A postcard moment: rain, late arrival, 100 competitors

February 19, 2009

Going for an assignment where you’re sure of a good picture can cause more stress than you imagine.

The annual mid-winter Pingsi sky lantern event in Taiwan, one of the most colorful festivals in the world, is an event where most photographers would say, “Yeah, I can shoot that easily and make a nice picture.” The mass release of balloon-like lanterns usually occurs on the 15th day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, celebrated by ethnic Chinese around the world.

You look at similar shots in the Reuters archives and wonder whether your pictures this year can match them.

Arriving at the rainy village of Pingsi (it rains at least 200 days a year, according to the locals) at around noon, I was mildly outraged to find that more than 100 tripods and stepladders had been set up near where the lanterns were to be released. The event was scheduled for 6 pm, (which means the more than 100 amateur photographers who came on their own were way more serious than a wire photographer like me). The only consolation was that I was hours earlier than competing wire services and got a good spot on the media platform.

That day I understood the real meaning of the Singlish word “Gabra”. Pronounced “GA-brah”, it means in a state of confusion or chaos, confused, frightened, shocked; i.e. panic.

First off, it was one of those 200 days of rain as aptly predicted by the locals and I was carrying two Canon MKIIn cameras and a Canon 450D mounted on a tripod for a slow shutter shot. As I waited in the rain trying to cover the cameras with a Columbia windbreaker in vain, crowds were gathering to release the lanterns. The thing happens faster than it looks in pictures.

The big red things were up in the sky within five seconds.

Anyway my plan was simple: find the most distinct silhouette and compose my frames around it.

Exposure generally changes according to the color of the lanterns, but I was on a slow 1/30 shutter, aperture 2.8 and ISO 800 most of the time. After two rounds of lantern releases, I was gabra-fied. I did not have the “money” shot and could not find my competitors. In fact, most of the locals had already gone filing and I was one of the few left on the platform.

“Your event is bursting with scenery and easy to shoot”, I hear a phantom photo editor telling me, “so why are the pictures so horrible?”

I stayed in the rain for one more round of lantern releases before filing the photos. The following round I was lucky enough to get a man who was photographing a lantern as it went up resulting in a distinct silhouette on the bottom left of the frame. I snapped a few frames and decided to file quickly to beat the Asian deadlines.

I guess my anxiousness paid off in a way. I would not have waited for that shot if I had treated it like a routine assignment where I just go and snap some all right frames and file early.

All in a day’s work on a rainy day. Let’s not get started on return traffic after the assignment.

One comment

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Creativity comes in any moment. Lucky you, artist…
And then comes the perfect scene in a fraction of a second…and you feel this is the moment …and flash…
The picture envolve the viewer inside the moment. Thank yu for let me feel I am inside the event.:)

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[…] Photographer Nicky Loh describes the process of dealing with a particularly difficult assignment here.  […]

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