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Photographing lanterns

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Category: General Photography

Chinese lanterns - Can't get to a balloon show to photograph a night glow? Well why not create your own?

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Letting lanterns float off into the air at BBQs, birthdays and other social events is something that's growing in popularity and worth taking a photo or two of. However, be careful where you set them off as the lanterns are causing problems for some farmers and if you're at the coast you may need to contact the coastguard to warn them you're sending lanterns up as some people have confused them for flares.

Photographing Chinese lanterns

Gear
When it comes to lens choices take your standard and telephoto zoom out with you. You'll also need a tripod and a remote release would be handy to stop you shaking the camera at the start of the exposure. If you don't have a remote release you could use the camera's self-timer.

Technique
To see the lanterns glow you'll, of course, be working when it's dark so you'll need slower shutter speeds. Don't go too slow though as the lanterns will be moving and really slow shutter speeds will cause them to blur. Try rising your camera's ISO if this happens to quicken the shutter speed for a sharper shot. Just remember to check your shot if you do use a higher ISO as not all cameras cope well and you can end up with noisy images. It might be worth taking a few shots at night on a different day to find out if your camera can cope or not. The quicker shutter speeds will also be handy if you want to photograph your friends as they light the lanterns and let them go as unless they have a part time job as a street performer who performs as a statue they won't stay still enough for you to capture them without blur. Try filling the frame with their hands lighting candles or with their faces which will be lit by the soft, warming glow of the lantern. Just be careful if you have the bottom of the lantern where the candle sits in shot as the bright light can confuse the camera and the lantern could end up underexposed. To combat this you may need to use exposure compensation to ensure the whole lantern's evenly lit.

These lanterns aren't very big so once they're in the sky you'll need your telephoto zoom if you want to fill the frame with a single lantern or if you're setting more than one off, wait until they're lined up and shoot the patterns they form as they drift off into the horizon.

To ensure the colour you capture is the colour you keep, use Datacolor - the Colour Management Experts.

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