A Note on the Photos
The photos were taken with a venerable Nikon CoolPix 990 3.3-megapixel point-and-shoot digital camera, using only the built-in flash.
This camera has some qualities that caused me to re-think how to take pictures. Like other digital cameras of its generation, it requires an unpredictable amount of time between shots to recharge the flash, and the shutter does not open until an unpredictable delay has occurred.
As a result of these delays, the camera can hardly be used for the traditional method of photography — to capture a specific instant of time — because those instants have already passed before the shutter clicks.
So I have learned to seek not instants but ongoing interactions. For example, instead of photographing the very instant a person’s face lights up, I wait for that person to engage in an animated conversation where the face is animated for many seconds at the time. That way, I can “sample” the interaction and get a decent photo, instead of depending on one rare instant when, for 1/60th of a second, the person looked perfect.
The monks’ ceremony provided a wonderful opportunity to overcome the limitations of this kind of camera. The ceremony was not a series of isolated, rare instants, but a long, continuous sequence of engaged actions. Again and again, I could “sample” those sequences and capture the stirring, focused nature of the event.
Because I had witnessed this ceremony once before, I could anticipate photographing certain key phases of the ceremony.
The photos had the limitations of most low-resolution digital pictures, and I had to spend some time experimenting with PhotoShop to get better results from them. I tried each of the usual methods of photo improvement that you can read about in books or the help files — adjusting the levels and curves, setting the white point, trying automatic contrast, trying the shadow/highlight adjustment, then trying the exposure adjustment — to find the smallest number of changes that made the picture emerge and the colors look more natural.
The photo above is typical of what the digital files looked like before adjustment for exposure. Several of these photos responded beautifully to an adjustment in the gamma and exposure in the Exposure menu, under Image/Adjustments. This was new to me, but trial and error led me to it, and it helped.
You can see how little photographic knowledge I took to this remarkable event, yet some good pictures came out of it.
You can do this, too. What it most requires, I think, is that you give yourself to the event. It is not “you” taking pictures, but the event revealing itself to you in pictures. In some sense, you have to get out of the way and allow the event to guide you.
Good luck, and thanks for your interest. –Gerald Grow