Friday, March 7, 2014

Lantern Festival 2014

The annual Lantern Festival was held in Hagley Park over two nights last weekend. As usual, there were a lot of people in attendance, perhaps bolstered by the fact that it had been quite a hot day (31 deg C before midday - this is all the more surprising given that we've just had 3 days of gale force winds and heavy rain).

Photography Notes
Trying to get decent shots of the lanterns was quite a struggle, with white balance and exposure being the two biggest issues. But mainly white balance.

While I would've liked to get there just before sunset/around twilight to make use of the available  light to fill out surrounding areas a bit more and reduce the contrast between the lanterns and the surrounding areas, the heavy traffic and parking woes meant that it was at least 9pm before I got there (sunset was around 8:20pm). Next year...

Thus, the conditions kindof force your hand a bit - you really need to prioritise for the lanterns instead of anything else (unless that's what you're going for), or else the lanterns just end up being glowing white orbs of psychedelic fire, like some kind of strange primeval village bonfire ritual.

White balance though is much trickier. Getting a white balance setting that works in low light / colorful light scenes that accurately preserves the colours you actually saw (instead of trying to "eliminate" any colour casts - aka turn everything bluish) is not that straightforward. While in the past I've found success with the Daylight and Cloudy presets (Daylight often works for neon signs and high intensity "white" lighting used on billboards, while Cloudy works quite well with the classic sodium streetlights - as well as in general!), these turned out to be pathetic for lanterns. The worst affected things were anything red (which turned into a nasty magenta-ish pink patch of flatness with some swathes of yellow mixed in, unless you really underexposed until nothing but the lanterns were visible). Fed up, I eventually started tinkering with dialing in a custom temperature:
- IIRC, 3600K (or maybe it was closer to 3800K) gave what many may consider "correct" white balance, but for me that was a bit too cold and sterile
- 4700K was a bit too strong
- 4600K was what I ended up settling on for the majority of shots (having wasted time struggling with bad settings earlier on). It works great for car stoplights too, but isn't that flash for the sodium lights (which turn out a bit too "cheap yellow")

Highlights - Main Scenes
The lanterns are arranged in clusters of "scenes", which are spread out along the riverbank (running along Rolleston Ave) and around the corner (Harper Ave), with chains of stereotypical "round red lanterns" linking these together. On the main grassy field, the area is divided into two parts: 1) a stage area where some live performances are held (Note: the rock group on stage this year were quite awful - with others I've spoken to agreeing with this verdict - and IIRC slightly tone-deaf),  2) a large night market/stalls area (more on this in a sec).

This year, the first thing visitors to the lantern festival saw was the school of goldfish, positioned just in front of the bridge.

12 Zodiac Animals
 Colourful - Some of the 12 zodiac animals dangling from the tree

The reason for the season - This year is the year of the horse!

 A happy little piggy

Hong Kong - Tourism Board
One of the most impressive displays each year is that of the Hong Kong tourism board. This year was no exception...

Dim sum, noodles, buns, wine, beer, tea, notable landmarks... and who can forget that beautiful fish!
There was also a cat/tiger mascot thingy, and the tailfins of two of the major carriers - Cathay Pacific and Dragon Air (though I thought they were one of those china-based companies).

Fish and Lanterns
Some of the returning favourites from last year included the tropical fish lanterns, which were paired with the chain of traditional red lanterns leading visitors along the riverbank towards the other displays.

Rabbit, Peach Trees, and Giant Insects
Another returning setup was the cluster of peach trees and giant snails. These were joined by a number of insects - a praying mantis, and a few crickets (which looked a bit like roaches, minus the psychadelic swirl on their heads) - as well as a rabbit.

The travelling circus of acrobatic pandas...

Old Man and the Ducks

Animals by the River
Turtles, birds, and a pair of hippos!

Farm Animals

Flying Pigs
See... pigs can fly!

I'm sure I saw these lanterns last year, but they didn't seem to have wings back then!

Kaikoura Whale Watch
One of the world-famous tourist attractions in Kaikoura (about 3-4 hours north of Christchurch - accessible via the TransCoastal train service or along the State Highway running alongside the train line) are the whale watching boats. This lantern pays homage to that.

Traditional Chinese Chinaware

Ancient Chinese Family
This was one of the new displays this year, showing life for ancient chinese families.

 Playing chess outside the gates to a homestead...

A father (holding a ladle with a bun, and a bowl) and his son. In the background, an older man a birdcage.

 Man with birdcage - There was even a model bird inside the cage...

 Balls in a basket

A little girl examines paper cutouts on the windows for new year celebrations, while her mother works on some embroidery.


 The Orion Dragon

The river dragon

Red and yellow dragon

Big Coin

Foreground - A big gold coin
Background - "Dinners in the tree"

Suspended Lanterns

General Shots
CrowdsFirstly, some general shots of the crowds moving around under/around the lanterns... (NOTE: for many of these, I still hadn't managed to get the white balance under control yet, hence the wacky colours)


And now for some with better white balance, and more lanterns...

Finally, some more people again...

On either side of the stage were a pair of golden lions

The stage itself was quite simple, with a few red curtains and a string of lanterns running across

Perhaps one of the main "economic backbones" of this event was the large food and merchandise market area. It was a who's-who of major (and minor) Chinese food vendors across the city, with at least 3 of my favourite restaurants setting up stalls there (and rather lucrative ones too, I might add).

Shanghai Bistro (RHS) - A small shop that's often overlooked for the larger (but IMO crappy PRC smoke and mirrors) noodle shop beside it
Shanghai Bistro - owner (or so I guess?) taking an order

North and South Gourmet - One of the big/good quality restaurants around town. Again on Lincoln Rd, across from the aforementioned restaurants. Booking in advance highly recommended.

 Barbeques were the portable stove of choice for many stalls...

Joyful - Another one of the notable restaurants around town. Formerly on Colombo St near South City, but now on Riccarton Road (and they can still let their kids watch the annual Santa parade from the windows above their shop!).

Some of the other tents

Fireworks Display
As we were walking along the river back to the car park, all of a sudden the fireworks display to mark the close of events for the night were let off. This was quite a shock to us and the people nearby, as there was just a very loud boom out of nowhere...

One of the neat things about firework displays held in North Hagley is that there is this weird "echo bowl" effect, where you heard the shock wave reverbing off buildings surround the park (not that there are many to start with). If you listen carefully, it is audible in the video...

Note: I was using one of my slower Sandisk "Ultra" (grey) CF cards, which I've come to learn are not that great for video recording with a 7D ("Extreme" or better are needed). Hence the stuttering playback in places, where recording stopped while the camera wrote its frame buffer out to disk and recording had to be manually restarted. Due to various stumbles (when I thought it was recording but it later turned out not to have been), I think that several minutes of the show ended up getting cropped out of the video.  Argh! So annoying!

By Day
As this is a two-day event, you can also walk around and enjoy the lanterns on Sunday morning/afternoon too, with the added bonus that there are no crowds to contend with. While the atmosphere is quite different (without much of the hustle and bustle, as well as the interesting environments carved out of the night by the lanterns), it is also quite relaxing. Among other benefits is that you can get a good clear view of everything!

Wild Birds
It turned out that we had overlooked a few displays the previous evening in the dark...

Seagulls, crows/parrots (?), and other birds...

A pair of penguins - complete with ice floes

Hong Kong Lantern
As there were too many people around, I couldn't get a full shot of the entire display on Saturday. With no crowds in the way though, it was possible to get a much clearer view.

 The full display

The main lantern by day

 With the tiger mascot thing

 Tailfins of two airlines

A side-on view of the Hong Kong lantern. From this angle, you can see that the fish's mouth was open, and that some of the fruit is cut open.

Sahara Safari
Some more views of the "safari" zoo animals - Note the looming clouds in the distance

Riverbank Animals - Herons, Turtles, and Hippos
Another exhibit that could be seen more clearly by the light of day was the exhibit of birds, turtles, and hippos on the riverbank.

Water Dragon
Here are some better views of the dragon in the river... It's quite a picturesque scene...

Riverside Lantern Path

As we approached the goldfish lanterns, the sky was starting to change overhead. Meanwhile, two workers were standing in the river, using a pump/hammer contraption to do stuff to the goldfish lanterns...

 The pump thingy in action

View from the bridge

Approaching Storm Front
Just as I was starting to turn and walk back off the bridge, rain started to fall from the ominous looking clouds overhead. While this was just a relatively short-lived rain storm (with a heavy hail storm to pass through about 2 hours later), we still ended up getting quite a drenching while walking back across the field towards the car.

Looking across the field towards Harper Ave - Dark looming rain clouds in the distance

The storm closing in from the north. What was originally a clear day had suddenly become overcast, sending many of the stall holders to start packing up (the event was eventually cancelled that night). By this stage, we were about halfway across the field, in heavy rain.

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