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Festivals and events

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Festivals, gatherings and celebratory events have long offered people the chance to come together and shake off the pressures of everyday life. All around the world, festivals allow people to dress up, dance, sing and feel transformed - even if only for a few hours, once every year. For sharp-eyed photographers, the colour, light and emotional energy of these events present incredible opportunities to capture spectacular images.

Every festival has its own unique traditions, ceremonies and rituals. Some are relatively intimate affairs like Scotland's breath-taking Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, held each January. It attracts a few thousand visitors to uphold time-honoured traditions and culminates in the burning of a replica Viking boat.

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© Seba Della y Sole Bossio

In contrast, India's week-long Kumbh Mela, usually held in January, attracts an incredible 60 million devotees keen to bathe and be blessed in the sacred water of the Ganges. It's officially the largest gathering on the planet.

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© Getty

Other events, like the World Bog Snorkelling Championship held each year in Wales, might be best avoided  - unless you enjoy being knee-deep in peat for hours on end.

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One event well worth visiting however, is Europe's largest street festival, Notting Hill Carnival, which takes place on the last weekend of August each year. Attracting well over a million revellers over two days, it fills the usually sedate streets of this bohemian London neighbourhood with a joyful cacophony of sound, costumes and dancing. And perhaps best of all, it's free. 

The Carnival was started in 1965 by London's black community as a way of bringing people together and celebrating Caribbean music and culture.  It offered Londoners the chance to express themselves, celebrate the freedom to dance in the streets and to dress up in spectacularly ornate costumes. You can learn more about the Carnival, and one of its founding members, in our new short film which celebrates the launch of irista, our new photo management service. 

Over its 50 year history, Notting Hill Carnival has grown significantly. These days, it's a party like no other and its flamboyant characters, cosmopolitan crowds and inspiring atmosphere offer a visual feast for photographers. You can arrive early to find a good vantage point to shoot the awe-inspiring costumes of the main parade. Or dive in to the dancing crowds at sunset and capture beautiful magic-light action.

Also held each August is La Tomatina which takes place in the Spanish town of Bunol. A week long fiesta of music, food and fireworks, the event is most famous for being the world's biggest food fight.

Over 40,000 kilos of tomatoes are trucked in. Then around 30,000 people let loose, hurling the over-ripe fruit until the town's streets, and everyone in them, are completely covered. As you might imagine, it's quite a spectacle. The practice is said to have begun in 1944 at the town's traditional festival, when a row between revellers ended up with fruit being thrown. 

Unlike many Spanish festivals which celebrate saints and holy figures, La Tomatina is just done just for fun. The day makes for stunning photos, though seasoned snappers protect their cameras with clear plastic bags to avoid them being splattered.

Even if you're not planning a trip to Spain, London, Scotland or India anytime soon, there's likely to be a nearby music festival or local event where you can take your camera, be inspired and capture the action. Why not visit The Gallery and share your favourite festival photos and experiences?