Last year, I experienced Holi Festival, or the Festival of Colors for the first time. I was not very sure if I could get into the celebration again this year going in as a photographer, due to the newly imposed rules on restricting DSLR users to enter the festival compound. I pushed my luck and managed to secure myself a media pass (thanks Sunil) and braved myself through the colors and water and grabbed myself some shots. My Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 survived last year's Holi, and I was very confident that it will survive Holi again this year. Therefore, my primary shooting gear was the E-5 and 50-200mm lens attached on it, full time.
Now for those of you who may not know about Holi, it is also known as 'Phagwah', representing the Hindu month of 'Phalgun' which ushers the spring season, when vegetation begins to bloom after winter. Holi is celebrated to usher the spring season with the brightest and liveliest colors. Many people may only think that Holi Festival is celebrated at India (the origin) or other countries outside Malaysia, but we have been celebrating Holi locally here for over 5 decades. It is a time where everyone comes together, friends, relative and everyone to form a community as colorful as Holi itself.
The Holi celebration that I went to took place at Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir (est 1919), which has been the centre for Spiritual, Cultural & Educational activities mainly for the North Indian community in Malaysia. For more information about the temple as well as the organizer of this event, SDS Youth, kindly visit their Facebook Pages.
It is indeed a blessing to be able to witness, participate and shoot such a beautiful event like Holi in Malaysia. Photography opportunities were calling out from all directions, there were plenty of live action, human expression and emotions and lots and lots of colors to play with.
All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 or Olympus PEN E-PL5 and Panasonic 14mm F2.5
There were a lot of obstacles faced this year in comparison to previous attempt at Holi. The most notable difficulty was shooting under direct hot afternoon sun as the event started at 2pm. Last year, the sky was cloudy and it actually rained for half an hour, thus creating very diffused flat even lighting, which was pleasing for shooting human subjects, casting minimal shadows and providing very good lighting for even skin tone. This year this was not the case, the sky was completely clear and void of clouds, with direct harsh, unflattering and scorching sun beaming down making human subjects so difficult to shoot. Whichever direction we point the lens to there would be harsh shadows and easily burned highlights everywhere within the frame. No matter how good the dynamic range your camera has, it was pointless because the lighting condition was already unfavourable, and as much as I wanted to have better light, this is one situation where I do have to work with the limitation and deal with the horrible lighting in whatever other means necessary, eg heavier post-processing.
Now, onto gear limitations.
I will be flying to Perth for a photography assignment next week, the last thing I wanted was my gear being killed in action shooting Holi. Those colors and water are hazardous material, and I must plan my gear usage wisely. I know that I do need to use something long, hence I have decided to utilize the older E-5 for a few important reasons: having the 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens for long zoom coverage and that the E-5 is an older camera and I would be much ok with it in case something happens (though I also know on the other hand that the camera will survive, knowing how robust the build and reliable the weather sealing is). My initial plan was to shoot entirely with the E-5 and 50-200mm only. I did not bring any other lenses for the E-5. I used the 50-200mm for almost the entire shoot, and it survived color attacks and water splashes.
Some time toward the later part of the event, the people became less violent (they spray water less and smear color less) and I felt safe enough to take out the PEN E-PL5 with the Panasonic 14mm for wide angle coverage. I did not being the E-PL5 and Pana 14mm just for the Holi, because before coming to the Holi I was atcually meeting some friends who were interested in Micro Four Thirds and I was showing them some of the gear that I had. It did not come remotely close to consideration to use the E-PL5 because it was not weather-sealed. It would have made much more sense for me to use the E-M5 instead. Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, this was unplanned, and as I have the E-PL5 and 14mm with me, and the situation became safer, I thought why not whip out the wide angle and see what I can do with this different perspective?
It is very, very prudent to carry a wide angle lens. It is VERY important and will give you a different coverage from longer focal lengths. I am glad I did.
The E-5 and 50-200mm performed well, and as expected, they did not let me down. The surprise here was the Panasonic 14mm F2.5 lens, I was actually very pleased with the outcome of this lens, it performed above what I anticipated. The images came out sharp and detailed, with good contrast.
I shot everything on the E-5 with aperture priority, in RAW (because I want to tone down the highlights and recover some shadow details) and burst (continuous 5 frames per second). Metering was set to center weighted, and it was good enough for most shots. On the E-PL5 and Pana 14mm, my settings were rather different. I decided to fix F4 (should have stopped down further), ISO200, and then set the AF to Face Detection mode, and just let the camera decide which face to focus on. BAD BAD idea. I seldom use the Face Detection hence I was not familiar with the behaviour, it always chooses the face which was NOT the one I wanted to be in focus in the frame. ALWAYS! You have no idea how many failed shots I have come across until I decided to just stick to manual point selection. By then I have already missed many good opportunities. Sometimes, not only it locked on wrong faces, it actually failed to detect the face at all.
I have several theories. First one, which is less likely, is Panasonic lenses having possibly some issues with the camera hence the focusing was not optimized (not surprised as this happens with the 20mm F1.7 and 25mm F1.4). My second theory is actually more probably, the faces filled with colored powders actually distracted the camera's face detection calculation algorithm, consequently confusing the camera to decide that these are not real faces.
Bear in mind I have two issues: Face Detect AF choosing WRONG face (can be the random face of a guy walking pass at the back of the group of people I am taking photo of) and seprately, sometimes failed completely to find any faces despite 3 or 4 human faces dominated the frame.
For now, I will NOT trust the Face Detect AF. Will choose the focusing points the old school way.
I have enjoyed myself at the Holi tremendously. The crowd was amazing, and yes I got myself all colored. My hair, my face, my shirt, shoes and backpack, not to mention camera and lens (E-5 and 50-200mm). I managed to keep the E-PL5 and Pana 14mm safe from the hazards of color and water. It was great seeing a community of people coming together and celebrate such an occasion, and the most important theme of the day was having fun, and everything had the one same thought. Being there, witnessing so much outburst of human joy and happiness, such honest expression and very public show of emotion, I just could not stop my cameras from clicking away non-stop. I find it hard for any photographers NOT to enjoy this event. There was so much to see and shoot, the Holi Festival was full of life!
Tennyson and Christine. OM-D E-M5 and 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens. Tennyson also shoots with an Olympus TOUGH TG-2.
And that is me full in colors. Photo Credit: Tennyson Lee
There you go, I have shared more photos than usual. I sure hope you have enjoyed the photos as much as I have enjoyed Holi itself.
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