Kung Hei Fat Choi

Happy Chinese New Year!  Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit.  OK, so maybe not the most timely post, but better late than never!

Durham City has had it’s own celebrations for several years now, including a Lion Dance performed by Oceans Apart Kung Fu Club.  This year we made a family event out of it and I managed to take some photos as well.  More after the jump…

There are several versions of the lion dance.  The one performed in Durham is based on the Chinese Southern lion, which is supposed to ward off evil spirits and bring fortune and luck, as well as being entertaining – you can read more about it at the Wikipaedia link above.  We were told that it would start by the statue in the Market Place, but due to the long-running renovation works and a number of market stalls, it ended up being performed at the other end of the square.  Naturally, by the time we’d realised and moved, the crowd was 6-deep all around and none of us could see anything.  We managed to catch glimpses of the lion over the top of the crowd but realised that we weren’t going to see much more than that.  Disappointed, we decided to have some lunch and try to catch the last parts of the celebration as it finished up in Millenium Square, near the Gala Theatre.  In the end, we timed it really well as the lion processed down the street shortly after we finished eating.

Chinese Lion Dance - procession through Durham
Chinese Lion Dance – procession through Durham

I had already realised that I was going to need longer focal lengths, so I had switched from my mainstay 24-105mm to my 75-300mm lens.  It isn’t fast (f4 at 75mm, dropping to f5.6 at the long end), it isn’t great build quality and it isn’t particularly fast to focus, but it’s the longest lens I have available and that’s the moral for this post:

Use the gear you’ve got

Don’t hold back from taking photos just because you don’t have the pro lens you’ve been after or multiple flashguns to work with.  Use the gear you’ve got and make the best of it.  And then work out what kit you actually need to develop your photography further.  I’m the first to admit to gear-lust and I’ve got a long wish-list but it often isn’t necessary to spend a fortune.  Of course sometimes doesn’t hurt… 😉

Chinese lion dance - the lion approaches
Chinese lion dance – the lion approaches

I changed a lot of the settings that I normally use for my landscape work.  For landscapes, I rarely move away from ISO100 but the overcast conditions (and aperture limitations of my lens) meant that I needed to increase to ISO800 in order to keep my exposure times short enough for both the focal length and freezing the action.  I also switched to cloudy white balance as I find the auto setting on the Canon 5DmkII isn’t great at compensating for cloudy conditions and I wanted to have a good idea of colours from my camera’s LCD.  I selected drive mode so that I could shoot bursts of action and switched my focus mode to AI Focus so that the focusing would track movement.

Chinese lion dance
Chinese lion dance

This ceremonial dance is great fun to shoot as its progress realtively slowly between buildings and there are lots of opportuntities to move around, changing angles and picking up the interaction with the crowd.  The final part of the dance includes the lion “eating” a lettuce and spitting it back out, to be caught by someone appropriate for the location (such as the owner of a nearby business or City dignitary).

Chinese lion dance - lettuce caught!
Chinese lion dance – lettuce caught!
Chinese lion dance - acrobatics
Chinese lion dance – acrobatics

The weaknesses of the lens weren’t an obstacle and I took plenty of pictures that I’m really happy with.  I also managed to get some great family shots (which I’ll be keeping private).  So if you’re spending more time on the internet comparing prices of gear than you are taking photos, tear yourself away for a while and go and find something to shoot.