The Holi Hai Experience
Words and photographs by Alla Ponomareva
Holi Hai is festival of colors, the beginning of spring and of sharing love. It’s a Hindu tradition, originating from Nepal and India but due to its vibrant nature, it is now celebrated all over the world. You may have seen the colorful images of Holi Hai online, with its bright, oversaturated hues, elated participants and what seems like a never ending supply of multi-colored powder.
In reality, to capture those “Dang, I wish I was there!” photographs, you may need to do a bit of planning… and suffering.
First and foremost – protect your gear! I’ve seen it all: plastic bags, saran wrap, towels, socks and even bare cameras were being used at the festival. I, on the other hand, opted out for a no-brand DSLR protective cover from Gmarket. The cover has 4 openings: one for the lens, 2 for the hands and another to slide the camera through. All three holes tie off, while the bottom one zips up next to my camera strap.
I figured I was keeping my “baby” safe, until I threw some powder with the same hand that I was using to to hold the camera (I should have thought that one out). The lens also required constant maintenance: I had to wipe it often, making sure that none of the powder or liquid paint got on. A lens filter was definitely key in that scenario as sometimes I just let my camera hang wildly as I did my part by diligently joining a conga line or two (or four).
I also advise you pack a memory card large enough to capture all the craziness that will ensue. You will definitely need to use the burst mode on your camera to capture that ricocheting powder, the ever changing facial expressions and the movement of the dancing mob. Don’t forget to fully charge your batteries too, burst mode eats them right up.
At times, your poor little camera/baggy/case will get so engulfed in gunk, that seeing through the viewfinder will be practically impossible. Cleaning it may be pointless, so you may need to just suffer through “spraying and praying” method. Set your Aperture on f10 or higher and just go for it!
Of course, all of these tips may be avoided if you just stand on the sidelines/stage/ladder near the festival and observe from the comfort of your rain coat. However the entire jubilation of Holi will be missed if you don’t get in the crowd, smother a stranger with paint and dance until your joints ache.
As some photographers wisely point out: “Shoot, but don’t forget to enjoy the moment!”
I was glad to have brought my secondary body (Canon T3i) as opposed to my main working horse (Canon Mark5d2), which was lonely, but safe at home. I would probably do the same next year, as you never know which drunkard can just spill his somek (soju+beer) concoction on your gear.
I had also chosen to use a zoom lens, which was a benefit and a detriment all at the same time. It was great to have the spectrum of 24 to 105mm, but zooming in and out introduced more hastle. The cheaper case that I had bought is not designed to be used with a zoom lens, so I constantly had to readjust the lens strap of the case. I probably will have to have the body and lens professionally cleaned now, but it is a routine maintenance for me in anyway (costing only 10,000krw in Daejeon’s Canon store).
The aftermath: with my camera/lens/filter completely intact, I cleaned off the powder with a dry towel on the way back home from the festival. Most of it came off, with tiny specks taken care off later with a Q-tip. A water tissue pack comes in handy during the event to wipe off immediate dirt, but be ready to keep washing off bits and pieces up to a few days after the event.
Overall, I would definitely revisit Holi Hai and its craziness and certainly bring my camera for more colourful and wild shots.
Follow Alla’s Korean adventures and see more of her photography at www.allaponomareva.com