On the 24th day of the fifth lunar month, the Dragon Boat Festival is held on the Qingshui River in Guizhou in China.

This festival was started over 2,000 years ago and there are lots of activities to enjoy.

But the most popular activity is the dragon boat racing.

Dragon boat racing has become so popular it’s become an international sport.

In fact, the dragon boat races are national holidays in China and are considered very photogenic celebrations.

So let’s learn all about dragon boat racing on the Qingshui River and why every photographer must visit this festival at least once in their lifetime.

What is Dragon Boat Racing?

A dragon boat is a human-powered wooden watercraft. Each boat is formed and then decorated in the form of a Chinese dragon.

The size of the boat and number of the crew needed to paddle can vary.

Typically the boat ranges in size from 20-35 meters. And between 30-60 people are required to help paddle the boat.

Dragon boat racing has to do with the beat of the drum. Each boat has a drummer seated at the helm with a drum. The drummer is considered the heartbeat of the boat.

Each paddler then tries to synchronize their paddling to the pace set by the drummer.

How Did the Dragon Boat Festival Get Its Start?

The origins of the dragon boat festival date back by about 2,000 years.

So, of course, there’s more than one version of the story as to why dragon boat racing has become such a time-honored tradition.

Version One:

There once lived a Dragon King. While he was considered both brilliant and benevolent, he also had a drinking problem.

See, the region of Guizhou is not only well known for their festival, they’re also famous for their white wine, Maotai.

The Dragon King became so inebriated one day he mistook the rain steps during a ritual. The result was 3 days and nights of rain that besieged one village, resulting in many deaths.

Jade Emperor was extremely unhappy with this. So enraged was the Jade Emperor that he hacked up the Dragon King into little pieces and threw them in the river.

Horrible droughts were the result. So one day a man decided to build a boat on the Qingshui River. On the anniversary of the Dragon King’s death, they paddled out on the river and to their surprise, he sprang to life and brought them rain.

Version Two:

A man and his son were fishing one day. A dragon popped up from the river and kidnapped the son.

The father was so angered that he captured the dragon and chopped it into pieces. He then fed the pieces to his fellow villagers.

After the feast darkness fell over them for 9  full days and nights. One day a woman went to the river to wash clothing.

The clothing stick she used made a sound which helped her find her son. The darkness gave way to blue skies.

Version Three:

Qu Yuan was a Chu State official and poet. He was so devastated that the Chu capital fell, he drowned himself.

His fellow villagers rowed out onto the river to either retrieve his body or scare the fish away.

What Else Can I Photograph Besides Dragon Boat Racing?

This is a full on festival, so don’t think the only activity worth photographing are the dragon boat races.

There’s also plenty to do besides the boat racing. Activities such as:

  • Bullfighting
  • Drum-Beating
  • Reed-Pipe Singing and Dancing
  • Horse Racing

Cool Customs:

There’s more than just not-your-typical festival events to attend. There are also some amazing customs that help represent what the festival means to the locals.

It also means a whole variety of subject matters for your photography than just what you can get from the dragon boat racing.

Here are some things you can capture from their interesting local customs:

  • Their core values of diligence, easy-going attitudes, tolerance and optimism
  • Their team efforts: Those who do not get along are expected to shake hands and work together
  • Witchcraft and sacrifices: It’s a simple bit of witchcraft but worth getting there early to witness. Sacrifices include umbrellas, rice, grass, paper money and a white rooster
  • A fat duck is chased: At the end of the dragon boat racing, when they reach the terminal, they release a fat duck into the water. A chase then ensues and the winners are entitled to a grand banquet

Why Is This a Photographers Dream?

There are so many amazing events, images, and moments you can capture at the dragon boat festival that it’s difficult to mention them all.

Here are just a few moments, moods or points worth capturing at the dragon boat festival:

  • Capturing the glint of the spray as the paddlers synchronize their efforts to the beat of the drummer
  • Dragon boat racers exuding power, grace, and energy
  • The boats with their dragon heads with colorful paintings, exquisite sculptures, and banners
  • The festival ending with a great fireworks display and a huge feast
  • The Miao people celebrating a good harvest, agreeable weather, peaceful life and a prosperous country

What Kinds of Shots Can You Take?

There are quite a few different types of shots you can take at the dragon boat festival.

Your purpose is to try to capture a story. You can do that by capturing the whole festival.

Or a small portion of it. Or even a single image.

Here are some other ideas on how to photograph a festival:

  • Pan shots for a sense of speed
  • Freeze splashes using a high-speed shutter
  • Bring your zoom and your tripod
  • Don’t forget to shoot during day and night
  • Photograph people, boats, events, food, animals, or nature
  • Be aware of where the light is coming from when shooting live action
  • Use a flash-blur technique to express movement and mood

Dragon boat racing is a fun, interesting and wild three-day festival. In 2017 it will take place on May 30th so get packing now!

China also offers a wide array of spaces, events, and people that are a photographers dream. Learn how and where to take the best photographs on your next trip to China.

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