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Yi Peng Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai

Lantern

with F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8

Yi Peng Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai. I went there, and it’s all very photogenic, isn’t it?

It was the front cover of the Lonely Planet a couple of editions ago. There must be a million pictures of the lanterns. There must have been more pictures of the lanterns taken that night than the number of lanterns released.

With good reason too, as it was a beautiful, beautiful night. Buddhist ceremonies, chanting, candles, then three mass releases of the lanterns. I feel privileged to have been able to go, and would urge anyone who ever has even half a chance to attend to grab that opportunity with both hands.

I remember a friend I met travelling once showing me a video he had taken while there, of hundreds of lanterns taking off all around him.

He told me at the time about the emotion in the moment they start rising, about how there’s a real uplifting of your own spirits too.

Ever since, I’d wanted to go.

Now, I have. And I agree with him. To be there as the lanterns slowly floated up from all around me and filled the sky was beautiful.

To see so many going up at one time, after listening to the Buddhist ceremony beforehand and being surrounded by an atmosphere of supreme peace, was genuinely awe-inspiring.

Lanterns

What this festival isn’t though, and this leads to a few misunderstandings among tourists, is Loi Krathong.

While Yi Peng is a Lanna (Northern Thailand) lantern festival, Loi Krathong is a nationwide banana leaf boat festival that happens a couple of weeks after Yi Peng.

I think part of the confusion comes from the fact that there’s another mass lantern release event aimed squarely at tourists a few weeks after the one I went to, which was free, and so overlaps with Loy Krathong.

Perhaps people releasing lanterns for Loy Krathong clouds the issue too. Who knows. All I can say is: if you’re ever in Chiang Mai for this, be aware of this free event, which is the original by the way, that happens a few weeks before the one you have to buy a ticket for.

Chiang Mai lantern festival photography

While the iconic images from Yi Peng of a sky full of lanterns are great (really, they are), the first two I posted at the top are the only two you’re getting from me. I wasn’t too concerned with replicating every other picture I’d ever seen on the festival, preferring instead to aim for something a little different.

People, atmosphere, scenes.

lantern festival chiang mai

lantern being lit at yi peng lantern festival chiang mai thailand

parade at yi peng lantern festival chiang mai

man lighting lantern at yi peng festival

girls at yi peng lantern festival chiang mai thailand

Of course, there were photographers everywhere. Rows and rows of tripods, zoom lenses, wide angle lenses, bags full of completely redundant equipment.

These were serious people.

Camera

As is typical, I had hamstrung myself by bringing along my F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8.

I do have a confession to make here though: I actually wasn’t sure about using a manual focus lens, and almost went with the kit lens for the wider shots it would give me.

If I had though, I wouldn’t have had the luxury of going wide open with the f1.8. And because this site is all about manual focus photography, I wouldn’t be posting these shots here had I used the kit lens.

bokeh at yi peng lantern festival chiang mai

The light was of course really low, which meant shooting at a higher ISO than I really wanted to. Although the Sony NEX does well at high ISO, it obviously shows in the pictures.

Some of them are a bit noise-y.

I kind of like the character in them, though, and shooting manual focus in low light is good for challenging myself once in a while, too.

Release

thailand lantern festival

candles at yi peng festival chiang mai thailand

Attending the Yi Peng Lantern Festival was something I had wanted to do for years, and the memories I came away with are just as important to me as the pictures I took there.

Overall, I don’t think the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8’s low light performance was too bad, and it was fun trying to shoot more than just a sky full of lanterns in the hope of being able to show you what attending the festival is really like.

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On a more personal level, it’s also a great feeling to get something ticked off that I had wanted to do for so long. The last time this happened was when I rode to Pai and back. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to this festival, so I was so happy that it coincided with my time in Chiang Mai.

By telling myself I wanted to get the Pai and the Yi Peng trips done, I made sure I did them as soon as the chances came. More than that, I worked to give myself those chances.

There’s a ton of other things on my little mental list too, and I can’t wait to work my way through them.

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Yi Peng, the Chiang Mai lantern festival, is one of Thailand's most spectacular and most photographed events. Attending Yi Peng meant something to me personally, having wanted to attend ever since being shown a video of the lanterns rising into the air a few years previous by a traveller I met who had recently gone. Finally achieving something that had been on my list for a while was a great feeling, and I was happy to be able to bring back a set of pictures that hopefully demonstrate what it's like to be at Yi Peng.

 

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