Happy Holi everyone! Of the festivals around the world Holi is a great occasion to celebrate and even a reason to make a trip to India in spring. The festival of colors – as Holi is known – celebrates the coming of spring. As one of the less religious holidays in India it is very easy for foreigners to take part in. Grab some coloured paint from the many sellers, wear white clothes and join the fun. If you can find out more about the meaning of Holi here.
Two years ago I was in India at the time of Holi, and I really enjoyed the celebrations. From fights with colored powder, bonfires and non-stop shouts of “Happy Holi” the atmosphere was great.
when and where is Holi celebrated
March 27th is Holi in 2013 and next year the celebration will start on March 17th. As the celebrations are around 1 week-long there is no chance to “miss” it. Holi is celebrated all across India, and in parts of the world with large Indian communities.
I was in Jaipur when Holi started, or better put when Holi caught with me. The country halts as people celebrate in the streets. If your trip is only in the classic triangle (Delhi – Agra – Jaipur) I recommend to be in Jaipur for Holi. However, the festival is present in most areas of India. People sell the powder in little shops all over the place, and the colours of paint are very varied. You can prepare a full rainbow arsenal! The powders for Holi are sold starting several days in advance so there is no risk of shortage.
what to do on Holi
Have fun is the main priority. it will be very clear when the craziness starts, so be ready with colored powder. The more colours of paint you have, the more popular you are. Always respect people who do not take part in the Holi celebration, as the powder is very hard to wash out. My shirt is still somewhat colored even after being machine-washed.
I think it is very important to wear sunglasses. Even swimming goggles are not out of the question! People are throwing paint from cars, motorcycles and even buses so it is risky for your eyes. I even saw people on an elephant throwing coloured paint at passers-by.
Keep your camera ready, but try to set it such that you can shoot without wasting much time with settings. Things happen fast so zone focusing and a fast shutter of over 1/200s are good ideas. Holi is a good time to test your photo-journalistic skills. I found mine were lacking, and missed a lot of nice shots. A camera housing is also a smart move. I had none, so I had to use some plastic bags. After two days I had pink powder in the viewfinder and on the back LCD.
This is a great time to use one of the GoPro HERO -type of cameras. The bulky DSLR can stay in the hostel.
what to look out for
Transport between cities can become erratic, so you should plan to stay 2 or 3 days in one place. Holi – like all celebrations – leads to some drinking. So being in the streets at night has to be seriously thought-out. This is especially important for female travelers.
Visiting religious places and palaces is disrespectful while colored like a walking rainbow. To visit Taj Mahal I had to wash half an hour to get most of the coloured paint off.
I was not ready for the mayhem and the crowds at Holi. Below is what I tried, what failed and what worked. If you have more experience of photographing festivals and holidays please share your experience in the comments area.
I had a Canon 550D with a Canon EF-S 17-55 F2.8. The lens was great in autofocus speed and background blur. I missed a neutral density filter in the harsh daylight though. This meant I could not always use the fast 2.8.
The combination DSLR+large lens meant I had to be very careful on the street. It was very easy to bump into people, knock things over and get tired. An F2.8 zoom lens with hood is very obvious and people tend to pose. I would not call this set-up a street shooter’s ideal set-up. Since then I have moved to a Fuji X-E1 and I will see how this camera will work.
Dust and especially coloured paint were big problems. My work-around with a plastic bag meant I had bits of plastic sticking in the frame. This is an obvious situation where a weather sealed camera would be a great choice. I am considering getting a GoPro HERO for shooting situations like this.
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