10 Tips for Photographing Thaipusam Festival, Singapore

 In LEARN, Photography

I’ll admit that the first time I went to the Thaipusam Festival preparations I felt decidedly ill the entire time (being pregnant probably didn’t help!).  I hardly took any photos as I kept turning my head away in sympathetic pain every time a devotee got jabbed by something sharp and metallic.  Ouch!!!

This festival assaults almost all the senses:  The music is LOUD, there’s lots of smoke, the crowds press close, and there’s so much happening that you don’t know where to look or photograph.

But, if you can stomach it, it’s an incredibly moving experience and a rare opportunity to witness pure religious devotion, a fascinating series of rituals, and the coming-together of a community.

There are numerous opportunities to witness and photograph the impressive Thaipusam festivities on 30 and 31 Jan 2018. Most of the preparations and rituals take place at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road which is also the start of the long walk which ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.

For more Festival Info, visit www.thaipusam.sg

If you’re heading to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to photograph the preparations and the start of the long walk, here are my top tips to help you capture some amazing photos.

1.  High ISO

If you’re photographing in the Sri Srinivasa Temple in the evening or early morning, the conditions will be challenging – it’s easy to run into camera-shake and movement-blur issues. 

You’ll need a camera that enables you to shoot at high ISOs and still deliver acceptable quality photos.  All the photos I took last year in the temple were shot at an ISO between 2000 and 8000.

2.  Fast Speed

When capturing movement, you’ll ideally want a Shutter Speed of 1/500s which you can achieve by pushing up the ISO.  You could also use a fast lens and shoot at wide apertures like f1.4 or f2.8, but you may prefer to have more depth and shoot at narrower apertures like f5.6 to capture more details in the scenes. 

You could photograph in Aperture Priority or Shutter Speed Priority or Manual Exposure Modes. 

3. Click, Click, Click

Set your camera’s drive mode to continous shooting (low speed if you have both low and high speed options) so that you can click, click, click to capture the perfect moment.

4. Get close

You can do this two ways… either by zooming in with your telephoto lens OR by getting physically as close as possible to the action.  The latter option can be a bit unnerving, but it’s worth overcoming your shyness if you want to capture some incredible photos. 

5. Go wide

I love using the wide angle lens to capture Thaipusam, as it’s such a great story-telling lens.  When you’re in close, you can use the properties of the lens to pull the attention to the subject while including a lot of environmental details.

6. Get high

Oops, hope I don’t get arrested for that heading!  I’m sure you know what I mean… lift that camera up and get an aerial view of the scene.  If you’ve got a tilt/swivel LCD this’ll be a great opportunity to use it to capture some unusual shots of the festivities.

7. Get low

There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening at ground level – spectators often don’t notice that many of the kavadi-bearers are walking on shoes full of nails (don’t know how they can bear it – I can’t even get over a reflexology path without lots of wincing and face-pulling!). 

Then there’s all the rituals taking place on the floor around the temple.  Instead of photographing these from standing height, get close and low with your wide angle lens.

8. Try a Shoot Through

To add a creative touch to your shots, look for an opportunity to create a frame within the frame.  Shoot through something to enclose your subject or scene.

9. Capture the devotee’s perspective

Allow the viewer to experience the festival from the perspective of the devotee.  For the above shot, my camera was in the kavadi and I was shooting freestyle.

10. Don’t miss the details

There are so many small details to capture during Thaipusam – photographers are spoiled for choice!  There’s the offerings, expressions, emotions, adornments, kavadis, piercings, and so much more. 

Once you’ve captured the wider angle shots which give the viewer a sense of place, fill in your travel story with beautiful detail shots.

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