How To Photograph A Statue During The Middle Of The Day

A reclining Buddha statue in the city of Ayuthaya in Thailand.

Here's an interesting conundrum that most folks face when they're traveling to exotic locations. It's the middle of the day and the bus driver has encouraged you to alight the vehicle, but told you to be back on board within 20 minutes. You look around and decide whether its worthwhile following the tour guide, which will likely involve more listening than it will looking (let alone seeing), and very little time for carefully considered photography.

If you're like me you'll be off exploring and making images that are much more than just records of the places you've visited. That’s why, on the few times I’ve signed up for a half or one day tour, I do all I can to keep away from the rest of the group. I simply explain the situation to the tour guide and ask if they don’t mind me being either just in front or just behind the rest of the group.

Sometimes, as in the case of a slightly restricted location, that might mean we all enter a space together and, just as the rest of the group starts to leave I bring out my camera and quickly and efficient go about making some photos. As the group is about to move onto the next space or room the tour leader will look behind to see that I’ve finished my photography and have almost caught up with them. Under such circumstances I do all I can to remain inconspicuous and ensure I leave the tour guide a good tip for their cooperation, without which I wouldn’t have been able to make photographs of a decent standard.   

During a visit to Thailand during 2011 I thought it would be worthwhile breaking with my usual solo travels to join a few one day tours. From a photographers point of view this was, as expected, a disaster. Tours spend a lot of time picking people up and dropping them off, and tend to schedule events and locations around meals and the dreaded stop at a gem or carpet shop. So-called cultural shows are fun, but really pretty tame events that rarely provide more than a taste of the history or culture in question.

I usually hire my own car, driver and local guide. But, as I now run my own photography tours, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to experience a more generic tour where the needs of a photographer are really not catered for. As expected I found the tour quite disappointing. Nevertheless, I made the most of it and worked hard to make good photos from pretty limited opportunities.

In the case of the above photo I used a few old-school techniques to make, as I like to say, something from nothing. It is an interesting statue, but its near panoramic proportions do not lend themselves to a detailed study of the statues expression, surfaces textures, etc. As a color photo the blue sky, which I enhanced with the application of a polarizing filter, provided a color contrast with the warm yellow of the stone. The trouble was that the sky became just as important as the statue and I really didn't see the image being about color. I was more attracted to the age of the structure and the tonality and texture inherent to it.

To both add texture and help to frame the buddha statue I included some overhanging branches within the frame. As I say, old-school techniques.

Finally the decision to render the image into a sepia-like black and white helped to emphasize the tonal and textural qualities within the scene.

While not a portfolio image the above photo does help tell the story of the day and that particular trip to Thailand. It's amazing what's possible with a little effort and the preparedness to try something different.

When in doubt, just move. It gets the brain going and creativity flowing. And remember the creative process doesn't end in camera. There's a new world awaiting on the desktop.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru