Tuesday 23 October 2012
I shared a small room with Frank. We had both promised not to snore and we both awoke before the 6.00 a.m. alarm. It was cool, but not freezing, so we dressed quickly, grabbed our cameras and walked out into the village.
Like many rural villages, life begins early in Ogyen Chholing. Families came out of their homes for water, cow herders directed their charges to the fields, and others made their way to the temple to help with the reconsecration that had started at 3.00 a.m. Although the villagers are effectively self-employed, they came together to provide the visiting lama with all the hospitality and honour he deserves. I wandered down a dirt lane, the ground dug up by the cattle during the wet season, and found a small path disappearing up a wooded hill. After a short climb, the path opened up and in front of me was an amazing vista of farmlands, wooded mountains and a languid mist. It was an archetypical landscape, what you would expect Shangri-la to look like without snow.
Flag raising ceremony, the lama's helper removes the altar tools for safekeeping. Ogyen Chholing, Bhutan.
After breakfast, Namgay had organised a prayer flag raising ceremony. We were each provided with a flag pole and a coloured prayer flag, on which we wrote the names of our loved ones. As the flags waved in the wind, our prayers would be sent out. The Bhutanese guides and drivers helped with the process, stripping the poles of their branches and helping us tie on our long flags. After we slotted the poles into the earth, the lama arrived to bless our flags. Some branches were burnt, the smoke used to purify and sanctify the blessings. Photographically, shooting the lama through the smoke created some great images.
The attraction of Ogyen Chholing is the large manor complex. A series of rooms around the perimeter creates a wall and inside stands a large store house of some six stories high. There's also a free standing temple and these two buildings were a highlight.
Climbing the stairs to the temple, Ogyen Chholing, Bhutan.
While most of the group did a museum tour, I climbed up a wooden ladder to the first floor of the temple where the lama and his monks continued their three day consecration ceremony. We had received special permission to not only attend, but to photograph as well. The lama and monks were against a window, which made photography of them very difficult, and fluorescent lights overpowered the natural daylight coming in. Fortunately this would change in the afternoon and so my best shots were taken on a second visit.
A young monk reading the scriptures during the three day ceremony.
Ogyen Chholing, Bhutan
The ceremony was a combination of reading and chanting from what appeared to be scriptures, followed by horns, bells and drums. It was a charged atmosphere as I sat quietly on the side, observing, listening and occasionally taking a photograph. At one stage, women from the village arrived with food for the monks and other offerings - I assume the extra food was some form of offering because I couldn't imagine the monks eating all the food themselves.
One of the best things I am enjoying about the Nikon D800E is the automatic ISO setting. Essentially, you pick the highest ISO setting and the slowest shutter speed you want to use and the camera does the rest. I set ISO 6400 and 1/125 second as I figured this would freeze the movement of the monks and also prevent camera shake with the non-VR vibration reduction lenses. I started at ISO 100 and was shooting in aperture-priority mode at f2.8 for shallow depth-of-field. Inside the temple, the ISO changed as required, allowing me to concentrate on shooting.
I didn't always use 1/125 second, sometimes going as high as 1/250 second to ensure I froze the action, or down to 1/30 or 1/15 second if I was happy to have a little movement in the frame. However, the old adage that you can use the inverse of the lens's focal length to ensure a blur-free shot when handholding no longer applies if using a 36-megapixel sensor. The high resolution no longer hides minor camera movement because it is resolving such fine detail. I think you need to go a stop faster, so instead of using 1/60 second (the closest to 1/50 second) for a 50mm lens, I'd set 1/125 second (being the closest to 1/100 second).
The afternoon passed too quickly, photographing the monks again, the children in the courtyard playing and the landscape outside the village. That evening, the owner of the manor Kunzen Choden spent an hour with us before dinner, discussing her life growing up in Bhutan. She is one of Bhutan's best known authors and was a delight to listen to.