Your Top 10 Reasons to Let the Good Times Roll This Mardi Gras

Beautiful girl in Mardi Gras mask and carnival costume lying on floor

Rio's Carnival just started yesterday. Venice's Carnival is already in full swing. That means the big shabang, the biggest party of the year in the Big Easy, is right around the corner. That's right, I'm talking about Mardi Gras, the party you'll never forget, but probably won't remember.

Even if you’re poorer than a po'boy and can't afford to get over to one of the big city shindigs for Carnival or Mardi Gras, that's alright. There are still plenty of ways to participate in the events of Carnival and Mardi Gras that you can't afford to miss… from a creative standpoint. So pack your camera, your drawing tablet, and your party hat, and get ready to "Laissez les bons temps rouler," because here are 10 reasons to fatten up your portfolio for Fat Tuesday.

1. The Spectacular Spectacle

Mardi Gras Float Closeup

There is nothing boring about this holiday. It's a no-holds barred farewell feast of carne (both in the meat and flesh terms of the word). In fact, Carnival, which precedes and/or culminates on Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras, gets its name from the Latin phrase "carne vale," which translates to the "farewell to meat." This referred both to the eating of meat and to partaking in the more carnal sexual desires of the the flesh from which Christians were supposed to abstain during the approaching fast of the Lenten season.

But for Mardi Gras, that means amazing food, sexy samba dancing, amazing live music and entertainment, vibrant colors, and truly a feast for all the senses. The elaborate costumes at Carnival and the richly ornate and imaginative "krewe" floats at the parades in Mardi Gras are spectacular shows in and of themselves.

As creative professionals, you basically have a bona fide guarantee that you will be dazzled—or you will find plenty of inspiring opportunities to dazzle others through your work.

2. Christmas is Over—And Over-Saturated

Mardi Gras beads background

It’s sad to say, but Christmas is over. (Seriously though, if you haven’t taken down your Christmas tree by now, you risk being labeled as one of those people. You know, the kind of people who’ve probably got something like 19 cats or are hoarding so much stuff in the attic that there’s no room to put the decorations back.)

Now that it's February and the twelve days of Christmas (and New Years) are over, it's time to get back to work, focus on the next holiday, and on new seasonal promotional designs for the new year and first quarter. So if you’re looking to dust off your portfolio from a seasonal perspective, look no further than Mardi Gras to get it back in gear. Mardi Gras as a holiday is the end of the period called Shrove Tide, which takes off where the Christmastide ends on the 6th of January, the Epiphany/King’s Day. So chronologically, Mardi Gras really is your next big chance for your portfolio to stand out amongst less competition and a less saturated holiday market as far as stock image libraries are concerned, across the board. Not with red and green and more red and green lights, but with green, purple, and gold (and/or teal, especially if you’re in Venice).

3. Mardi Gras is a Bit of a Mystery…

Carnival dancer

I have to admit, before researching for this blog, Mardi Gras was a bit of a mysterious holiday for me. I didn’t really know what it was about other than drinking and eating and partying. OK so I knew the important part. But I didn’t even spell it correctly and typed it in as "Mardis Gras" to see what pictures there were. (You can't blame me, I don't speak French.) So I only got something like 40ish images instead of 40+ pages of results. (Good for them, though, that misspelling is SEO at work.)

While that was a bit more niche than the niche kind of holiday I originally thought Mardi Gras was, I think in the wider context of the other holidays on the calendar and the number of places where it is not as well known versus where it is wildly popular, I might have been accidentally right.

It may still hold true that Mardi Gras is a bit "niche" in some respects:

- Perhaps it is often overlooked because it precedes Ash Wednesday and Lent which culminate in the better known Easter holiday?

- Or maybe—as some search results may suggest—there is confusion with other holidays that are popular in Latin America such as Cinco de Mayo or the Day of the Dead ("el Dia de los Muertos")?

- Maybe there is some overlap and redundancy with St. Patrick's Day being so close in date and resemblance in the drinking and partying aspects?

- Or maybe we're all just bogged down with work and tax season?

In any case, Mardi Gras is a relatively easy way to stay top of mind on the design side or the photography and illustration side due to the less competition and the creative freedom that comes with niche markets.

4. …But It's Still Incredibly Popular

Bourbon Street at dusk

Not to contradict what I just said about Mardi Gras being niche, but it's an incredibly popular niche. According to an article by Fast Company's Margaret Rhodes, 6 years ago New Orleans alone was almost quadrupling its regular population during Mardi Gras festivities. Double that for Rio.

When you understand that the period from Shrovetide to Carnival to Fat Tuesday is potentially over a month long, you see that there is a lot of flexibility in timing and long-lasting message endurance from a product release, press release, event marketing, and sales promotion standpoint.

Plus, because of its colorful smorgasbord of symbols and fun traditions, Mardi Gras lends itself to promoting a wider variety of consumer and entertainment products in ad campaigns that could translate more literally than President’s Day (clothes and mattresses?) Easter (bunnies and candy bars?) or St. Patrick's Day (green tee shirts, drinks, and anything "lucky").

With the interest of stimulating the economy during the January to April quarter in mind, I would reckon that more and more diverse companies will be looking to buy Mardi Gras stock imagery for their promotions in the future.

5. Sociability & Anonymity

Venice Masks, Carnival.

Laughter under the dark cover of late night; masks and making love: Mardi Gras is a highly social holiday.

If you're into capturing the social aspect of people in photos, this holiday allows for heightened natural facial expressions along with caricatured and freakish masks. Letting the good times roll is about letting loose. That means vulnerability and voyeuristic spectators of the spectacle. Where there are those two elements, you have a portal to peek into human nature.

Mardi Gras is not about being tame, and is all about going wild and crazy and going out. Dancing, being part of or watching the parade, camping out on the French Quarter balconies or bouncing through the crowds. Compare this extroversion to the introversion of the Christmas holiday. At Christmastime, we might go out to pose for a picture with Santa at the mall after standing still in a long line, but we tend to spend most of the rest of the time in the relative privacy of our homes with our family units.

Being outside, especially at night, instead of inside a controlled environment, also presents its own challenges in lighting for photographers. Mastering the technical aspects, along with the subject intricacies of "being in the middle of it all" versus using establishing shots, catching candid closeups or wide crowd wow shots, allows for a diverse range of craft and character to go into your work.

LHF for the Mardi Gras Image Category

People celebrated crazily in Mardi Gras parade.

(^The above is an Editorial licensed photo. It's pretty solid, but hard to find and I know there are some RF-only folks out there. The iconic elements present are the balcony and the beads. Could there be something similar, closer, royalty free and with a more direct foreground element as in the examples below?)

This brings up a "low hanging fruit" concept I had upon reviewing all 42 pages of Photos/Illustrations, with Royalty Free licenses checked: There is (at least) one key image missing from the Dreamstime image library, and anyone who gets it right will get it big.

That key image is a RF establishing shot of "the Mardi Gras party scene" along with the some basic iconic ingredients.

New Orleans French Quarter Architecture

Upon searching, we're inundated with masks and beads, which kind of makes sense, at first. But after getting deep into the search, it gets old. You might find one or two photos of a faceless crowd, but little else to tie in with the holiday. There seems to be no "Mardi Gras crowd AND X" yet.

This is a problem.

While at Christmas, the surrounding imagery is plentiful, easily posed, controlled and a lot can fit into one photo, in Mardi Gras, the floats are big, the costumes are big—and/or naughty—the balconies are vertical, the parades might be a few blocks away, and it's impossible to get everyone's permission for release in the crowd.

But it's not undoable. While adding certain faces or facades might lend your work to Editorial, getting at least parts of the iconic French Quarter balconies along with models or small groups of model released people could work for RF especially if you're traveling with said friends or models. (And illustrators, take note! It’s a whole lot easier for you in this case.)

I’ll refer to these other images of good establishing group shots that capture fully the iconic elements or mood of a specific event. One nice trick is the foreground/background rack focus of an iconic element (bonfire) with the group. The same could work for a balcony looking out, with a mask, food, beads, etc. on the party table and the group looking down at the Mardi Gras folks below.

Beer conversation

Spending great time together.

Tourist fire

6. Distinct, Old, & Rich Cultural Symbols — Collect Them All

Venice mask

When you stop and really, really think about it, Mardi Gras (and the accompanying Carnival) is one of the oldest holidays still practiced today, in ways remarkably similar to the original, which apparently had floats and half-naked people running around (even though I can assume much has changed—I mean, I wasn’t there for the first one centuries ago, were you?) I’m sure Passover, the various cultural New Years holidays, and possibly Halloween have it beat. But the latter two have evolved a lot.

Anyway, the point is that where is a lot of history to draw on, there are also a lot of ingredients and toppings you can add to your creative portfolio "pizza" when it comes to covering Mardi Gras.

For one, Mardi Gras is celebrated in ways that are so locally distinct, you'd almost feel like they were fans for rival teams at the same football game. On one side of the ocean, you have Venetian masks and ornate coverings from head to toe. On the other side, you have Aztec and Cajun costumes and, well, you're basically naked. If you think about these parties as different color crayons in a boxed set, you could even travel to a different Mardi Gras each year to try to "collect them all," while having a vastly different experience at each.

7. There's a Lot of Low Hanging Fruit in the Mardi Gras Category

Voodoo Doll and Beads

When you combine a niche holiday with high demand, some technical challenges and the travel barrier, along with its rich cultural canvas and dazzling paint, you have a whole low hanging fruit orchard at your disposal for the easy plucking of downloads.

Below is the cheat sheet I promised:

Cheat Sheet of Mardi Gras Elements

- masks (Rio, Venice, Cologne all have their own types, might be good for illustration)

- beads

- people with masks or beads

- parades—need more, especially in illustration (think of all those sites that have 25+ parades to list and only icons of marching bands to choose from)

- French Quarter New Orleans scenery, including famous buildings, balconies with flower pots, and bars—important

- street performers—important

- Street signs from NOLA French Quarter

- people up on balconies partying

- people below balconies partying (or both)

- party scene (described above as the KEY low hanging fruit)*

- floats—severely lacking in RF, would be great for illustrations and icons

- Venice canals—various Carnival skylines would be a smart idea, either photo or illo

- fleur de lis

- samba dancers and Carnival queens — possibly need against backgrounds

- cuisine (jambalaya, sweets like cupcakes, pancakes, King Cakes, more)—need more

- angel flying down from bell tower—none in library

- jazz music bands—severely lacking in RF

- jesters

- dance / ball

8. Travel!

Masks. Beads and Bourbon Street

As if you needed a reason to travel. Like I said, you can collect them all when it comes to the distinct heritages for this holiday, or you can just get away and have a good time. The more southerly locations allow for warming up in the otherwise cold winter months. Plus, some places like Florida's Universal Studios Resort extend their Mardi Gras festivities until after St. Patrick's Day including the typical "spring break" period to allow for potentially more convenient times to get away.

Here is the list of places where the Mardi Gras/Carnival holiday is especially big, so you can plug them into your favorite flight search engine for booking your trip:

- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

- Venice, Italy

- New Orleans, USA

- Tenerife (Canary Islands of Spain)

- Cologne, Germany

- Nice, France

- Quebec, Canada

- Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago

- Panaji, India

9. The Clients Are Pretty Cool

Golden crepes with honey

While you're out there on the balcony listening to the music and craziness below, I want you to think about the wonderful bevy of creative clients that will be flocking to download your stock imagery for their promotions, print ads, intro videos, and websites. Not insurance companies or stiff-suited businesses, but bars, dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, resorts, alcoholic beverage brands, any kind of activity center that does Groupon-like seasonal promotions, travel sites, and more.

If you do it right and get enough downloads, you may even get to travel back next year on their dime—who knows?

10. Add Contrast To Your Life & To Your Work

Spicy Homemade Cajun Jambalaya

We've all heard the lesson that there's no pleasure without some pain in our lives. Well, sometimes it's just all pain if there's no pleasure. Mardi Gras is founded on the notion of indulging before fasting. Maybe we need to examine our lives and wonder why we haven't let loose?

You can apply that concept to your portfolio, too. If it's feeling stale and same-old same-old, why not sweeten it up with some Mardi Gras treats? So go on and get out there, earn those downloads, and earn those beads!

Photo credits: Amberto4ka, Azuzl, Bhofack2, Emil Cenzato, Damianpalus, Ed Metz, Gstockstudio1, King Ho Yim, Leerobin, Legacy1995, Luciano Mortula, Pressmaster, Terry Poche, Wendy Kaveney.

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February 20, 2019

Zehrabasak

Well done,very good.

February 23, 2017

Lenutaidi

Spectacular blog, Scott Daly! Well done and thank you for sharing!

February 19, 2017

Smokinggun7

Unfortunately the auto-photo cropping mechanism has cropped out the foregrounds in the sample images I inserted for the LHF section. Click on the images for the full photo to better see what I'm talking about.

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