This week is Buddha’s Birthday in Seoul, South Korea, so it’s time for the annual Lotus Lantern Festival. Seoul also holds another lantern festival in the fall, so there are plenty of opportunities to practice your photography skills. Here are some ideas to make your photos really shine.
You may encounter lanterns that are moving and ones that are still. Let’s deal with the still ones first.
Tips for photographing still lanterns:
In Seoul, the still lanterns are built on platforms in the Cheonggye Stream. If the crowds are not too great, you may be able to use a tripod. Otherwise, you’ll have to be sure to choose settings with a fast enough shutter speed. I shoot in Aperture mode because I like to play around with my depth of field. Here’s what I do when I’m shooting without a tripod:
First I decide my aperture setting, depending on the composition. Do I want the entire lantern to be in focus or not? For this photo, I chose f/4 to separate the front lantern from the others.
Next I focus. I always shoot with just one focus point selected. And that focus point is on the eye that is closest to me. (Just like shooting a portrait!)
For a proper exposure, I find it’s best to fill most of the frame with the lantern. That way, the camera does a better job of metering, and the photo is less likely to be overexposed. After I take a shot, I check the histogram on the LCD screen on my camera. It is a much more reliable indicator of exposure than the picture on the screen. I want to avoid a histogram that is all bunched up on the right. I adjust the exposure using exposure compensation and shoot again.
The remaining settings for this photo are: ISO 125, f/4.0, 1/60 sec, 0 EV, 35 mm.
Tips for photographing moving lanterns:
The biggest challenge with moving lanterns is the light. You don’t have much time to tinker with the exposure and each lantern will call for different settings, depending on how bright or dark they are. You also need a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion. I still begin with Aperture mode. And I make sure that my ISO is set to Auto. That way, the camera helps do the work, and I can spend my time focusing and composing. After that, I take the same steps to set up the shot.
For this photo, I focused on the eye. I shot the lantern as it was approaching, to give it a more three-dimensional look. I set the aperture to f/6.3 to get more of the lion in focus.
The remaining settings are: ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/100 sec, +⅓ EV, 105 mm.
I always shoot in RAW. This gives me more latitude to correct for mild over or under-exposure. It does require processing, but it’s well worth it!
When you go out to shoot the lanterns, have fun! Try creating a story through your composition. And watch out for the background. I ruined several shots at a parade by not noticing the brightly lit Burger King sign lurking behind the moving lanterns.