Myanmar is a country where the culture and traditions pretty much remain the same today as they were centuries ago.
The minute you set foot there, you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. This feeling accentuates when you go outside the capital, Yangon.
One of the areas that better conveys this sensation is, without a doubt, the archeological site of Bagan. It’s a region of just a little over one hundred square kilometers dotted with over two thousand temples and stupas built during the tenth century. Indeed, it’s a magic and mystical place. As you can probably imagine, there are all kinds of these buildings—from the iconic and well-known temples, to the ones almost nobody gets to see. You could easily spend months exploring and not be done with it.
I’ve been to Myanmar twice, and during the second trip, I was more interested in the lesser-known, hidden gems than the most popular ones I visited during my first time there. But I also wanted to capture more of the local life, and make portraits. This is what I’ve been more drawn to lately, especially in places where sooner or later local customs and culture will disappear. Moreover, no travel story is whole without documenting the locals.
With this in mind, way before the journey, I started to do some research about what could be photographed and the best way to approach each of the locations. Luckily I was able to locate a fixer in Bagan; working with someone that knows how to proceed and where to find “models” is certainly a great advantage.
The other key element is to obey the local rules, and with that, we went to the Bagan Archeological Authority and paid the “photography fee.” That granted me authorization to enter any temple and shoot there, and they even assigned a security guard for the day to go with us. The main reason was that some of the temples the fixer suggested are generally closed to the general public, but paying the fee grants you access, and the security guard was there to ensure compliance and to keep those curious about what we were doing from following us inside.
I was in awe. Imagine entering one of these places and having it all to yourself. I spent the day going from temple to temple making photos. The fixer also provided us with the models; he had a connection with a local monastery, and they sent some novices that were rotating through the day.
This photo was made inside one of these temples. The setup is relatively easy but involves two lights.
For the picture itself and the composition, I went with a wide-angle lens and positioned the camera close to the subject, low to the floor and also mounted on a tripod. If it’s not evident, I’ve chosen the wide-angle lens to show the window, and as much as possible of the temple. When I do this, I always try to make sure that the camera is as level as possible to avoid distortion on the vertical lines.
As far as the lights mentioned above, the key light comes from the window. I positioned an assistant outside the building with a Godox AD200 mounted on a pole; he directly aimed the flash from as high as possible, pointing it down at an angle. In the interior, we burnt some incense to create the smoke behind the monks. Then there is candlelight illuminating the faces of the subjects, and there is also a smaller Godox V850II Flash, camera left and gelled with half CTO to provide some warmness, and bounced from the left wall to create some fill.
Post-processing of this photo was entirely made in Lightroom Classic. In the end, I am pleased with the results. Having time to prepare and set up an image like this is necessary, but I’d choose a couple of pictures like this per day than a hundred snapshots.
That’s all for now. If you’d like to buy a print of this photo, click here to access the different options.