The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is an annual ocean-themed art parade in mid/late June that marks the beginning of summer in New York City. A different celebrity is couple is crowned as the mermaid King and Queen each year. The date of the parade changes from year to year. Check the Mermaid Parade website for the latest information.
What to expect
The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is an energetic, colorful and eclectic event. Participants often have extremely creative costumes and even elaborate parade floats. Many people march in groups with the participants sharing a common theme. There will be props, music and various other types of performance.
Partial nudity is not uncommon in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. If you are concerned about this, you should do some research ahead of time and decide whether you want to go. That said, there will be people and children of all ages both spectating and participating. Many families enjoy the Mermaid Parade.
How to get there
The D, F, N and Q subway lines go to Coney Island and will drop you on or near Surf Ave. Driving is not recommended but if you must, the Belt Parkway will take you into Coney Island from either an east or west approach. Be warned that traffic into Coney Island on this day can be horrendous. Give yourself a lot of extra time to arrive.
Parking is also difficult. If you arrive early enough, you may be able to get into the various lots around Surf Ave., the largest of which is the MCU/KeySpan Park lot at West 22nd street and Surf Ave. Wherever you park, there will likely be a parking fee. Call ahead to make sure that the lot will be open for parade parking.
Pre-parade setup photos
Participants gather in a staging area before the event in order to get into costume and prepare floats and props. You may enter this staging area, walk around and shoot photos for a fee of $5 per camera. Photographers with valid press passes may enter for free.
The parade route may change from year-to-year, but in general it starts down near MCU Park, moves along Surf Ave. towards Astroland and then ends on the boardwalk. Check the parade website for specific information.
Shooting from parade from the sidewalk
The crowd here is very large, so find a spot early and stay there. If you choose to wander around until start time, you will be standing behind a lot of people and be out of luck unless you are very, very tall.
Since it is difficult to move around once the parade begins and the crowd packs in around you, I find telephoto lenses to be the most useful choice for shooting the parade from the sidewalk. With a telephoto lens, you can pick out a variety of individual people and elements from the parade, masking the fact that all your photos will be shot from the exact same vantage point. A wide maximum aperture also comes in handy here -- you can shoot wide open and blur the background, which would otherwise be similar in every frame.
Pick a lens that focuses quickly. Many marchers move fast and some groups are large. At any moment during the parade you will have a great variety of subjects to choose from. A telephoto that can also focus relatively close is also useful, as some marchers will come over to the barricades in order to give out favors, joke around with spectators and entertain children.
My own personal choices for shooting the Mermaid Parade have been the EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS, and the EF 135mm f/2 L. The versatility of the zoom lens is very convenient, but at the same time I don't find the prime lens limiting. In 2009, I shot the entire parade from beginning to end with my 135.
Watch the elbows
If you have a professional camera body or a battery grip, it will be very useful at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The crowd is extremely dense and rotating a standard-sized camera body without a vertical grip might have you throwing elbows at the people next to you. If you don't have one, be mindful of your surroundings. Nobody wants a black eye.
The Mermaid Parade will go on rain or shine. In 2009, it poured for part of the day but everyone had fun. Bring a light rain jacket and a small umbrella if rain is in the forecast.
Since this parade marks the beginning of summer, it may also be very, very hot. Bring plenty of water and sunblock. I have come away from this parade with a sunburn and it's not fun.
After the parade
The parade ends on the boardwalk, where many festivities carry on. A lot of marchers also move down onto the sand to celebrate and pose for photos, and even wade into the ocean.