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 entry was posted in Career issues, Destinations, Ironies, Lighting, Multimedia, Photo Gear, Photo Techniques, Travel.


  1. Arif April 5, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    Hi Bob,
    Seems like we walked the same steps in Bhutan (http://www.arifiqball.com/bhutan). I am enjoying your many pictures from this trip.
    Take care and be safe,

    • Bob April 5, 2010 at 10:07 am #

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

  2. Rick Walker April 5, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    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.


    • Bob April 5, 2010 at 10:05 am #

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

  3. Jack April 5, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    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.

    • Bob April 5, 2010 at 10:04 am #

      Jack: You and me both! BK

  4. Renee G April 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    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.

  5. Larry April 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    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”

  6. Polly April 5, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

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

    • Bob April 6, 2010 at 4:19 am #

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

  7. Peter April 5, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

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

    • Bob April 6, 2010 at 4:18 am #

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

  8. Steve April 6, 2010 at 7:39 pm #


    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.


    • Bob April 7, 2010 at 5:48 am #

      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

  9. Chris April 6, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    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.


    • Bob April 7, 2010 at 5:54 am #

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

    • Bob April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am #

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

  10. John Verbruggen April 7, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    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! 🙂

    • Bob April 7, 2010 at 5:52 am #

      Thanks John! Bob

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