Take Better Travel Photos: Water Festivals

During April, South East Asia is awash with water festivals. Steve Davey tells you how to capture the moment – and protect your camera at the same time

3 mins

Luang Prabang is a languid, relaxed city. You can’t fail to be entranced by its quiet charm – unless you visit during Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year), marked by a colossal water fight.

Of course, there’s more to Pi Mai Lao than this: monks process Buddha statues; locals make offerings at temples and visit family to pay their respects. This was traditionally done with a gentle sprinkling of water, but has developed into a drunken drench-fest.

Capturing the chaos means plunging into the action. The first thing to consider is protecting your camera. I used a pro Kata rain cover, but you can buy cheaper disposable DSLR rain covers that do a similar job. Screw a UV filter onto the lens to keep water out of the end element. When using a rain cover it’s hard to access all of the camera controls, so set the camera to shoot as automatically as possible. The chaos of Pi Mai Lao is not the time to be fiddling with focus or exposure.

1. Preserve the colours

If your camera is set to Auto White Balance, it will filter out some of the warm tones given by light at sunrise and sunset. Instead, set your camera to daylight; only use the auto setting if shooting in artificial light, to remove colour casts.

2. Shoot into the light

Don’t always shoot with the sun behind you: shooting into the light can give atmospheric results, especially if there is mist or water in the air, or if it’s around sunrise or sunset when the light has a pleasing warm tinge.

3. Compose

Don’t place the subject in the centre of the frame. Be careful not to crop out significant objects; crop loose rather than tight as you can always increase the crop on a computer later.

4. Anticipate

Even if your camera has a motor-drive function that allows you to take a series of pictures in quick succession, try to anticipate the action and snap at the moment that encompasses the event. If your camera has a delay when you press the shutter release, half press and hold it to prefocus first.

5. Freeze the action

When shooting action, you have two choices: use a fast shutter speed to freeze events, or a slower shutter speed to allow them to blur. If your camera has a ‘Sport’ or ‘Action’ mode it will set a fast speed for you.

Finally, don't forget to join in the fun! Interact with people – your pictures will be more engaging if you’re more engaged.

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