On Friday 16th February (and beyond), hundreds of thousands of people will descend upon cities across the world to celebrate Chinese New Year, an annual festival welcoming the new lunar year. The celebrations are some of the most vibrant and busy in the world, with decorated streets, parades, loud music and creative dancing.
For photographers, this provides an exciting opportunity to capture lively, dynamic images of the festival and its attendees, helping to contribute to an international story of how the festival is celebrated across the globe.
Canon ambassador and acclaimed international photographer, Guia Besana, provides her top tips on how to capture the ‘Spring Festival’, China’s most important holiday.
- Do your research before
Before you set off, it’s so important to do your research and get to know what streets the festival will be on, and where exactly the parade will go. If you don’t, you risk missing everything! A quick look on a search engine or on social media should tell you everything you need to know.
Keep in mind how the energy of the festival can change over time, and make a judgment on where you think you will best capture it all. Sometimes this means heading down to the festival location beforehand.
One of my favourite things to capture is backstage shots of those taking part; doing their make-up and getting into costumes ahead of the festival. If you can, find out where this will be and head there. It’s often quieter around this time, allowing you to capture the excitement and buzz before the festival is in full swing.
- Make sure you and your equipment are prepared to work quickly
Among the buzz of the celebration, some of the most vibrant but minute details can be lost. To capture these, you need to be light and agile. Avoid bringing a tripod so you can be as quick as possible. During Chinese New Year the details can pass by in the blink of an eye, so you need to be able to move fast and react to the story in front of you. Also, don’t be afraid to join the parade yourself to get a close-up of those taking part!
As street festivals happen so fast it can be challenging to capture all the best bits in such a short space of time. To make this easier, I’d recommend using a 50mm 1.2L or a 24-70mm lens. In terms of cameras, for me, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV works perfectly. It’s versatile, quick and has a fast shutter speed.
- Tell a story with video
To tell the story of the festival, I’d recommend experimenting with photography and videography. Take advantage of the festivals’ quickness to do something different. For example, there’s a great sound to street festivals which photographs simply can’t capture. As more and more photographers are upskilling themselves to shoot video content, the skill to do this is only likely to get more desirable, so practice where you can.
- Do something different
Long exposure is often a term that inflicts fear in the photography world, but for festivals like Chinese New Year, where you have these beautiful group costumes and activities, long exposure works perfectly. Don’t be put off by the timings of street festivals from day to night. With the use of low light camera capabilities, you’ll still be able to capture stunning images of the festivities in the night time, such as the fireworks – on the Canon 5D Mark IV this works particularly well when the image quality is at ISO 6400.
- Create a colour profile ahead of time
Street festivals are quick and vibrant, presenting two key challenges. The first challenge is capturing all the energy and colours of the festival, and secondly, doing this in a very short space of time. In my experience, the parade for Chinese New Year lasts about an hour, and with so much going on you don’t have time to be fiddling around creating new colour profiles for your camera. As one of the most dominant colours for Chinese New Year is red, associated with luck, to produce accurate and consistent images make sure you’ve created a colour profile ahead of time.