November Photo Opportunity: The Monkey Banquet of Lopburi

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Looking for an unusual festival to photograph? Head over to Thailand for the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival held at the Phra Prang Sam Yot shrine. Located in central Thailand’s provincial capital of Lopburi, this Khmer shrine is inhabited year-round by hundreds of long-tailed macaques.

Monkeys climbing pile of food at the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival, Thailand

Despite stealing food and generally being a nuisance, the monkeys are a part of the daily life of the local community, as the townspeople believe they bring good luck and fortune. Having free reign of the town, the monkeys enter public buildings and traverse roads like any other citizen.

Close-up of monkeys feasting at the Lopbuti Monkey Banquest Festival

On the last Sunday of November, the Lopburi monkeys are honored with a huge feast set out on long tables in the ruins of the shrine. The delicacies offered include an abundant spread including sticky rice, tropical fruit salad frozen in ice blocks and an egg-yolk pudding.

The Giant Lantern Festival, San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines

People come from all over to attend the festival and watch the monkeys as they scamper on the tables and enjoy the feast.

Monkeys feasting at the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival, Thailand

Initially shy in front of the hundreds of spectators, the monkeys eventually get in the swing of things – gorging on the food, guzzling sodas, throwing pudding at each other, and generally causing a ruckus. This riotous monkey spectacle will delight any and all photographers.

Monkey walking of food banquet at the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival

Once the monkeys’ appetites are satiated, and the remainder of the food is on the ground, the monkeys return to the treetops to sleep off their indulgence. A fun, and unique, festival, you’ll leave the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival with a lot of great shots in your memory cards.

Crowds photographing the monkeys at the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival

October Photo Opportunity: India’s Festival of Lights

Lit candles at Hindu Festival

Celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world, Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India.

Candles lit on Ganges during Diwali

Celebrated between mid-October and mid-November each year, Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ – due to the clay lamps that Indians traditionally lit outside their homes. The candles, lights and fireworks during Diwali give every photographer a lot to work with.

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Believed to have originated as a harvest festival, today Diwali is celebrated for various reasons by Hindus depending on the region of India in which they reside. Non-Hindu communities also celebrate this holiday, again, for their own reasons. The main theme common throughout all the celebrations is the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil.

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During the five-day festival, homes, temples, and other buildings throughout the country are decorated with colorful lights, and large firework displays are held in many communities.

Snacks at Diwali

During the holiday, houses are cleaned, people dress in new clothes, sweets are exchanged, and prayers given – typically to Lakshmi, the goddess of fertility and prosperity.

India Festival

Diwali offers photographers a variety of subjects to shoot – from the light and fireworks, to the interactions of families and communities celebrating together.

People lighting candles at riverside during Diwali

Man shopping for Diwali electric lights

Basic tips for first-time night photographers

Setting a DSLR to shoot at night

Frustrated with your attempts to take photos at night? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Shooting at night is one of the more challenging subjects in photography.

Regardless of the subject of your night photography – night cityscapes, light painting, etc. – the following tips will help get you started to mastering a number of basic photography techniques that will enhance your night photography results.

Camera on tripod overlooking Hong Kong

The first thing you need to do is to buy and use a tripod. Shooting at night when there’s less light means you’ll have to use slower shutter speeds. Your shutter speed could range from 1-30 seconds – much too slow to shoot hand-held. So using a tripod is a must if you want sharp results when shooting at night.

Your tripod should be solidly placed (the heavier your tripod the better).

When taking long exposures at night, even with your camera mounted on a tripod, you need to do everything you can to avoid any movement of your camera. Just pressing the shutter button can create enough movement to result in blurred shots. Avoid this by either using a remote shutter release, or the self-timer built-in to your camera.

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Remember, the slightest movement can create unwanted camera shake, even the movement of the mirror in your camera. So, enable Mirror Lock-Up (easy to do – your manual will outline the steps). And finally, if your camera has Image stabilization, make sure to turn it off as the movement of the stabilization motor can also cause blurred shots.

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Once your camera is set-up on the tripod, set your camera to Manual mode, so you will be able to control both aperture and shutter speed. If your subject is static, begin by setting a wide aperture (which allows more light to hit your camera’s sensor) – f2.8 for example. Then dial-in the correct shutter speed until your Exposure is set at ‘0’. Take the shot and review it on your camera’s LCD screen. If your photo looks too bright, narrow your exposure by one or two stops, adjust the shutter speed, and retake the shot. By experimenting, you’ll get the right combination.

Night shots of moving Ferris Wheel and trails of automobile tail lights

If you want to capture movement at night – car taillights or a moving Ferris wheel – a longer exposure is required – figure at least one second for a start. Set a narrow aperture, f8 for example, dial-in a shutter speed that brings your Exposure to ‘0’, and take a shot. Again, experiment to get the right settings.

Final tip – keep your ISO as low as possible (100 to 400). While increasing ISO allows you to take photos in low-light situations, it also increases noise in your photos. With your camera on a tripod, you’ll be able to shoot at night using a low ISO with no problem.

Japanese umbrellas and lanterns at night

Night photography is challenging, and experimentation is the key to success. The more you practice with the combinations of apertures and shutter speeds settings, the better you’ll get at taking beautiful night photos.

Lang Jingshan – A Pioneer of Chinese Photography

Lang Jingshan
Photo of Lang Jingshan, Chinese photographer

The influence of Lang Jingshan (郎静山) on Chinese photography is indisputable. Lang (his family name) was born in China in 1892, and was first influenced by his military father who had an interest in both art and photography. While attending middle school in Shanghai, Lang received his only formal instruction in photography from his art teacher at age 12.

During the 1920s, Lang became one of China’s first photojournalists, working for newspapers and magazines covering news and events, shooting fashion spreads and advertisements, and publishing art photography and pictorials in magazines.

Yanbo Yaoting (1963)
Yanbo Yaoting – photo by Chinese photographer Lang Jingshan.

When the China Photography Association was founded in 1928, Lang who was one of the first participants, began experimenting with more artistic work including nudes – which was a first in China. “Meditation”, which he shot in 1928, is considered the earliest surviving Chinese artistic nude photograph. This was followed by the publication of the ‘Album of Nude Photographs’ in 1930 – the first of it’s kind in China.

Meditation
Meditation – photo by Chinese photographer Lang Jingshan

After briefly experimenting with a modernist style, Lang developed a style he called “composite photography” (jijin sheying 集锦摄影), whereby he printed different parts of various negatives on the same sheet of paper, resulting in seamless landscapes, still lifes, and portraits following the composition and style of traditional Chinese ink painting.

Left: actress Li Hua; Right: Chiin-san Long. Photos by Lang Jingshan.
Left: actress Li Hua; Right: Chiin-san Long. Photos by Lang Jingshan.

After the communist takeover of mainland China, Lang followed the nationalist government to Taiwan where he continued to create ground-breaking photographic works. He also spent 42 years as the director of the re-established China Photography Association in Taiwan. Throughout the remainder of his life, Lang committed himself to teaching and promoting the idea of a Chinese style of photography until his demise in April 1995.

September Photo Opportunity: The Masked Dancers of Korea

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Korea’s annual Andong Mask Dance Festival is an series of events celebrating the traditions of Korean mask dancing. If you’re lucky enough to attend, bring your camera, and get ready to get some really fun photos.

Yecheon Cheongdan-noreum, Andong Mask Festival
Yecheon Cheongdan-noreum, at the Andong Mask Festival in Korea

Originally a two-day event, the festival has expanded into a 10-day festival starting at end of September and continuing into the beginning of October.

Sandae-nori at Songpa, Andong Mask Festival, Korea
Sandae-nori at Songpa, Andong Mask Festival, Korea

The history of Korea’s Mask Dances reach back centuries. They were once used in shamanistic rituals, as local custom believed that wearing a mask warded off evil spirits. The performances of the masked dancers during the festival allow for some really interesting photos.

Byeolsandae-nori at Yangju, Andong Msk Festival, Korea
Byeolsandae-nori at Yangju, Andong Msk Festival, Korea

Each mask dance has it’s own significance, from making an offering to a goddess for health and wealth, to dancing for an abundant harvest, and finally a dance to chase away demons.

Goseong Ogwangdae at Andong Mask Festival, Korea
Goseong Ogwangdae at Andong Mask Festival, Korea

Andong, and its surrounding area, are famous as a center of Korean culture and folk traditions. If you visit during the festival, make sure to take the time to make some side trips with your camera. (Don’t miss the nearby folk village of Hahoe).

Masked dancers at the Andong Mask Festival, Korea
Masked dancers at the Andong Mask Festival, Korea

Indian Photographer Captures Fleeting Moments of India’s Street Life

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Born in Delhi, Vineet Vohra gains satisfaction from capturing fleeting moments happening around him.

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Boy playing with top in rural village

Vineet always tries to be ‘invisible’ and doesn’t carry a camera bag, just a extra battery in his pocket.

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Although constantly looking for interesting backgrounds, situations and faces, Vineet says ‘light’ is his main area of interest.

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Why Are We All So Enamored With Photography?

Why are we all so enamored with photography?
Day-dreaming Chimpanzee / Stir-fried Tang Hoon

Photography is for children. There. I said it. I’m not arguing with people who have written books about photography as an art, as a means of telling a story, or even as a method of enhancing a commercial message. But there’s something more fundamental that lies beneath all that.

I believe everyone possesses some degree of creativity. As children we’ve all tried to express it – from drawing in the sand with a stick, to making something out of mud, to doing a silly dance. It’s human nature to want to express our creativity.

When photography was invented, it became the one medium that enabled all of us to express our creativity – regardless of whether if we could draw, sing, or dance. Today, digital cameras and smartphones have put that means of expressing creativity in the hands of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The advent of digital cameras, and particularly smartphones – suddenly enabled all of us to become photographers – hence the millions of photos being constantly uploaded to the internet. And regardless of whether we take photos of our lunch with our smartphone, or photos of wildlife with our DSLR, we’re all constantly experimenting with ways of creating a better photo – one that will make all our friends say, “wow, that’s an awesome photo”!

While myriad articles have explained how digital photography has enabled us to capture memories more easily, or enhance our communications – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc – there’s no denying the fact that basically, we’re all taking photos as a means to express our creativity (some of us more successfully than others).

Jellyfish on purple
Jellyfish against purple-tinted water

The interesting thing that isn’t discussed as much is the other side of photography – the viewers of all these photos. Why are people looking at our photos? While most of us would understand why everyone would look at the photo you took of a tiger charging directly at you while on a safari, why do people spend time to view the blurry photos we take at a concert, or the photo we take of our desert?

The answer can again be found in our childhood – curiosity. As children, we were openly curious about everything around us. Refreshingly (I think), as adults we’re still curious about our world. We’re interested in what others are doing, and specifically, in what they are seeing. The combination of digital photography and the internet has tapped into our innate curiosity by feeding us massive amounts of photos to view everyday.

I guess we’re all still children – wanting to express our creativity, and curious about the world around us. I don’t know about you, but I think those two facts are reason enough to continue taking photos – and viewing them. What could possibly be wrong with continuing our desire to express our creativity – and with staying curious about the world?

Sample photos of a tree & skateboarder
Trees lit-up at night, skateboarder with umbrella

Most of all, we enjoy taking a photo, editing it, and seeing people’s reactions to it. We also get pleasure viewing a photo, thinking how we would have taken it a bit differently, and imagining ourselves being there. So maybe I’m wrong about there being two basic reasons why everyone is enamored with photography. Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe there’s only one reason – because it’s fun. (And all kids like to have fun!)