Last year in November during the Deepavali shooting I did while doing my review shoot for the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens, I was invited by Luke Chua to return to the same temple and shoot another beautiful festival, the Holi or more popularly known as the Festival of Colors, which happened earlier this afternoon. Back then when Luke told me about the event, I immediately said yes, and it was with much anticipation that I waited, and finally, today was the day. After a long, depressing and stressful week at work, the Holi Festival was one shooting session I knew would make up for everything, and make things right again.
First of all, I consider myself very lucky to be in Malaysia, because we have Indians as an integral part of our unique multi-cultural society. Therefore, we do not have to travel all the way to India (or its neighboring countries) to witness some of the largest traditional and cultural Indian celebrations, such as this Holi Festival. Of course some may argue that the authenticity and scale of celebration may not be as grand and as beautiful in comparison to the mother country India, but hey, having our very own local celebration within driving distance or for my case, a train ride away from where I stay, I strongly believe this was one amazing photography opportunity not to be missed. Armed with my Olympus gear and Zuiko Digital lenses, I attacked the event with a few friends, and this session was one of the few that I really went all out shooting with my gear without holding back. I seriously poured everything into this session !!
All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital lenses 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 and 50-200mm F2.8-3.5
Caught Yellow Handed
Dance in the Rain
From Powder With Love
To be entirely honest, I have no idea what Holi celebration is, and I was born and raised up in Kuching, a hometown where Indian and Hindus are the minority there, hence I was not exposed to their culture and practices. Nonetheless, useful information can be easily obtained from the web, and you may refer to the Wikipedia description here (click). All that I knew about Holi was from the images that I can find from the online photography sites, as well as the much famed Nikon advertisement with people being painted in colored powders. I think Nikon have influenced largely on the awareness of this particular color based celebration all over the world, and the impact was even more evident here in Malaysia, since we do have a large Indian community here in general.
When I arrived at the Hindu temple, the celebration already started, and the crowd already went crazy smearing each other with colored powders and spraying waters all around. Not wanting to miss any fun, I jumped right into the "war-zone". I started with my tele-zoom lens, the 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens, and composed some very tight shots, shooting mostly from a distance. I wanted to capture the intense emotion, the joy, the laughter, and the endless supply of strong expressions by everyone throughout the whole event. The colors-smeared faces and hair just added drama to the whole scene. It was interesting observing how everyone just came together, and have fun, and bless each other with the color powders. Powerful human emotion: checked. Color, color and more color: checked. Water splashes for dramatic effect: checked. This event is photography heaven come true.
After spending initial half an hour with the tele-zoom lens, I decided to get in even closer, and switched to my super wide angle lens, the 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 lens. It was really fun getting closer and closer, and I managed some good wide angle shots above the head level, shooting with live view. Being that close means I need to get the camera, lens and myself wet. I made sure my phone was secure inside the camera bag, shielded from stray water splashes. As for the camera and lens, well they could handle themselves, Olympus DSLR and High Grade Zuiko Digital lenses are after all, fully weather sealed, and I have not the slightest doubt that they can withstand the water splashes and powder attacks. It was when I used the wide angle lenses that I managed to get some even more interesting shots, because I get to see whats happening in the surrounding more, and capturing the sense of location. It was after all a rowdy crowd, and very messy indeed, but hey, showing how rowdy and how messy the real condition was can add more realism into the final series of photographs, instead of just clean, tight and properly composed tele-photo shots. I believe a mix of both wide angle and telephoto images complement each other very well, hand in hand.
The whole event was held outdoors in a carpark area in front of the temple, hence lighting was not an issue. The sky was mostly cloudy, and it actually rained for a little while. The lighting was mostly soft and it was just fitting for this kind of photography, shooting people as the main subjects. Considering the event started at 1.30pm, if the sky was clear, I would imagine the intense sun to cast heavy, ugly shadows in places we do not want on the human subjects.
Water from Above
Comfort among-st Chaos
Eat The Colors !!
Eye Protection, from Powders
The most colorful facial make-up ever
Considering the rate how Internet spreads information, the Holi festival has attracted a HUGE number of photographers, and my friends told me the number of photographers almost tripled what they saw last year. I think it will be even worse next year. This poses another issue, which has already cause much nuisance to other photography genres: over-population of photographers presence in an event. Take for example, a fashion show. The photographers conquered the media stage, the front row of the viewing area, that the public are practically blocked off from any meaningful view of the whole fashion show progress. As for this Holi festival, it is not yet a problem, but I foresee the number of photographers to grow each year, at an exponential rate. It is not too far fetched to predict that in a few years the number of photographers present will surpass the number of people who went there actually for the Holi Festival. What a scary thought indeed. And me blogging about this event did not help that situation much either !!
We also noticed that there were many photographers who came, stayed outside the celebration ground, and snapped from far. They stayed for a short while, and left. Unfortunately, for events like this, the most important rule is to get as close as you can, go to the heart of action, blend in, enjoy the celebration, feel what the people there are feeling, dance with the crowd, and then you can get your images. You do not just shoot from far and hope magic to happen. You need to connect to your subjects, you need to be physically present to make that connection happen. I guess the main reason for many to stay far away was the fear of getting the camera splashed by the random water cannons, as well as the color smearing from the crowd. There are a dozen ways you can protect your camera and gear: plastic bag DIY raincoat, using masking tape to cover the whole camera and lens, or buy water-proof bag-housing (more expensive), just to name a few. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my short dabbling experience with photography, is that if you want to get the shot done right, you have got to get dirty. You can't expect yourself not to be affected by what was happening around you and still get away with decent shots. Jump in, participate, and enjoy yourself !! How can you capture the fun that the crowd was having if you do not understand or feel the same fun as they did?
Some of the notable challenges I faced, are difficult composition and the stray water sprays. Firstly, it was not easy to compose in such a messy setup: everyone everywhere, distractions all around, and it was not my usual style to shoot something so random and unplanned. Nevertheless, I told myself not to think too much and just capture the scene as it was, because honest representation of the actual event was also a crucial element in story-telling. Yes, the background was messy and there were just too many distractions, but they all added to the overall atmospheric combination and can play an important role in establishing the sense of "chaotic mess" which the Holi Festival is indeed all about. Secondly, the water splashes did get in the way of my shooting, which I should have paid more attention to. The wide angle lens was weather sealed, but the water kept getting onto the UV filter (you better put in any sort of filter, you do not want those colors to land on your lens' front element). I did not have anything dry to wipe off the filter, and having the wet filter was as if I was shooting with a permanent soft-filter on, creating random blur blotches all over my frame. I have some otherwise very good shots, but they were destroyed due to the water on the filter, which I only came to realized much later. Thirdly, the water somehow got into the viewfinder front, and no matter how I dry it (I did not have anything dry, remember?) I could not clear it off and as I was composing through the viewfinder, it was always, always blurry. Focus confirmation was almost non-esistent, and I was relying on the AF to do its job, without much chimping (the whole LCD screen was also wet). I could not use my shirt to wipe the front of viewfinder or the LCD dry, because all my cloths were also drenched in water after half an hour shooting in the war zone.
Rub it in
Sisterhood in Colors
Looking at the image output, I was very pleased with what Olympus does with the color. It was the Festival of Colors, and Olympus colors surely shines through this session. I really like how the colors captured were vibrant and lively, yet not pushing to the edge of over-saturation. Although the sky was cloudy, casting flat lighting, the Olympus did not fail to deliver punchy images, with good amount of contrast. A lot of people may complain that modern digital cameras produce images that look too digital, and they often compared the color output to the older film results. I actually do like those "digital look", and they appear a lot closer to what my eyes see, and surely they are more "balanced" and pleasing at the same time. It is after all, the digital era now, and if the camera in any way can look stunning in digital display, I say more power to it !! What is not to like, sharp, detailed images? Beautiful, impressive color rendition? With more and more useful, information to create that sense of reality? I agree color profile is a personal preference. To me, the best colors these days, among available camera on the market, I like the Olympus colors the best.
Oh did I mention how sharp those two Zuiko Digital lenses are? The 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 as well as the 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lenses. Those are the lenses that the micro 4/3 system still lack. Yes the 12mm F2 lens is amazing, but it was non zoomable and it was not even as wide as the 11mm, which was reported closer to 10mm coverage in real life shooting situations. We also have the Panasonic 35-100mm F2.8 lens, but hey, at 100mm longest reach, it was not even that long. Placing it side by side with the older Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens, the 50-200mm wins, because at 100mm zoomed in, the aperture opening at the widest will still be at F2.9. Yet it offered double the reach at 200mm, and with full weather sealing. Bottom line is, for the micro 4/3 mirrorless to move forward and fully mature into a full system, fast zoom lenses are necessary.
A Little Yellow Love
The Human Touch
They Come in Purple
Powder and Water
The Holi Festival was surely an eye opening experience. I enjoyed myself tremendously, and gave the Olympus gear a thorough workout. Now I will have a hard time cleaning the colors off !!
If you do have the Holi Festival near where you live, why not give it a try and make some nice images? It is celebrated in many places in the world, and surely the colorful culture and beautiful crowd are enough reasons to get your camera clicking. If you do not have the celebration near you, then travel to the nearest country that does celebrate !! I think this was one of the most fun photography outing I have had. A little messy, yes, but it was worth it.
No, the dog was not spared
This sort of reminded me of "Braveheart"
A Face of All Colors
Photo Credits: Luke Chua
My camera was also a victim of the celebration, and say hi to friend Ripi !!
Have you shot Holi before? Do share your experience, and stories if you have. Since this was my first time shooting Holi (surely not the last), I would want to hear from your side of things too. Was any of you beautiful readers there at the same location earlier today? Do let me know !! Also, if you have shot Holi (here or elsewhere) do share some photographs !!