By Jonah Kessel
As 1.4 billion Chinese people celebrated the Lunar New Year yesterday, cameraman Paul Morris, journalist Kit Gillet and myself packed our bags to capture the remarkable pyro-chaos welcoming the Year of the Rabbit.
According to ancient Chinese mythology, an evil spirit known as Nian (年) would terrorize villagers on the first day of the new year. To protect themselves, people would create loud noises to ward it off. Millennia later, the Chinese still uphold this tradition by setting off fireworks continuously for a two week period.
Firework safety is paramount in the West, but far from most people’s minds in China, where fireworks are set off within high-rise compounds, tossed on the floor, detonated in narrow alleys, and even thrown at friends good-humoredly.
To capture the spirit of the Spring Festival, the three of us hit the alleys, streets and roofs of Beijing to record the pyrotechnic display. The truly remarkable aspect of New Year’s Eve is that all of the fireworks you see in the video are bought and set off by regular Beijingers – a perfect visual representation of the overwhelming size of China’s population. Their chaotic release of fireworks produces a spectacular display that looks strangely organised, lighting up the sky and echoing through the streets.
Our goal in filming the event was to capture this and grab some colorful frames. We were packing …
- Canon EOS 5D Mark II
- Canon EOS-7D
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
- Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
- Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM
- Canon Extender EF 2X II
- De-Clicked Custom Tamron 24mm F/2.5
- 190Cx Carbon Fibre Q90 4-section Tripod
- Manfrotto 3021 Pro Tripod with Manfrotto 3047 Head
- Dan Chung’s old 20″ compact slider, made in Singapore and borrowed for the night
- Custom Jag 35 Straight Rig with Red Rock microHandGrip
- F-Stop Gear Tilopa Backpacks
During hours of close-up filming, we were subjected to flying debris, ear-splitting explosions, and the occasional stray firework that would ricochet off lenses, nearby cars and even my ass.
Technically, shooting at night can be a bit tricky. Our ISOs ranged from 400-3200. We found with higher ISOs a lot of images came out with a cooler color temperatures or blue color casts. In the case of shooting fireworks, this isn’t such a bad thing. Most of our frames had a large variance in color anyway. With a few of the close-up shots involving rapid firework explosions the cameras had issues with the rolling shutter.
Sounds and music for this production were purchased from www.stockmusic.net.
Jonah M. Kessel is a Beijing-based freelance visual journalist and interactive art director specializing in photography, video, news and Web design.
Paul Morris is a Beijing-based freelance assistant producer and lighting cameraman.
Kit Gillet is a Beijing-based freelance journalist and documentary maker.