Raising the Dead in Oaxaca

I’ve already seen the first Halloween candy in the supermarket, so I figure it’s not too early to talk about the mother of all “Halloween” celebrations, the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico. I had the opportunity to cover the festival last year with my friend, Richard Ellis, longtime Reuters and Getty shooter and founder of the Charleston Photo Workshops. I’ll be heading down again with him next month to co-teach a travel workshop around the festival. Here’s a taste of what we will see:

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Using a simple camera stabilizer with a Sony NEX 6 and 10-18mm wide angle zoom to capture one of the many colorful processions that happen during the Day of the Dead period.

If you like your destinations to feature an ancient and still-vibrant culture, beautiful, distintive architecture and warm moderate weather, colorful local dress and thriving crafts market, or friendly people, delicious food and photogenic markets, Oaxaca never fails to please.

Although I had been to Oaxaca before, I had never shot video there, nor covered the Day of the Dead celebrations.

Since a lot of the action happens in the evenings and the, um, dead of night, it’s particularly challenging to a video shooter. That’s because we are basically limited to one shutter speed that is, ideally, twice the frame rate.

Day of the Dead festival at the Old Cemetery at Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico
In the cemetaries with a monopod and high hopes. This year, using the Sony A7s and its incredible low-light capabilities, will be an easler shoot.

So if you’re shooting a 24fps video (which is the prescribed method for capturing “cinematic” video), your basic shutter speed is 1/50th of a second (in a pinch, you can probably go as low as 1/30th of a second, but any slower and the blurs make your film look like a drugtrip flashback scene in a 60’s movie!).

This year, my job will be easier, thanks to the Sony A7s and its low light capability. I just got this camera a few weeks ago and had an opportunity to shoot footage by the light of one little lantern in an Icelandic shepherd’s hut at ISO 25, 600 and the stuff was amazing!

I can hardly wait to get a second crack at the the candlelit cemeteries this year with this low-light monster.

If you do head down here with us, be sure to bring your fast prime lenses, and, in addition to your tripod, some kind of camera stabilizing device that is more compact for those crowded processions and cemeteries.

This can be a small table-top tripod that you can brace against your chest, or a monopod. My three-footed monopod got a workout last year, as did my cheap little steadicam device, and I plan to bring them both again this year.

I’ll be joined in Oaxaca by co-teachers Richard Ellis and Sergio Dorantes. Richard is a globe trotting, award-winning photojournalist who covers the world for Reuters and Getty, and Sergio is a renowned Mexican photojournalist who had done work for National Geographic among others.  Although it’s a stills workshop, if you have a budding interest in video, I’ll be your man.

So take a look at the video to see the kind of encounters we’ll have and I hope you’ll join us for one of the world’s most photogenic celebrations!

Resting with the giant puppet heads between processions in Oaxaca. Photo © Bob Krist

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