Buddhist Bhutan

Photo © Bob Krist

We landed without incident in Bhutan and that day, our group had a chance to actually photograph some chanting monks in a small temple in Paro. No flash allowed, and totally backlit. My histogram would have made a certified Photoshop guru weep.

But what can you do? You get the picture with the glow of enlightenment coming from behind them (yup, that’s what I’m calling it….you more technical types may call it “a ton of blown highlights”) or you don’t get the picture.

And of course, I had to shoot a couple of video clips too, so in the few minutes we had, I was busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

What is it about red (or orange) robed Buddhist monks that so fascinates us? Photographers, myself included, can’t get enough of them.

Photo editors, on the other hand, have had enough. My friend Dan Westergren, senior illustrations editor of National Geographic Traveler, says he just glazes over when he sees a preponderance of  monk pictures in a portfolio.

The thought being that these are often “how can you miss” situations, and don’t really illustrate your talents in tough situations. In other words, it’s easy exoticism.

That is a pitfall for us travel photographers, the tendency to rely on the exotic nature of the subject matter at the expense of working the situation for moment, composition, and all the other qualities that make can make pictures shot in Bayonne (the one in New Jersey) as compelling as those shot in Bhutan.

I’ve worked long and hard years (including a five-year stint covering Bayonne, Union City, and Hoboken), so I relish the occasional pitfall and feel I’ve earned my monk’s robes.

(So if you’re reading this post, Dan, I’m hoping you’ll remember me for my hard-working pictures of more mundane stories, like Driving Pennsylvania’s Scenic Route 6, and forgive me my exotic lapses:-)).

For more monks, though, hit the jump.

Photo © Bob Krist
Photo © Bob Krist
Photo © Bob Krist



We’ve got about a day and a half of downtime in Bangkok before beginning the next two week segment. Time to catch up on my backups and blogs, clean my cards, and do my laundry.

Ah yes, grasshopper, such is the life of the traveling digital monk. It may be exotic, but it ain’t necessarily easy!

Next stop: Java.  I’ll keep you posted.

This Post Has 21 Comments

    1. Arif: Beautiful stuff on Bhutan….especially the moody monk portraits. Very nice! Bob

  1. Many of us love the photos of the monks in robes and don’t find them trite or cliche. 🙂 Thanks again for joining us on the Image Doctors podcast. Buenos Aires was great, and your suggestions were very helpful.


    1. Rick: Glad you found them useful. It’s a beautiful city, yes? BK

  2. I think it’s a combination of the ‘easy exoticism’ as you put it, and the fact that many of these destinations are quite drab – and the monks’ robes certainly aren’t! Simple way to liven up a photo, especially on an overcast day with atmospheric haze to boot…

    And yeah, would you ever consider coming back *without* a colorful shot of some monks? Really? Because for me it’d be a given.

    1. Jack: You and me both! BK

  3. For those of us chained to our desks and temporarily unable to globe trot, a strong colorful monk photo is a nice break from the mundane. Your smilling monk and his shadow on the sunny yellow wall does the trick! Enjoy your down time between trips.

  4. Love the pictures of the monks with their colorful robes. I’ve heard that at most temples there is at least one fellow who is responsible for bringing snacks to everybody. Obviously, he’s known as the “chip-monk”

  5. Glad you were finally able to make a safe landing in Bhutan, Bob!

    1. Polly: You and me both! Hope you’re well. Bob

  6. No teasing now, Bob. Where can we find these “Driving Pennsylvania’s Scenic Route 6” shots?

    1. You’d have to go online to Nat. Geo Traveler’s site and look for a story index. It was a while ago!

  7. Bob,

    What did you do during those five wonderful years in the Bermuda Triangle of north Jersey cities? Having spent three years living in Guttenberg (sandwiched between West New York and Weehawken, I can speak to the great quality of life that area can provide (kinda joking, since I have yet to find good thin crust pizza here in Chicago). Great photos of the monks, BTW. Looking forward to the next posting.


    1. Steve: I was a staff photographer for The Hudson Dispatch, based in Union City. It folded about 10-15 years ago, after 138 years in continuous operation. It was great training. Bob

  8. Hi Bob,

    Although the monk robes may be heavily shot, each is still wrapped around a human being. The colorful robes may be a heavily mined vein for images, but when images reveal a great story about the person then I think there are still diamonds to be found in this subject matter.
    The three photos you posted are beautiful examples of this. I tried to do similar homage to the person when I was in Myanmar this past February (www.chrisphoto.ca/myanmar-short).

    Travel safe and enjoy.


    1. Chris: I agree. Wasn’t able to open your page…the link said the server wasn’t responding. cheers, Bob

    2. Chris: I agree. Still trying to open your Myanmar page, but no luck so far. Bob

        1. Bob..Chris has some really great images from Asia too! Your trip sounds incredible…including your flight challenges.

  9. Hi Bob,

    I like your monkpictures and for me they are not easy exoticism. Well done!

    Today I was surprised to see a New York picture from you at the Ikea here in The Netherlands. A very nice warm image! 🙂

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