For me, summertime means Obon Festival

Every year when I’m in Seattle, I do my damndest to attend Seattle Buddhist’s Obon Festival and this year was no different. It’s something my family has been doing for as long as I can remember and one of those cultural touchstones in my life that reminds me of who I am. This year however, I decided to give myself a shooting challenge by limiting myself only to shutter dragged shots as a way of emphasizing all of the action, movement and colors associated with Bon Odori. This challenge became more limiting than originally expected as we’re in the middle of a heatwave. With cloudless skies and harsh light, using a slower shutter speed would require more than just drilling down the aperture, thus limiting my opportunities for shots later on because of the spontaneity.

Despite that, I feel like I succeeded in my exercise. It forced me to become more familiar with my camera and using what I’ve learned in rapid-fire succession as the action wouldn’t stop for no one. I chose the 50-140mm ƒ/2.8 lens for it’s image stabilization and reach, a 3-stop variable ND filter so I could keep the aperture open for better AF performance, and was fortunate enough to be welcomed by a family set up in a prime, roadside location to shoot obstruction-free from their position.

Ultimately, I walked away with what I felt were 10-12 really good photos that represented my abilities well. From those, there were 3 that I really, really liked, that seemed to combine really well-defined movement with sharp features yet captured the motion of the drummers well.

So, on to the first 3:

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Seattle Matsuri Taiko performance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon Festival.
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Seattle Matsuri Taiko performance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon Festival.
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Seattle Matsuri Taiko performance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon Festival.

These came out sharp while the parts in motion are clearly in motion, yet not so opaque as to render what’s behind them invisible. My point is that there’s nothing awkward looking: limbs are clearly limbs despite the motion blur of their arms and bamboo sticks. Facial expressions are clear and non-moving objects are as sharp as to be expected. The juxtaposition of some drummers moving versus those stationary also adds to the perception of motion. To me, the motion blur feels as intentional on viewing as when I had shot them. These are my keepers.

The next ones turned out technically fine, but lack the emotion that the first three draw out of me. They feel simply “documentarian,” however, the first and last shots straddle the line for me… more than just documentary, but don’t necessarily draw me in like the first 3 do.

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Seattle Matsuri Taiko performance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon Festival.
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Seattle Matsuri Taiko performance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon Festival.
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Seattle Matsuri Taiko performance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon Festival.
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Attendees in yukatas doing a bon dance at Seattle Buddhist Temple’s Obon Festival.
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A volunteer bon dance leader in a kimono with an organizer in a themed haori in the foreground.

Please tell me what you think. Critique my output. It’s the only way I can grow.

All images subject to copyright © 2018 oakie and may not be used without expressed written consent by the author.

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