We make an annual visit to the Luminarias at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden during the holidays. For those not in the know, it’s a Mexican tradition at Christmas time where you line a street or path with small paper bags lit by candles. Some people even put them on the roof. Arizona, despite its occasional regressive outbursts, has a rich and treasured history of embracing Hispanic culture and this is one of my favorite visual feasts. (Mexican food being one of my favorite actual feasts.)
So for several weeks during Las Noches de las Luminarias, the DBG lines its many pathways with 8,000 luminarias, most with the traditional candles and perhaps a few installations with electronic versions, and with spotlights on the cacti and twinkle lights wrapping the Palo Verde trees it makes for a festive evening, cider and hot chocolate mixed with various live bands and storytellers adding just the right magical touch.
It could be a romantic outing with the wife, but being that we take the kid every year I wrote that off ages ago and bring my camera and tripod instead for long exposure and low light photography experiments. This often leaves me behind and not holding my wife’s hand often enough, so I have been trying to streamline the process. Given that I have thousand of photos from over the years, this time I planned simply to take less, both in equipment and in photos.
I put the Canon Rebel on a tiny tripod and out a spare battery in my pocket and off we went.
TIP: When going minimalist on the equipment, or just keeping it simple and fast, find a small lightweight aluminum tripod, attach it securely to your camera and leave the head loose and just let it dangle from the bottom of the camera with the strap around your neck or shoulders.
A quick release plate is optional but in that case attach a strap to the tripod as well. You won’t want to carry it all the time, although you will find that on occasion it’s comfortable to have the tripod extended and ready to open quickly to drop for a shot, especially on a timer so you can get your face in one or two pictures. But you always want a strap on the camera, and you don’t want to drop the tripod because you forgot you detached it from the camera. Right? I have indeed been there and learned that.
You can also set the camera timer and lift the camera up high for a different angle, though you may want to take additional shots and review until you learn how to angle the camera on a stick exactly where you intended.
TIP: I used to set my auto timer to take the maximum 10 shots on group portraits and the like and have dialed it back to six. It’s usually sufficient to get what you want without boring the cast, and if it isn’t, it’s easy to press the shutter again for more.
I decided to shoot RAW which leaves more room for later editing especially regarding exposure adjustments, and tried to keep my shot count low which let me pre-edit what I might really need a picture of.
I also found a balance where I could shoot 1/20 to 1/30 manual shutter at a reasonable ISO which let me take a deep breath and shoot some quicker handheld shots. If you’re starting, stick with 1/30 to 1/40 when practicing on more important shots. Blur is after you.
Anyway, did a pretty good job keeping up with the family and under 150 shots. They might even remember I was there wth them this year.
And the Desert Botanical Garden is worth seeing in the daylight too, just not always as much of a novelty or event to an Arizona native.
P.S. I didn’t even take out my phone camera. Not for the auto HDR function (though I took bracketed exposures for later editing). Not to tag myself in social media. Didn’t even check my messages after dinner (to be fair it wasn’t beeping at me for attention.) So pretty good and when I wasn’t dragging behind that left a hand free for my wife.*
* So I had my phone in hand free mode?
P.P.S. The post title format is a nod to “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons of my youth, which would parody dramatic cliffhanger serials and end them with two ridiculous pun titles. Can’t recall any at the moment, look up the cartoon though. Especially The Fractured Fairy Tales. So comically subversive I was ruined. To think they were in reruns by the time I got to them….