This year I decided to celebrate Songkran, the Thai festival for the new year.
I decided to celebrate it in Chiang Mai.
And I decided I wanted to make a documentary photographic project of it.
The Songkran festival celebrates the Thai New Year in April and for three days, all the street in Thailand are filled with people, young and old, pouring water on each other in the world biggest water fight.
Googling around, I wasn't able to find some good tips for a photographer so I just tried using my imagination and it went great.
Here a list of things to take in mind if you're thinking about photographing Songkran:
- You will get wet no matter what. Really, REALLY wet. Water will enter every little space of your bag, if you carry one, and form a nice puddle. Think about being under a waterfall for hours, get the idea?
- Buy waterproof bags for carrying money, your telephone, and documents (better have a photocopy), but don't trust them for your camera. In addition, the plastic of the bag in front of your lens will create an ugly blur. So just don't.
- Protect your camera. I did the documentary project with a Fujifilm X100, I wrapped it in a plastic bag from 7/11 and a lot of duct tape.If you have a DSLR the best thing is to have a filter on your lens and to use it to block the plastic too, so you don't have to worry if someone aim directly your lens (and believe me, they will! You're the best target when you have a camera in your hand)
- You can't easily change the settings of your camera during the day, so better set them before "wrapping" and never touch them during the day.
The best is to shoot in aperture priority and set the diaphragm quite closed: as you can't really choose where to focus, better have a large depth of field. Maybe you can wrap your plastic around the viewfinder, leaving it open, and in that case, you have more freedom in focusing, but I preferred not to risk and I covered everything.
My camera allows automatic ISO between a range of values and it's a great option but when I checked the photos I've discovered they were more or less all at the same ISO. My range was between 400 and 800, I didn't want the risk of setting it too low and have motion blur neither too high with a lot of noise. Probably 400 is enough during the day but it will be too low for sunset. If you don't have an option for automatic setting, go for the 800 ISO.
- As above, if you can't view through the viewfinder (or the screen) you don't really know what you have in your frame. The X100 has a fixed 23mm lens and it's great for street photography as it takes a lot in the frame (and I can crop later). I would probably use a 35mm lens on a DSLR.
- You don't have the time to check your photos so take at least 2/3 shots of the same moment.
What I've loved was the moment in the evening when I was unwrapping my camera and looking at all the photos of the day for the first time! It was a little bit like the wait for the processing of a roll of film.
- Last but not least: enjoy it!
I've seen people with their camera and they were so worried about it that they weren't really having fun. The festival goes on for three full days, give it a try for an hour/an afternoon/a day. But if you realize you are too concerned, then better leave it at home and take advantage of the festival. It's a war, it's funny, play the game!