Bhutanese religious festival, Phongmey, Eastern Bhutan
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF 56mm f1.2 R, f4.5 @ 1/1400 second, ISO 64, composite image

This April I'll be in Bhutan for (I'm thinking) my eighth trip - a big call out to Robert van Koesveld who introduced me to this amazing country over a decade ago. And despite revisiting many of the locations each trip, there's always something different to be found. Different people, different weather, different light, different vision.

For several years, I've had this idea of using smoke or cloud to surround the monks of Bhutan, creating a sense of mystery and the spiritual. The idea came on my first trip when we were photographing a prayer flag raising ceremony. While the lama was saying his prayers, smoke from a small ceremonial file engulfed him, giving the impression he was floating in the clouds. From this experience came the idea for my series.

However, I'm not a fast worker! The idea has been gestating for quite some time and not all attempts have been fruitful. But finally I think I'm getting a small series together. I've posted a couple in previous newsletters and this is the next.

The image of the dancing monks and the bright yellow background are from the original exposure and some would suggest it was an amazing enough experience without adding more. But I disagree. I think the best composite images come from great starting points.

In addition, I had been shooting a few infrared cloud studies with long exposures, so I had a dark sky and smooth, sometimes billowing clouds which worked well as overlays. I'll use several layers with different clouds, different opacities and different masks to control where the cloud appears and how dense it is. Interestingly, I'm not using a blending mode most of the time, just opacity and the mask.

There are also two images of the giant Buddha statue in Thimphu ghosted in, again with a low opacity in Normal blend mode, but I will often add in one or two adjustment layers to bring the element to life. And like so many of my photos, it's currently sitting on my pin board down at the studio, being looked at and reviewed. I have a few ideas. No doubt David Oliver will have a whole lot of different ones on our trip around Bhutan this year!

Viva la difference.