May is a month of festivals in the Philippines, and one of the brightest and most colorful of these is Lucban’s Pahiyas festival, held on the 15th of the month. Over the years the fiesta has evolved from its roots as a thanksgiving feast held in honor of the town’s patron saint, the farmer San Isidro Labrador, for a bountiful harvest, to an all-out display of local culture and native art.
The main attractions of Pahiyas include not only the requisite processions and feasts, but also the way the houses are decorated (the word pahiyas, or payas, means “to decorate”) with the ever-present kiping, brightly colored rice wafers that are strung together to form all sorts of shapes and designs. These are supplemented with various miniatures known as anok, which represent the agricultural produce of the area—fruits, vegetables, and longganisa, as well handcrafted fans, hats, and other implements and accessories made from local fibers. Awards are given to the most creative and curious displays at the end of the day’s celebrations.
To further highlight the agricultural nature of the festivities, the town makes the most of the Pahiyas by holding an annual agro-industrial fair, the Tiyangge sa Lucban, showcasing its native products—including the popular Lucban longganisa and pancit habhab.
In recent years, as local travel and food blogs have exploded in popularity, the Pahiyas has become a favored destination for photographers, foodies, and travel enthusiasts alike. Amid the bright colors and extravagant displays, it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo, and both professional and amateur photographers will find a lot to keep themselves occupied here. If you’re planning to take part in the festivities this year, FN gives you these quick tips to help you stay safe and enjoy your visit to the full. Keeping in mind that many revelers will want to document their experiences, we’ve also included a few inspirational photos and photography tips to keep you on track.
Travel tips for Pahiyas Fiesta
- Contact the local tourism office and ask for a complete list of the schedule, map of the town and route of the procession.
- Ask a local for the best places to buy pancit habhab (you can get it dried to take home), longganisa, buntal hats, broas, puto seko, and other products. Don't just buy from the nearest vendor, especially the ambulant ones—while they are very persistent, their prices will inevitably be higher, since most of them are just reselling products from other stalls.
- Set up an emergency meeting place and time for your fellow travelers, like the plaza or church, just in case cellphone batteries run down unexpectedly and you have no contact with each other.
- Always be alert and look out for your valuables. The locals ask visitors to do so, knowing theft incidents throw a bad light on their fiesta. It has been established that the bad elements go there specifically to take advantage of the crowd and chaos.
- Dress for the sun and heat. Bring a change of clothes, a hat, a small towel and lots of water.
- The town has established a rule against using plastic bags. Help them by bringing your own environmental bags for your purchases—or buy those adorable tampipi or bayong bags when you get there!
- Hang around for the "Kutitap"—Pahiyas by night! It will be magical—the Pahiyas organizers have specifically asked the homeowners to provide spotlights and tivoli lights for this year's display.
- The locals are very accommodating and pleasant. Get to know them!
- Join a tour group so you don't have to have to worry about driving to and from Lucban and get a chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way!
Photography Tips for Shooting Pahiyas
- Clean your lenses. It’s amazing how a simple rule like this is overlooked by a lot of photographers, both hobbyists and professionals. Consistently blurred photos are sometimes just a result of negligent lens maintenance.
- Format your memory cards and fully charge your batteries. Don’t forget to bring back ups for both.
- Get a list of the activities—such as the route, schedule, and itinerary—so you can anticipate the best moments and angles. Ask a knowledgeable source, such a tourism officer or show organizer, or someone who’s been to the previous year’s festivities, where the best spots are. Email them ahead of time and don't wait for the actual event, before you contact them, otherwise, they will be too busy to attend to you.
- Check your settings even before you click the first shot. You wouldn't want to find out you had the wrong white balance later.
- Once you’ve shot your fill of basic events photos, experiment with special effects like zooming in, or out, while on slow shutter speed. Practice this technique before going to the event so you can quickly frame and take your shots while the action is happening around you.
- Shoot from perspectives that will clear the heads in the crowd—try taking shots from balconies, or on top of low walls and roofs.
- Wait for the crowd to part or abate for less messy shots. Ask nicely, if needed. People are usually very accommodating.
- Be aware of distracting background elements—electric poles, political signs, and the like. Crouch down to ground level to remove these from your shot. At a low angle the performers heads will loom overhead and cover these.
- Catch the performers at their most candid—snoozing, chatting, and eating.
- Use long lenses to compress perspective or, in the case of compact cameras, zoom in to the maximum and use your camera’s portrait setting to blur the background.
- Use the night scene mode for well-lit exterior displays of the Pahiyas. If you’re taking a portrait of a friend in front of the display, use your camera’s night portrait mode.
- Don't forget to have fun and enjoy the fiesta! What's the use of nice photos if you can't even remember the events, people, and food? Strike a good balance and enjoy the memories until next year’s Pahiyas rolls around.
Joy Jesena-Barcelon conducts Basic and Advance Photography Workshops, for individuals and groups, in Alabang, Makati and Serendra. On May 15, Saturday, she will also conduct a Portrait PhotoWorkshop in Casa San Pablo, Laguna, then proceed to Lucban for the Pahiyas Photoshoot. Contact her at 0916-497-1180, jesenabarcelon_joy @yahoo.com or her Facebook page.
(Photos by Joy Jesena-Barcelon)