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Inspirations >> Photographer's Showcase

Waisak Lantern Festival: Capturing the Beauty of Night Photography with Joseph Mak

Experience the Waisak festival through the lens of Joseph Mak’s EOS 5D Mark IV and discover the beauty of night photography. 

Waisak, the lantern festival held at Borobudur temple in Central Java, brings together tourists and locals who want to catch a glimpse of the magnificent evening sky lit with thousands of beautiful lanterns. This makes it the perfect setting for Joseph Mak to share his tips on shooting in low-light conditions. 

EOS 5DS R, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, f/3.2, 1/40sec, 16mm, ISO6400
Lanterns lighting up the sky at Waisak in Central Java

Hi Joseph! What’s the first thing photographers should know about night photography?

For night photography, we need to understand our camera well; what is the extreme limit that it can handle and what kind of shots that we can take. Some photographers are afraid of camera noise and using high ISO. If you want to capture ambience in your photos, you need to make use of your camera’s advanced technology such as high ISO and AI Servo tracking function. Fast lenses will help, as well as flash, in some situations.

Using newer technology in the EOS 5D Mark IV, like touchscreen focusing with AI Servo tracking function, has enabled me to take multiple shots in handheld mode that are more stable. This function has also helped me capture images with shallow depth of field under low-light conditions. 

EOS 5D Mark IV, EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens, f/3.2, 1/60sec, 16mm, ISO4000
High ISO setting used to capture festival participants preparing their lanterns

Discover more functions of the EOS 5D Mark IV here: EOS 5D Mark IV: A Review in Pictures(2) - New Features

How does one prepare before a night shoot?

For any shoot, it helps to plan ahead. Think about the type of photos you intend to capture and the necessary equipment you’ll need. I try to bring as few as possible so that it’s easier for me to move around. If I’m going for a night landscape shoot, I’d bring a tripod and cable release. An LED light or flashlight is useful if I’m taking street photos at night.

Find out what to pack for your next photography adventure: 10 Things To Pack For A Photoshoot

Tell us what one should look out for when shooting at night.

Lighting is key. That’s because the light that falls on your subject makes a great impact on your image. When the subject is lit up by the light, the focus will generally be on the subject. I prefer to make use of the dark areas to surround the lit up subject, like the photos below. Do note that while shooting, the minimum shutter speed you set is what you can handle without a tripod. For the photos below, I used the EF-16-35mm lens and shot at shutter speeds of 1/25 and 1/125 seconds respectively.

EOS 5DS R, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, f/3.2, 1/25sec, 16mm, ISO4000
When it gets dark, the lanterns are ready to be released 

EOS 5DS R, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, f/2.8, 1/125sec, 17mm, ISO4000
Participants holding up a lantern, their faces illuminated by its light

Curious about how to capture majestic landscapes at night? Get the essential tips here: Essential Tips for Shooting Landscapes at Night

Would you advise to use flash or just avoid it?

While some photographers avoid using flash, others swear by it. For me, this depends on the situation and your subject matter. A fill-in flash would cancel out ambient lighting unless the colour of the flash blends in with the environment. What I’d do instead is to place my subject closer to the light source, like the photo below. This eliminates the need for flash and I get a sharp picture with the right ambient light. 

EOS 5DS R, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, f/3.2, 1/60sec, 16mm, ISO4000
A participant gets up close to the lantern’s light

Learn the basics of flash photography: Start Flash Photography in 9 Steps

How does one avoid overexposed photos?

Sometimes you’ll encounter this tricky situation: there is strong light but the rest of the area is dark. Try to avoid strong light whenever possible and plan your shots in advance to ensure that you are able to recover the details during post-processing. Alternatively, I will try to underexpose my shots so as to preserve the details in raw format.

Learn how to experiment with overexposing and underexposing for more creative shots: Over And Under: Get Creative With Exposure

EOS 5DS R, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, f/2.8, 1/50sec, 16mm, ISO5000
Festival participants observing a quiet moment

What are your 3 tips when capturing low-light photos?

Always keep your subject in focus, take advantage of ambient lighting and know how far your camera can go as well as your own limits when it comes to handling it. I tend to set my camera’s shutter speed to 1/40 seconds with a f-stop value of f/2.8 and an ISO of 5000, which has produced great night shots.

Check out more articles related to night photography here: In Focus: Night Photography

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Joseph Mak

Joseph Mak

Photography is not just about having the best equipment or the latest gadget. It’s about seeing things around us. Everyone has a different perspective of things, and each views the same subject matter differently. It is always very interesting to see the different perspectives recorded in photographs, and I will always try to understand what story each photographer is trying to tell from their photographs. My style of photography is to keep it simple and clean. The key element in the photo is to be able to tell a story of the scene. Photography is an art of visual storytelling, rather than snapping a photo by itself.

Every photographer ought to be respected for the work they produce, because each photograph taken by them reflects his own unique personality.