The Chinese Lunar New Year was a couple of weeks ago but the big Austin celebration happened this weekend, larger than ever, spanning two days. I was most interested in the Lion Dance with firecrackers which happened today.
The weather was iffy and I was nursing a slight cold so I almost passed on the entire thing. As fun as these events are, when you’ve been to the same thing 5 years in a row, novelty is no longer your friend. That’s one of the reasons why I shoot with a bunch of different cameras.
I shot last year’s with the newly announced Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. I got decent shots but I didn’t even blog about it. This year, in an attempt to do something different, I attached my long zoom, the 55-300mm to that new Nikon D3300 I bought for sports. I was hoping a bit of telephoto compression would give me a different point of view.
The rains never amounted to much and I was feeling better so, on a whim, I stopped by the Chinatown Center to catch the tail end of the Lion Dance. They had already moved inside so my planned 55-300mm zoom was pretty much useless. Luckily I had also slipped my new compact Ricoh GR, into a side pocket. The chunky point and shoot sized camera fits most anywhere.
The Ricoh has a 28mm equivalent f2.8 prime lens with a large APS-C sensor (here’s a link to the GR II, which is basically the same camera). I’m sure all the smartphone shooters would never suspect that my camera has a sensor that’s over 20 times larger than theirs. All in a package about the same height and width as their phone, though with a depth that’s 3 times thicker.
With a bit of luck, good timing and a superior sensor, I was able to make a decent shot in a challenging indoor venue. Luckily the Ricoh shoots RAW, and with considerable post processing I created this, which is okay, but not totally satisfying. There in lies my biggest gripe with this camera, I’m not very fond of its colors. More about this and the rest of my thoughts on the GR, in a future post.
I decided to try something new. An experiment in photographic processing. I had some extra images from the recent Chinese New Year celebration that I blogged about last week. These photos were taken at the closest point to the action. I used my smallish Olympus E-PL1 and stuck it out there almost in between the legs of the dancers to see what I can capture. What resulted was a smokey mess but the images had some potential. Unlike the very colorful photographs from my first Chinese New Year post, I decided to go in an entirely different direction. To recover the most details out of the haze, I decided to lose the color. In found with black and white, I can push the detail recovery a bit more than in color. So as an exercise, I decided to experiment with my Topaz B&W Effects plug-in. The software is designed to create black and white conversions that mimic the old style black and white films. While the software has a large number of presets, I decided to do a custom effect. As I played with the software, I ended up creating images that, in my mind, reminded me of vintage travel photographs from the Far East.
What resulted is something I find interesting. Something certainly different from my norm. If you don’t look closely and you ignore the camera bags and the bits of modernity, I find myself transported back a 100 years to some village in China. To me, these images seem timeless and exotic. So I deem my experiment a success, if only to show an alternate reality of a scene from Austin, Texas in 2012. The photograph at the top of the post is my favorite. I posted the original RAW at the bottom for comparison.
The photographs were taken with my Olympus E-PL1. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
Here is a sample of my work. I’ve posted them on my one-photo-per-day photo blog, mostlyfotos. There are a lot of images so click the << Previous Photo link to see more. You can also hover over the photos to see the exposure information.
NOTE: I posted an An alternative view of the Chinese New Year for a completely different take on the very colorful images on this post.
In last week’s blog post, I wrote about how I made a mistake and went to a photo event on the wrong day. I made the best of this by getting some interesting and possibly exotic images at a local Asian supermarket. I was also in search for my dragon image that I wanted to post on the Chinese New Year. I headed up to the Chinatown Center again, yesterday, in north Austin for the Chinese New Year’s day festivities. This time, I definitely had the correct day and place. Even at 10:30am the place was jam-packed with cars. I brought the same camera and lens setup as last week, the Canon 7D with the 70-200 F4 and my trusty Olympus E-PL1 with the 20mm lens. If you account for the various crop factors, I had a setup that covered 112mm to 320mm with my Canon and 40mm on the Olympus. Turns out the combo worked out great. From behind the ropes surrounding the performance area, I was able to get closeups with my zoom and use my E-PL1 as a wide-angle. Later on, I also used my Olympus exclusively when I was able to walk up close to the action.
The festivities started at 10:45 am with some traditional Chinese music. The two stringed instruments set the mood and the pace and action continued to increase from the opening performance. The music was followed by dancing and then drumming. Of course, there were the usual martial arts demonstrations.
I haven’t been to one of these events in a while. Interestingly, many of the performers seem to be from the Austin area, including a large contingent from Summitt Elementary School which is part of the Austin public school system. Back 5 years ago, the performers came in from Houston so it definitely seems like the Asian population is Austin is growing. The dragon and lion dances were the main attractions of the Chinese New Year celebration. After a bit of research I discovered that the participants parade the dragon around on poles. The multicolored costumes worn by two people are the lions.
Lee Leffingwell, Austin’s mayor came out as the guest of honor, lighting the fireworks for the finale. The action shifted away from the makeshift stage to the back. The crowds at this point were 5 – 6 levels deep in most places. I somehow was able to escape from the stage and moved over the the backside where the firecrackers were in full force. The smoke and noise were so loud, it started to disperse the onlookers in the back. The people in the know had ear plugs which really is a necessity. Luckily for me, a blog reader suggested that I bring ear protection, something that I definitely would not have thought about — thank you, Jack. I was easily able to slip to the front right, right on top of the small explosions. By this time, I switched exclusively to my Olympus Pen camera. The 40mm lens was perfect for catching the up close action. I probably would have gotten even closer but the lack of eye protection made me hesitate.
After the main firecracker lion dance, the performers shifted to several locations around the shopping center. A large firecracker performance occurred in front of the Asian supermarket that I visited last week, intimidating some of the customers. After that, smaller firecracker lion dances erupted in front of the various smaller stores throughout the complex. Between the smoke and fast action, it was a bit of crap shoot to get great images. With all the mini-explosions near me, I didn’t have my usual time to compose the shot. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the performance of the cameras. The lenses I used worked great for me and by having two cameras I didn’t have to change lenses. Certainly a plus in this very smokey environment. Incidentally, my Canon 70-200 f4L and the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 are my two favorite lenses. It was nice to put them through their paces on the same shoot.
I was a bit out of practice carrying the 7D with the 70-200 and the 430EX external flash. This is my heaviest combination and after a while my back started to feel the weight. I guess I need to work out more since my light weight mirrorless setup is making me soft. I may have look a bit strange with 2 cameras, with a dramatic size difference, around my neck, but it worked for me.
I’m not sure how this New Year’s festivity compares to the traditional celebrations in Asia but for a few hours I felt transported to another place. I’ve talked about seeking out other ethic celebrations in your hometown before on this blog. Whether it is the Dia de los Muertos celebration or the Chinese New Year, it is great to be able to shoot a different and diverse slice of American life. For the readers that have such opportunities, I encourage you to go seek out your local celebrations.
The photographs were taken with my Canon 7D and Olympus E-PL1. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
Some more information on the Lion and Dragon dance teams. Here are links to the Texas dragon/lion dance team and the Summitt Dragon/Lion Dance Team just in case you are interested in the groups or thinking about partaking in new year’s celebrations.