The Chinese Year of the Rabbit Explodes into Being


NOTE FROM JONAH: This blog post was originally written as a guest post for Dan Chung’s DSLR News Shooter.

As 1.4 billion Chinese people celebrated the Lunar New Year yesterday — cameraman Paul Morris, journalist Kit Gillet and myself packed our bags to capture the remarkable pyro-chaos that welcomed the Year of the Rabbit.

According to ancient Chinese mythology, an evil spirit known as Nian (年) would terrorize villagers on the first day of the new year. To protect themselves, villagers would create loud noises to ward off the evil spirit. Millennia later, the Chinese still uphold this tradition by setting off fireworks continuously for a two week period.

Jonah with Slider and 5D

Unlike in the West, where firework safety is paramount, safety is far from people’s minds in China, where fireworks are set off within high-rise compounds, tossed on the floor, set off in narrow alleys, and even thrown at friends in the spirit of good humor.

7D in Firing Range

To capture the spirit of the Spring Festival, the three of us hit the alleys, streets and roofs of Beijing to capture the pyrotechnique display put on by the Chinese people. The truly remarkable aspect of the events that take place on New Year’s Eve is that all of the fireworks you see in the video are bought and set off by regular Beijingers – a perfect visual representation of the overwhelming size of China’s population. This creates a unique organized display of chaos which lights up the sky and echoes through the streets of China.

Jonah with slider

Our goal in filming the event was to show this organized chaos and grab some colorful frames. We were packing …

During hours of close-up filming, we were subjected to flying debris, ear-splitting explosions, and even the occasional stray firework that would ricochet off lenses, nearby cars and even my ass.

Paul with Rig

Technically shooting at night can be a bit tricky. Our ISOs ranged from 400-3200. We found with higher ISOs a lot of images came out with a cooler color temperatures or blue color casts. In the case of shooting fireworks, this isn’t such a bad thing. Most of our frames had a large variance in color anyway. With a few of the close-up shots involving rapid firework explosions the cameras had issues with the rolling shutter.

Sounds and music for this production were purchased from

Jonah M. Kessel is a Beijing-based freelance visual journalist and interactive art director specializing in photography, video, news and Web design.
Paul Morris is a Beijing-based freelance assistant producer and lighting cameraman.
Kit Gillet is a Beijing-based freelance journalist and documentary maker.

6 thoughts on “The Chinese Year of the Rabbit Explodes into Being”

  1. Amazing video and lovely music too – love your work. Particularly good to see how you’ve done it… I have a Mk1 5D and keep seeing videos shot on Mk2 – must save up!

    Also keep seeing great videos shot with slow movement and wondered how it was done… is it the ‘slider’ being used for the horizontal movement?

    1. Hey Jonathan – Thanks so much for checking out the video. The 5DII is truly a remarkable camera — especially if your constantly having to change between stills and video. A lot of rumors flying around about the 5DMIII – but nothing for certain. If you wanted the latest and greatest – it might be worth waiting (although there is telling how long you’ll wait for). Also, if the 5DIII comes out – the 5DII will definitely drop in price, so another thing to think about.

      All the horizontal movement is done with a slider. I’ve used a couple different sliders now and just ordered a new Pocket Dolly v2.0 Traveler from Kessler Crane a couple weeks ago. Check out Dan Chung‘s blog DSLR New Shooter for lots of good info and opinions on sliders and support systems, too.

      Cheers – and happy new year!


  2. Thank you for sharing such learning about the Chinese culture through your lens, Jonah…great stuff !!! Ever tried shots in the market where Beijingers would go for interesting desserts or Chinese New Year food…??

    All the best in “year of The Golden Rabbit” !

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