get as shallow a depth-of-field as possible. I used a polarizer to reduce glare so that the rich colors of the performers’ regalia were preserved and shot in AI Servo (continuous autofocus) mode using high speed continuous so I could keep up with the action.

University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 200mm, f/2.8 for 1/800 at ISO 100, circular polarizer

University of California Riverside UCR Native America PowwowCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM at 26mm, f/2.8 for 1/40 at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Location

UCR Sports Complex (Coordinates: 33.982086,-117.332643)

If you know any of the performers featured in these photos, please email me though my Contact Me page. I would be happy to provide high resolution photos to them for personal use.

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21 thoughts on “University of California Riverside Native American Powwow

  1. Great shots Mark! I think you did well in isolating the subjects with a clean and non-distracting background. I also like the brilliant and vivid colours which really makes the subject “pop”.

  2. wonderfully captured…I like the vivid colors along with the way you shot with non-distracting backgrounds. The abstract angels of each photo make for interestingly unique pictures… I’ve learned something important…these types of candid photos of people can be so much more interesting when not taken straight on…

  3. Absolutely stunning!!! My sentiments regarding vivid colour and backgrounds are well echoed by previous comments. would also like to add, how the passion of a proud nation shines through, well captured! -C

  4. thanks for seeing my post on the Powwow, too!!!
    Of course, your images are stunning!!!!!!
    I also tried to shoot the images from a low angle, to exclude the sometimes disturbing backgrounds.

  5. A superb collection of shots capturing the essence of the powwow – so good to see that so many more people have seen this and appreciated your work, compared to the few who noticed your first powwow shots. Your blog was still very new then and with more time more people have found you – I hope that your work continues to draw a crowd, as I could see from those first few posts that you had the potential to do something special.

    Not only are these shots very carefully composed (not many people think of things like tents spoiling the background of a photograph) but the colours of the costumes really come through to the observer at home. You also continue to write an interesting and detailed breakdown of the subject and the process of preparing to shoot as well as the technical details of each shot. The location maps you now include are an interesting feature that I think I have only seen on one other photo blog. In many cases they are an invaluable aid to other photographers or even people like me who are just curious about where a shot was taken.

    When I was a young boy my father spoke to me of his father’s fascination with the north American tribes and I grew up reading the odd story about them here and there, which in the UK is fairly unusual. As an adult I have discovered the truth about what happened in times past and even some things that happened in my lifetime, that have only more recently been mentioned more honestly. The fact that Powwows happen still and that many representatives of the various tribes can continue some of their traditions is a positive thing. In the UK we have an adventurer and TV presenter called Ray Mears, who often speaks of his love of the ‘first nation’ tribes as he calls them, and how they were living a largely harmonious lifestyle in keeping with the resources available before the europeans arrived and changed everything.

    We do occasionally have a travelling band of native American people come through my local area of Eastern England, often it is in the summer, for the festival and show season. They tend to be a small group of only 6-10 men and women

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It really is great to see Native Americans passing down their customs and heritage. I saw children as young as 5 years old participating and an older gentleman who looked to be over 80. The passing down of tradition and heritage is remarkable considering the US government at one point outlawed anything that was deemed too “indian”.

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