Photographing Temples WIDE

In this learning topic I’m going to lightly cover what to look for when photographing temples and a couple of the most common errors.

Lets be honest, everyone and their dog has photographed Thai temples.  If our intention is to share our images with others then we’ll want them to be interesting.  If the images look like the millions of others then interest levels will wane quickly.  We need to present perspectives and views that are not only not common, but executed in such a way as to bring interest to the image.  One way to help accomplish this is to use a “ultra-wide” angle lens.  All of the images captured of Wat Pho above, and in this learning topic were captured with a 12-24mm full frame lens.  A full 12mm which is the widest rectangular lens available for DSLRs period.

Wat Pho

Above is an example of what we should be looking for.  The nearest spire is much closer than it looks in this image due to the 12mm focal length.  My foot is actually resting on the white base border!  The lens is about two feet from the corner.  This is the fore ground.  The next spire is the mid ground, and the rest is back ground.  We have all three planes covered and much between.  At the same time we have plenty of colors, textures, and patterns and we can even see the pathway we’ll be walking straight down the middle of the frame.

This image is critically sharp from the nearest to the farthest element.  If we print this image at 20x24 or even 24x30 every element will be in focus and interesting across the frame.  Let’s look at a few 100% crops to see what we’d see on a very large print.

Wat Pho

See how sharp each piece of decoration is?  You can clearly see the texture, colors, and detail right up to the very right front corner of the print.

Wat Pho Pagoda

This is from the mid ground and exhibits the critical sharpness necessary for a large gallery print.  We would see this much detail even if the print was close to 2 meters wide!

Wat Pho

The above image is hiding a very common error.  At first glance you can see we have our three planes of interest, a properly exposed sky, and all contents of the frame are also perfectly exposed.  At first glance it’s a very strong and interesting image.  At this size and even at sized of up to 8x10 most people would be very satisfied with this image.  But..

Wat Pho

Can you see the blur at this magnification?  This is the blur you’d start to see at 11x14 and it would be very noticeable well before 20x24.  You see tons of images with this type of “camera shake” induced blur in galleries everywhere.  Critically sharp images are much more rare and much more useful for publication, the making of large prints, and further cropping.

Wat Pho

This is from the lower left corner and exhibits the same camera shake induced blur.  There really was no excuse for this blur, at 18mm and 1/200th the image should have been critically sharp.  However, this is what you’d get from the great majority of photographers because they haven’t yet learned the proper technique for making critically sharp images, and frankly they’d be happy with this shot.  It doesn’t take that much more effort to do it right.  You use the same equipment, same shooting location, and even the same settings.  It’s purely a matter of technique and practicing this technique.

Wat Pho

At first glance I loved this shot!  I was thrilled with the figure in the fore ground (8 inches from the lens) and the perfect light on the figure, and the balanced exposure throughout the frame.  There really was no ‘defined’ mid ground but the single tree and corner of the building does nicely.  The pathway we’d walk is defined and your eyes follow the path right up behind the people walking. 

However, this image illustrates another common error.  Lets look at the first crop of the figure.

Wat Pho

Can you see how the figure is not critically sharp?  Printed to a large size this image would not be acceptable.

Wat Pho

This crop reveals that the entire frame, except for the figure, was critically sharp as intended.  It’s just that the figure was slightly out of focus!

How did this happen?  My 12-24mm lens has a minimum focusing distance very close to the eight inches I was holding my camera away from the figure.  What I do for such a shot is to first decide my composition, set the aperture for enough DOF from the fore ground to the background, and then lean into the fore ground element as close as I can get and still have it in perfect focus.  Often you’re right on the edge of your minimum focusing distance.  In this instance I must have shifted forward just a bit as I pressed the shutter release.  The image was ruined!

Fortunately I employ other techniques just in case something like this happens.  One of these techniques is to take a burst of shots with each press of the shutter release.  3-4 shots are captured instead of one, in well under a second.  Usually, one of these 3-4 shots will be sharper than the others for a number of reasons.  In this case, one of 3-4 shots was perfect, the rest looked like this.