An early morning challenge: Photographing 1,000 Buddhist monks

An early morning challenge: Photographing 1,000 Buddhist monks

Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. We’d been hoping to see a procession of monks going out for their morning rounds of alms collecting, when we noticed preparations for a major ceremony and found out that the next day 1,000 (precisely 1,000 in this case) monks would be traveling by boat from the far corners of the Inle Lake region to assemble and then join a procession of boats which would receive donations of food and new robes.

1,000 was way more than we were prepared for. Especially in the low buildings and boats on the lake, it wouldn’t be possible to get any type of aerial shot. And the pre-dawn light levels and dark sky made backgrounds difficult. Everyone in the group had some ideas, so there was no shortage of portraits, group shots, and various artistic approaches that morning.

I wanted to give some sense of scale to the procession, but knew I couldn’t capture nearly 1,000 monks in a single shot. So I knelt down alongside the long line and waited for a good composition. In particular, I noticed that the novice monks, curious about the happenings up ahead, would peer around the line and provide some interest to the otherwise long line of robes. I also used an older monk towards the front of the line as a foreground “anchor” for the image I wanted, rather than just have the line of monks fade out of the frame. I tried shooting from lower down, but the background wound up having too much washed out sky in it.

Ceremonial procession of Buddhist monks, Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar)
, ISO 3200, f/4.2 @ 1/250s, 24-120mm Lens @ 38mm

As amazing as the spectacle of nearly 50 boats full of monks approaching the ceremonial barges was to experience, it was difficult to photograph with our low elevation and the dark sky with little light. This shot was taken from a nearby boardwalk part way through the procession…