October Photo Opportunity: India’s Festival of Lights

Lit candles at Hindu Festival

Celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world, Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India.

Candles lit on Ganges during Diwali

Celebrated between mid-October and mid-November each year, Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ – due to the clay lamps that Indians traditionally lit outside their homes. The candles, lights and fireworks during Diwali give every photographer a lot to work with.

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Believed to have originated as a harvest festival, today Diwali is celebrated for various reasons by Hindus depending on the region of India in which they reside. Non-Hindu communities also celebrate this holiday, again, for their own reasons. The main theme common throughout all the celebrations is the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil.

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During the five-day festival, homes, temples, and other buildings throughout the country are decorated with colorful lights, and large firework displays are held in many communities.

Snacks at Diwali

During the holiday, houses are cleaned, people dress in new clothes, sweets are exchanged, and prayers given – typically to Lakshmi, the goddess of fertility and prosperity.

India Festival

Diwali offers photographers a variety of subjects to shoot – from the light and fireworks, to the interactions of families and communities celebrating together.

People lighting candles at riverside during Diwali

Man shopping for Diwali electric lights

Basic tips for first-time night photographers

Setting a DSLR to shoot at night

Frustrated with your attempts to take photos at night? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Shooting at night is one of the more challenging subjects in photography.

Regardless of the subject of your night photography – night cityscapes, light painting, etc. – the following tips will help get you started to mastering a number of basic photography techniques that will enhance your night photography results.

Camera on tripod overlooking Hong Kong

The first thing you need to do is to buy and use a tripod. Shooting at night when there’s less light means you’ll have to use slower shutter speeds. Your shutter speed could range from 1-30 seconds – much too slow to shoot hand-held. So using a tripod is a must if you want sharp results when shooting at night.

Your tripod should be solidly placed (the heavier your tripod the better).

When taking long exposures at night, even with your camera mounted on a tripod, you need to do everything you can to avoid any movement of your camera. Just pressing the shutter button can create enough movement to result in blurred shots. Avoid this by either using a remote shutter release, or the self-timer built-in to your camera.

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Remember, the slightest movement can create unwanted camera shake, even the movement of the mirror in your camera. So, enable Mirror Lock-Up (easy to do – your manual will outline the steps). And finally, if your camera has Image stabilization, make sure to turn it off as the movement of the stabilization motor can also cause blurred shots.

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Once your camera is set-up on the tripod, set your camera to Manual mode, so you will be able to control both aperture and shutter speed. If your subject is static, begin by setting a wide aperture (which allows more light to hit your camera’s sensor) – f2.8 for example. Then dial-in the correct shutter speed until your Exposure is set at ‘0’. Take the shot and review it on your camera’s LCD screen. If your photo looks too bright, narrow your exposure by one or two stops, adjust the shutter speed, and retake the shot. By experimenting, you’ll get the right combination.

Night shots of moving Ferris Wheel and trails of automobile tail lights

If you want to capture movement at night – car taillights or a moving Ferris wheel – a longer exposure is required – figure at least one second for a start. Set a narrow aperture, f8 for example, dial-in a shutter speed that brings your Exposure to ‘0’, and take a shot. Again, experiment to get the right settings.

Final tip – keep your ISO as low as possible (100 to 400). While increasing ISO allows you to take photos in low-light situations, it also increases noise in your photos. With your camera on a tripod, you’ll be able to shoot at night using a low ISO with no problem.

Japanese umbrellas and lanterns at night

Night photography is challenging, and experimentation is the key to success. The more you practice with the combinations of apertures and shutter speeds settings, the better you’ll get at taking beautiful night photos.