Photo Event: Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire in San Diego

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on January 31, 2009

Lion Mask - How to photograph the Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire in San Diego California for travel photographers by photocitizen.com

San Diego, California. Just when you’ve gotten used to 2009, it’s time to set your calendar forward. The Chinese New Year began on January 26th, and it’s now 4707 on the Chinese Lunar calendar.

The Year of the Ox may have officially begun a few days ago, but the party begins on February 7th and 8th – from 10am to 5pm both days – in San Diego’s Asian Pacific Thematic Historical District.

This free event – officially dubbed the Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire – includes some photogenic activities: Chinese acrobats, martial arts performances, and musical acts.

Photo Op: Action

j0216a3192_rightThen there are the dances. The Lion Dancers and the Dragon Dancers in colorful costumes weave their way through the vendor tents that line Third Avenue and J Street.

Following the dragons and lions through the street is not always easy. There are crowds and plenty of obstacles to avoid.

Then there’s the angle of the light to contend with. Fill-flash is a must. You’ll need it to make the colors pop.

Your best bet will be to catch them as they proceed west on J Street. You’ll be in front of the procession facing east to avoid shooting into the sun.

Then run north on Third Avenue to stay ahead of them and point your camera south as they come to you. h0224a3048_left

Many events take place on a temporary stage. This is where you’ll find the acrobats and other entertainers. The problem with the stage is that it’s covered on three sides so it’s not lit very well. You’re going to want to sit in the front row and use your best flash.

Photo Op: Between Acts

Besides all the action and events, there are plenty of other photo opportunities in San Diego’s small Asian Pacific Thematic Historical District. Chinese Historical Museum - How to photograph the Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire in San Diego California for travel photographers by photocitizen.com

The approximately eight-block area that makes up the District contains four Asian-influenced buildings of interest to photographers, all located near the corner of Third and J.

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum consists of two buildings. One – on Third Avenue – is housed in a former Chinese mission. It’s most significant exterior structure is a large red wooden gate fronting Third. The gate opens onto an Asian garden with a small waterfall, stream, and fish pond. The garden is shaded by the surrounding buildings, so use of a high ISO or a tripod is a good idea.

Inside the museum, there are some interesting exhibits including an ornate Chinese bed and a few miniature dioramas. With a steady hand, wide-open aperture, and high ISO, there is enough light to create some photos.

The other museum building is located two doors east on J Street.Chinese Historical Museum Building on J Street - Chinese Historical Museum Building on J Street - How to photograph the Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire in San Diego California for travel photographers by photocitizen.com Other than a bronze statue of the first Chinese Emperor, the exterior is not remarkable. The exhibits inside are interesting though not particularly photogenic. The admission price of $2.00 allows entrance to both buildings.

The San Diego Chinese Center building has a second-floor balcony which might make for a good photo if there is someone interesting standing on it. The windows offer possibilities for reflections and some have Chinese lettering on them. You might be able to get inside the building and onto the balcony to shoot down on the festivities, but I’ve never tried this. I’m sure it would be a good vantage point.

The old Quin Produce building across the street from the San Diego Chinese Center is now a private residence. Its exterior still offers some photographic opportunities. The weathered wooden double-doors have an old-world Asian flavor.

People Pictures and More

Costumed character - How to photograph the Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire in San Diego California for travel photographers by photocitizen.comBe on the lookout for people in colorful and sometimes authentic costumes. Some are performers, but some are just visitors wearing their culture on their backs. Some of the kids are especially cute.

Prior to the Lion Dance, the dancers assemble on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese Center. Try to get some interesting photos of the dancers donning their costumes.

Sometime around noon, firecrackers will be ignited at the corner of Third and J.Chinese Firecrackers - How to photograph the Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Faire in San Diego California for travel photographers by photocitizen.com Even though parts of those streets may be open, traffic is light so you can stand in the intersection to get a good angle on this explosive event. A long lens helps here to isolate the firecrackers from the somewhat cluttered background.

Equipment

If you have a flash – such as the Nikon SB-800 or Nikon SB-900 – bring it and use it. You’ll need it for fill when you’re outdoors. You’ll also want to use it as your main light source when photographing the performers on the poorly lit stage and inside the museum if you choose to visit.

If you need to travel light, a good wide angle zoom – I use the Nikon 18-70mm – will serve you well. A long lens like the Nikon 70-200mm will give you extra horsepower when you need it.

I always bring two camera bodies to an event like this – my Nikon D300 and my old Nikon D70. It’s nice not to have to keep changing lenses. Bring ’em if you got ’em.

I wouldn’t bother with a tripod unless you plan to shoot video. It’s too hectic to set it up in this crowd.

Here are a few more of my photos from my Photoshelter site. Have fun!

More Information

  • Visitor information, entertainment schedule,  and a google map are available from the San Diego Chinese Center.
  • The website of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum has plenty of info about the museum.
  • Get information about San Diego’s Asian Pacific Historic Thematic District from SanDiegoChinese.net.
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