The ceremony

People praying at a Buddhist ceremony

Buddhist ceremony

I was given an assignment this week: get up early on a Sunday morning to shoot an important Buddhist ceremony. The setting: a big room with a lot of people, five monks, and awful light…


What’s more, the attendants are native Cambodians who speak Cambodian (or Khmer) and the ceremony was entirely conducted in this language, which I don’t understand at all. As a result, I had no clue about what was going to happen despite the fact that I had someone with me who tried to explain everything as much as she could.


The place

Blue room with asian people

The room

The ceremony was to be held in a big room with light-blue and dark-red walls. The ceiling was pretty high and kind of a brown-grey color. The shape of the ceiling was quite unique; it wasn’t straight and flat, but cone-shaped.

Bouncing light of the walls was no option. The light would get an awful blue cast. I tried it though, just to see how it looked and it effectively turned the five monks into the “Blue Man group“. Time to try something different…

Lighting setup

The solution was to put a speedlight on a stand, raise it as high as possible into the “cone shaped” ceiling and voilà: I found myself a big overhead reflector! Luckily the brownish tint of the ceiling didn’t cause any trouble. To light the whole room, I had to use maximum power on the speedlight though… But otherwise it worked perfectly. Another speedlight was used on camera to serve as a fill flash. With this setup I was able to shoot at f/2.8 on ISO 400 and, when a bit more depth of field was needed: f/4 on ISO 800.

Lighting diagram buddhist ceremony

Lighting diagram

The gear used:

  • Yongnuo YN560-II manual speedlight on a light stand, put up as high as the stand would go (2.5 meters), triggered by a Yongnuo RF-603 wireless transmitter.
  • Nikon SB-600, on camera fill-light
  • Lenses: Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 and a Nikon 18-55 for a few “overview” shots


…. the result

Nice photographs which, I hope, will be appreciated by friends and family present at the ceremony. For them it was a very important event, and I was pleased to be there and learn a lot along the way.

Buddhist woman praying

Buddhist monks at a ceremony





  • Exposure Time (1 / Shutter Speed) = 1/80 second ===> 0.0125 second
  • Lens F-Number / F-Stop = 14/5 ===> ƒ/2.8
  • ISO Speed Ratings = 400
  • Original Date/Time = 2014:06:08 11:22:27
  • Aperture = ƒ/2.8
  • Exposure Bias (EV) = 0/1 ===> 0
  • Flash = Flash did not fire (mmmhhh, ….actually there were two and they did fire!)
  • Focal Length = 130/1 mm ===> 130 mm


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