Shadow Puppet Theatre, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Monday Memories: Traditional Shadow Puppet Show in Phnom Penh

Unlike the jazz gig I shot that I reflected upon in last week’s Monday Memories post, I was totally unprepared to photograph the traditional shadow puppet show in Phnom Penh that we checked out when we were recently in town.

We had been travelling in Cambodia for a few very intensive days with Backyard Travel and had just arrived in Phnom Penh on the afternoon of the show and had only half an hour to get ready for the performance put on by Sovanna Phum Art Association.

I was frantically clearing memory cards and urging on batteries to recharge as fast as possible. As I hadn’t even seen a still of the puppet show, I had no idea what to expect. I packed a wide angle lens (Nikon 12-24mm), a mid-range lens (Nikon 35mm) and my portrait lens (Nikon 85mm).

The traditional shadow puppet show – which was incredibly enjoyable – went from a fully lit stage where I had to shoot at 3200 ISO to the shadow lighting you see in the image above where I had to shoot at, well, 3200 ISO.

Despite having to work with the available light, the pre-flash of other people’s cameras, and the occasional person walking into my frame, I managed to make a couple of frames I am really happy with.

Still, with the motion blur and the slow shutter speed used, nearly half of the images didn’t pass my first edit. They were blurry. But that’s how it goes with these kinds of shooting conditions.

As you can probably tell, the final frame above was shot at 1/30th of a second, which is half the minimum shutter speed you would want from this 35mm lens. That’s because, as a rule, your shutter speed should be double your focal length to ensure there is no motion blur.

I’d normally make a photo like this one black and white, but there was something appealing about the faded yellows on the backdrop that I felt made the image more dramatic and compelling, while giving it more warmth and therefore immediacy, making it more accessible. What do you think?

Details: Nikon D600, 35mm f/2D Nikkor @ F2.8 @ 1/30th second @ ISO3200.

Sovanna Phum Art Association

#166 Street 99, Phnom Penh
+855 (0) 23 987 564 / (0)12 846 020


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Terence Carter is an editorial food and travel photographer and infrequent travel writer with a love of photographing people, places and plates of food. After living in the Middle East for a dozen years, he settled in South-East Asia a dozen years ago with his wife, travel and food writer and sometime magazine editor Lara Dunston.

5 thoughts on “Monday Memories: Traditional Shadow Puppet Show in Phnom Penh”

  1. Really nice picture, though not sure what means all those details about camera as I’m really not technical type but I think it’s very useful to know when it comes to special photos like this one. Well done!

  2. The picture is stunning. Good to know that you liked this art form in Cambodia. It’s not very common to see this anymore. It used to be popular in many festivities in the villages.

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