Chinese New Year is one of the largest cultural holidays celebrated globally. The holiday marks the start of the New Year according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In Taiwan, the celebration typically lasts for about 15 days to mark the beginning of the next full moon. Across the world, many families mark this holiday as a time to reunite with relatives and beloved family friends at reunion dinners and gatherings.
Photographing this massive event, however, can easily become frustrating. From navigating crowded markets to figuring out where the next cultural event will pop up on the streets, Chinese New Year in Taiwan can be a dizzying experience for those soaking in the festivities for the first time. As a photographer, it is important to capture the spirit and mood of the festivities, which is why the Sony Alpha cameras are my cameras of choice. From its lightweight build to its ability to capture fast movements in low-light conditions, Sony’s Alpha system supports my creativity and versatility as a photographer.
Here is my guide on how I got the best out of the Sony Alpha cameras and G Master lenses during this momentous occasion.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 1/400 sec | F4.5 | ISO 1600
Clanging cymbals and rhythmic drum beats announce the arrival of the Lion Dance, which is one of the most iconic Chinese New Year traditional dances. Performed by a troupe of dancers, with two of them hidden underneath the lion’s costumed underbelly, the Lion Dance is an elaborate performance that is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity to its venue and celebrants. It is a vibrant and energetic performance where celebrants are encouraged to interact with the performers and touch the Lion’s head for good luck.
In this photo, I used a wide-angle 24 mm focal length to capture the excitement of the moment unfolding in front of me. I wanted to make the viewers feel like they are participants in the middle of the action, so I focused on the majestic Lion’s head and framed the outstretched hands around it.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/250 sec | F2.8 | ISO 800
Across Taipei, these fiery red and golden faux-firecrackers adorning shopfronts, windows or the entrances of homes are a common sight during the Chinese New Year period. In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolizes good fortune, happiness, and success, and gold represents wealth. During Chinese New Year, these festive decorations flood the streets, but while the sheer volume of red on display is impressive in itself, the intricate details found on each individual decoration also tell a compelling visual story.
I used the Sony Alpha 7R IV with the FE 24-70mm F2.8 G Master lens set at 70 mm at the widest aperture of F2.8 here to produce this picture. These settings allow me a shallow depth of field to draw your eye directly to the details of these decorations, and turn the background of other brightly lit lanterns into a bokeh of glowing orbs of light.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/200 sec | F3.5 | ISO 400
Taiwan’s busy night markets are a spectacle to behold, especially during the days leading up to the Chinese New Year. Food is an important part of entertaining guests and hosting reunion dinners, so the Night Market is often packed with customers hunting for the best bargains.
To capture this constant flurry of people, I stood on a balcony and pointed my Sony Alpha 7R IV downwards to get a bird’s eye view of all that was happening. I chose this camera because of its remarkable low light sensitivity, and dynamic range, and used the FE 24-70mm F2.8 G Master lens at its tightest focal length of 70 mm to zoom in on the groups of shoppers haggling for the best deal.
Alpha 9 II | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 24 mm | 1/200 sec | F2.8 | ISO 400
One of Taipei’s largest night markets is situated on Dihua street, and the market stretches on for several blocks. Taipei’s night markets have become an iconic and integral part of Chinese New Year festivities – from fulfilling preparation needs to enjoying a night out and sampling festive goodies with loved ones. Everyone flocks to at least one of these massive markets to check out the goods on sale.
To capture the sheer size of the Dihua street market, I found an aerial vantage point near the end of the street and used perspective to make the viewer’s eyes naturally drawn to the prominent line of lights. The darkened buildings surrounding the market also guide the eyes towards the line of lights and highlights the attraction of the night market. I chose the Sony Alpha 7R IV for this darker situation because of the camera’s remarkable low light sensitivity and dynamic colour tones, which allowed me to capture and contrast the rich colours of the street market below, to the darkened buildings surrounding the street. For this image, I used the FE 24-70mm F2.8 G Master lens at its widest focal length (24 mm) to include the street and sky.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 35 mm | 1/200 sec | F5 | ISO 800
Prior to the start of the New Year, many religious Chinese worshippers burn these incense sticks (joss-sticks) to pray for blessings and good luck in the year ahead of them. In fact, it is said that the first person to light these sticks will receive the most luck for the coming year, so many people start burning from 12:00 a.m. on the 1st day of the Chinese New Year in hopes of being the first. During this time, the air is thick with the fragrance and smoke produced by these joss-sticks.
In order to capture the atmosphere of this scene, I used the Sony Alpha 7R IV because of its low-light sensitivity and colour saturation. This allowed me to maintain detail between the hazy smoke in the foreground, and the shoppers still thronging the night markets in the background. To capture the action of the scene, I waited for the worshipper’s hand to enter the frame, and create a contrast between the religious and retail festivities all happening within the same scene.
Alpha 9 II | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 18 mm | 1/200 sec | F7.1 | ISO 1600
Just before the start of the Chinese New Year festivities, many religious Chinese will typically visit a temple on the eve or on the first day of the Chinese New Year to give thanks for the previous year and pray for good fortune for the coming year. Among the busiest is the Lungshan Temple, which is also known as the Mengjia temple. Built in 1738 during the Qing Dynasty, this is one of the most centrally located temples in Taipei.
I used the Sony Alpha 9 II to take this picture because of its inconspicuous and lightweight body. In a religious site such as this, photographers need to be sensitive with their surroundings and respect the site they’re on. Therefore, I chose a smaller camera so that I could minimize intrusion. I also used the FE 16-35mm F2.8 G Master lens and its widest possible length (16 mm) to accommodate the growing pile of offerings on the table in the foreground while still capturing the impressive temple architecture and crowds of visitors in the background.
Alpha 9 II | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 26 mm | 1/200 sec | F4 | ISO 1600
Family is at the heart of Chinese New Year celebrations across Taiwan and around the world. The festival launches a massive migration of people travelling home to participate in annual family reunion dinners or visiting relatives.
In this picture, a young girl is clutching a red hongbao packet while being held by her grandfather, during the start of the reunion dinner.
Young children, teens and unmarried adults often receive these bright red packets filled with cash from their elder relatives as tokens of good fortune and blessings, as well as to promote familial values such as generosity. In order to receive these packets, the younger generation need to wish their elder relatives good luck and health in order to receive their lucky packet. To capture this tradition, I used the Sony Alpha 9 II with the FE 16-35mm F2.8 G Master lens at a wide angle of 26 mm, in order to be up-close and intimate with the main subjects in the picture, whilst also incorporating the other children in the background of the scene. For this portrait, I used a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field (F4) to separate the sharp faces of the grandfather and child from the others in the rest of the room.