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Capturing the spirit of Mooncake Festival

The mid-autumn festival is the perfect setting for moonlit soirees and bright lanterns. But it takes a bit of finesse to properly capture the essence of this festival, held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Han calendar.

EOS 5D Mark III, EF85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, f/1.2, 85mm, 1/8000sec, ISO1000
Rows of lanterns displayed for sale in Chinatown.

Revolving around a colourful array of family celebrations, delicious mooncakes, lantern processions and night bazaars, one of Singapore’s much loved festival makes for some serious photo opportunities if you know what you’re doing. Here are some mid-autumn food and street photography tips for you to get in on the action. 


Because of the fine details on mooncakes, you’re better off with an EF100mm f/2.8L Macro USM lens for a nice bokeh; creating a good visual quality of the out-of-focus areas in order to bring out the details of each mooncake. Go as close as possible to capture the fine designs and really show the texture of the mooncakes, you can alternate the focus as well, given the amount of detail. After all, it is the star of the festival! 

EOS 5D Mark III, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro USM lens, f/2.8, 100mm, 1/1250sec, ISO3200
It’s not mid-autumn festival without mooncakes. Alternate your focus to different parts of this sweet treat to draw the viewer into the image. 

On the Streets

As evening approaches and the lanterns start to fire up, you’ll quickly find that all you have to work with are the moonlight and your phone’s flash. You’ll need the EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens for a wider aperture, in order to gather more light in at dusk. Note that you’ll be working with a shallow depth of field, so be careful or you’ll end up with photos that are out of focus. 

EOS 5D Mark III, EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens, f/2.2, 50mm, 1/100sec, ISO10000
A little boy wields his dragon lantern on the streets

If adding a human element feels too expected, then focus on elements that symbolize the festival instead – in this case, lanterns. Try shooting from different angles to change up your composition, and use the lights in the background to your advantage by creating beautiful bokehs

EOS 5D Mark III, EF85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, f/2, 85mm, 1/6400sec, ISO3200
Various lanterns for sale in Chinatown with a beautiful bokeh backdrop.

Candid Shots

Because of the nature of the mid-autumn festival, the best photos you’ll take are candid ones. Instead of bringing everyone in for the shot, frame what’s going on around you like you are just there to spectate. Aim for the hip up when shooting a group of people, or crouch for a more intimate capture of what’s going on around you. Be sure to reduce shutter speed and bump up the ISO to make it more sensitive to what little light you have to work with.

EOS 5D Mark III, EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens, f/1.4, 50mm, 1/60sec, ISO5000
A family celebrates the mid-autumn festival with traditional paper lanterns.

Quick Tips:

  • Use a macro lens when shooting mooncakes to capture all the intricate details
  • Use lenses with a wider aperture, but watch out for your focus
  • Use background lights to your advantage by incorporating bokehs
  • Shoot from the hip for candid shots for a different perspective


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Photographer Profile

Jana Yar

Jana is the founder and owner of Ensof Photography, a boutique firm providing professional corporate, event and food photography services in Singapore. Her work has been showcased in a number of exhibitions in Asia and Europe, receiving 2nd Place in public votes at the KL Photo Awards Malaysia; 1st Place at the Off Festival Slovakia; 2nd Place Julia Margaret Cameron Prize for Women Photographers at the WPGA(UK) Annual contest; and Renaissance Photography Finalist.