I have to be honest. After a few hours on the Mekong river in Laos, I was getting a little bored photography-wise. There are only so many sun-baking cows, narrow speed boats throwing up rooster tails of water, and children wistfully waving from the sandy shores that you can photograph before you start to worry that you’re just capturing the same photos repeatedly.

So far, my Mekong River photography appeared to be geared towards going black and white. Going ashore, however, was a different story. When we stopped at the village of Baw, some passengers on our Luang Say Cruise boat were too bothered by the heat to make the short trek up to the village. A big mistake. In the village, the locals were busy preparing for a monk to bless a new temple that was under construction and, thankfully, the ceremony was just getting underway.

The monk who I photographed, above, was clearly the main man. While the rest of the villagers (dressed in their finest clothes) excitedly ran around, carrying food and offerings to the old temple, preparing the confetti and sweets that they would later throw in celebration, and generally jostling for the best position, the monk stoically concentrated on the task at hand, holding a rope that would raise a significant structure to the roof of the temple. And what a strong face he had.

Now if you’ve ever wondered why photojournalists wield two cameras, these two photos were taken seconds apart, one at 18mm focal length, the other at 85mm focal length. While there are zoom lenses that can cover that focal length, they can’t match the sharpness of the two lenses on the cameras I was carrying. When you’re hoping that one of the photos you’re taking might grace the cover of a magazine (or even be used as a full page image), cheaper zoom lenses just don’t cut it.

A quick note on the use of flash on the left photograph. It doesn’t look like I used my flash (a Nikon SB800 mounted on the camera), which, in this case, is the point! The use of flash in this case is to overpower the sun a little, softening shadows and lighting up the darker areas of the frame caused by the strong contrast between light and shade. While softer light is always better, getting the shot in hard light is better than not getting the shot at all.

(Left) Details: Nikon D700, 12-24mm F4G IF-ED @ F13 @ 4/1000th second @ ISO400 with fill flash on camera.
(Right) Details: Nikon D80, 85mm F1.4D @ F5 @ 2/1000th second @ ISO200.


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