Tear Sheet: Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival in Action Asia by photographer Rich J Matheson
I was hoping to get a feature but I didn’t get enough photographs this year. My camera was badly damaged and the lens was shattered by a direct hit. Story below.
I love the annual Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival in Yanshui. I’ve been going to it for years and have had photos of the event published in at least nine different publications (Action Asia, CNN Traveler, Horizon Magazine, FYI South Magazine(cover), Compass, Taiwan Fun, China Post, Michelin Green Guide, Gecko Guides: Taiwan for Culture Vultures… ) Strangely, I don’t have many really good photographs of the festival because photographing the mayhem is decidedly difficult while being repeatedly pummeled by the rockets. I try to shield my camera with my body and, of course, use an old back up body. You need to fully cover yourself or you will get hurt, so you have to know your camera controls very well because you can’t see anything through your helmet visor. Further, after the barrage starts there is so much smoke and zero visibility and only a very short window of time to capture usable photos. Previously it was the particles and smoke that did the most damage to my cameras and lenses.
But as much as I like the thrill of surviving a ‘wall’, this year I planned to do things a bit differently. Taking good photos is much easier from outside the wall… and usually safer! I planned to stay far from the action and get some good shots with my main camera and lens from the side of the walls where it is relatively safe. Alas, the urge to get closer got the best of me and not long into the festival I got too close and a bottle rocket shattered my lens (through the B+W glass filter) and the impact knocked the SLR’s mirror off of its hinges. My friend (also a many year veteran of the event, but not a very prepared one this year) had a visor-less helmet and took a hit to his face in the same volley that I lost my camera. Bit of blood, blistering and pain. Half an inch to the left, he could have lost an eye.
But he was lucky, his camera was OK.
Here is Till with his camera. He was wearing protective glasses, but not sure if they would have deflected a rocket. The rockets in this photo are not the dangerous kind. Not not all bottle rockets are the same. These are the larger, slower ‘wussy’ rockets and are nicer to photograph because they have thicker trails… and they wont hurt you!
This was the cursed volley that took my camera.
These are NOT the ‘wussy’ rockets. You can see the thinner trails and much faster speed. This was shot at 1/100th whereas the above pic was half a second. I always take pictures in automatic modes at Yanshui — usually aperture priority, start at 1.4 and dial the aperture down manually as I see light levels going up (I want as small an aperture as possible) — because the light levels change so fast and so often.
A barrage of bottle rockets scream into the air like angry bees flying from a hive.