Road trips and memory making are good for the soul.
My family loaded up and traveled from Tulsa to Dallas, a little more than four hours, to witness the magic of The Lantern Fest.
We enjoyed s’mores by the campfire and live music leading up to the release of hundreds of glowing balls of light. The kids were able to sit down and decorate their lanterns that later they lit on fire and released.
It’s truly a sight to see. There’s something very dreamy about glowing light in the dark. I️t was like living out a scene from Tangled. Plan to attend if this type of festival ever ventures nearby.
I️ knew I wanted to capture all of the details leading into the evening with just my Canon 5D Mark III and a single lens. Honestly though, I had never shot in the dark without additional equipment.
I wasn’t really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I️ pulled it off:
1. Use a slow shutter speed
When shooting in the dark or low-light settings it’s important to have a really steady grip, proper equipment or adequate lighting such as off camera flash.
I used a long exposure to capture the images you see here. I handheld my camera for all of the shots captured which resulted in some blur on moving objects.
Even if you have a solid, stable camera the subject is still moving somewhat. With a slow shutter speed you will see movement blurred in the final capture. Even the slightest movement will be picked up.
Although you see some movement in several of my images, I️ actually enjoy it in these photos. Having a slow shutter speed increases the camera shake or lack of focus in your images so a tripod can be helpful. I overshot during the festival to ensure a few good, usable captures.
If you’re not using a tripod to stable your camera for the slow shutter speed, there’s a few things you can do to minimize motion blur:
- Tuck your elbows into your stomach to help stabilize your arms so they’re not moving about.
- Take a breath and hold it before you press the shutter so you’re moving less.
- Find a tree stump, car or something more solid to rest your elbows on to act somewhat like a tripod for the camera.
- Wear your camera’s neck strap around your neck. Pull it away from you so there’s no lack in the strap. It sounds counter-intuitive but the pull will help balance the camera.
2. Use a high ISO
Don’t be scared of grain in your images. It’s almost impossible to capture images in the dark without grain.
You can always do a little post processing magic to clean them up. You can run Portraiture over the images or utilize luminance to help make the grain more subtle. The more exposure you bring in, the more noticeable grain you will see. Embrace the moodiness.
3. Use a smaller lens
I captured these images with the Canon 35L lens. If you use a long focal lens like a 70-200 you risk more camera shake since the lens is longer and heavier.
I captured these wide open at an aperture of f/1.4. I wanted the lanterns to be in the compression… like little balls of light similar to when you shoot Christmas light bokeh. A fish eye lens would’ve been a fun addition to take to this type of event.
This was the first time my kids had the opportunity to experience a lantern festival and it was truly magical. My goal when capturing these images was to focus on the elements of the story and document that magic.