Basic Technique – Contra Jour

Scattered early morning sunlight through incense smoke

Here is an image shot for a magazine story on Singapore some years ago. The film used was 35mm Fuji 1600 pushed two stops.

In the early morning in Chinatown, an area that has undergone massive refurbishment in recent years, local people wander in to one of the oldest temples in Singapore to pay their respects and seek good fortune. The temple was filled with the smoke from the large number of incense sticks that had been lit by devotees but the true atmosphere did not become apparent until the first rays of sunlight started to filter in over the roof tops and light the internal courtyard of the temple.

Shooting with the sun behind me, as is often the advice given to beginning photographers, revealed none of the atmosphere I could see in that small courtyard. A simple shift in location, which meant deliberately breaking the “sun over the shoulder” rule changed this dramatically. With the sun now positioned in the upper right hand corner of the shot the light was filtered by the smoke which scattered the light in all directions giving a closer approximation to the feeling that was apparent at the time.

Rules are made to be broken but there is the need to be careful in the breaking. Putting the sun more directly in the picture would have led to an unacceptable level of flare as well as multiple internal reflections in the lens which would have become visible in the image as a series of multicolored circles.

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