CHIMELONG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUS
It's been ages since I have been to a circus of any sort. Coming to Guangzhou presented me with an opportunity to investigate the myths of what a Chinese circus might hold in store.
As if anyone who lives here could ever forget the scale of things on offer for public entertainment. The Chimelong International Circus does not disappoint. As part of the Chimelong Resort Complex, the circus venue is a gargantuan, indoor Greek -theatre style, arena, which seats 8000. Although initially it appears to be a fuss to get seated, nobody seems to mind if, clutching your camera, you make your way down the sloped rows of seating to get closer to the stage area. Even having done this, I was still between 50-100 metres away from the performance as there is a moat dividing the seating from the stage or circus ring .
As you'd expect, flash photography is not allowed, so immediately you should be preparing for the basic strategies of event photography as you make your initial camera settings for a dark venue. I had my Nikon D90 with its 18-150mm lens that night but I wished I had brought the D700 and the 24-70mm lens. Generally speaking, I try to set my ISO between 400 and 3200 in these situations, so I opted initially for ISO of 800 as an opening gambit. Your camera of course, would always be set on Manual with settings (again as a rough initial guide) of shutter speed of 1/60 and aperture of f2.8 - f4 to get started with, until you figure out what the lighting is going to be like. Either use spot or multi-zone metering ( I prefer spot) and try to take the camera light reading from a bright spot such as a brightly lit performer's face. The key of course is to be able to keep your camera as still as possible - a task which is made more difficult by the low-set bucket seats, offering little leg room and being closely up against the backs and shoulders of the people in front of you. I had to apologise throughout the evening for clunking an eldery man's head with my lens in my eagerness to catch some shots (he was lucky it wasn't the 24-70mm.
There are animals - lots of them! An international cast of them in fact. I was gobsmacked to see a Hornbill gliding across the arena as we entered, and later amazed at the sheer array of wild beasts comically trooping around the moat's perimeter. Prides of lions, bloats of hippopotami, towers of giraffes (here's an opportunity for you to practice your collective nouns for animals) and a bear on a Harley Davidson? -Yeah, really! However the main focus, in this ninety minute show, is on the other international cast of human acrobats who do a spectacular job of creating that timelessly entertaining circus magic.
What were my biggest lessons learned from that evening at Chimelong?
- Equipment:- I would try next time to bring a wide angle or prime lens. This shoot would have been much easier with a 50mm, f 1.4 or f1.8 lens which allows for a much wider aperture. Telephoto lenses are a problem as they require more light than wide angle and standard lenses. Under the low light and hand held conditions in a concert, the resulting image would be blurred unless you had an extremely expensive high-end lens. Specialty IS (image stabilizing) lenses are useful but expensive.
- ISO: -Make use of this setting to your advantage. After an initial couple of shots - check the display for exposure and make adjustments to the camera's ISO value. Then adjust shutter speed next. Aperture can be more readily changed as the ISO drops to below 400. You need to know beforehand how far you can push the ISO on your own camera so that you are not getting noise in your photographs. The only way to figure this out is to practice by going out shooting at night and in low light conditions.
- Go to the Circus on a week night:- There are less people then and more chance of getting seated where you can shoot better.
- Don't be shy: - The Cantonese are not and until you are directed to sit down, make use of the aisles (where you will not be obscuring the view of others) to get a little closer to some of the action. On at least three occasions during the show the performers and their animals leave the stage area to parade around a mid level walkway between the rows of seats.
- Watch the performers - and anticipate: -In some of the routines such as the trapeze acts and the diving acts you can predict whats going to happen next and set up for a better composed shot. Pre-visualising moments in a performance is a skill in shooting events such as this
- Watch for foreground clutter: - When framing your shots be wary of both foreground and background clutter, whether this be the old man's head in front of you, a pillar or a bank speakers and their cables, try to eliminate this distracting stuff from the shot.
- Visit the shop afterwards - Guangzhou is LED light-toy heaven and this is a good place to pick up some zany light sabres, glow sticks and flashing wands which are great for using with light trail photography :-)
Guangzhounauts can get to Chimelong International Circus by taking Metro line 3 and getting off at Hanxi-Changlong Metro Station, Exit C. There you will see the Chimelong Bus Station . The shuttle bus is free and takes you to Chimelong International Circus (and any place in Chimelong Resort complex). Tickets can be purchased online and at the venue before the performance (Adult tickets 250 RMB Children 125 RMB at the time of writing). Gates open at 17:30hrs and the performance begins at 19:00 hrs.
View more images from the Guangzhounaut at: The Guangzhounaut Dailies, a page set up for daily iPhone photographs taken in and around Guangzhou.