How do you photograph the Hindu festival Thaipusam at Batu Caves, a site you've never visited before, with more than one million people in attendance?This, following the challenge of getting up at 4:00 a.m., only to learn the hard way that trains don't run that early in Kuala Lumpur. Time for Plan B: Find an Uber driver who is awake that early and willing to take us up to Batu Caves, on the city's outskirts.
How did we deal with the low light and activity? Good question. First, we used 1.4, 85 mm and 2.8 24-70 mm lenses on a full-frame camera. We began by studying the area from a bridge above the ascending point into Batu Caves. We worked our way through the crowd until we found a great,well-lit place to stand along the path up to the caves. (This would be about 100 yards before the gate, next to the light pole.)
Shooting before sunrise
Flowing with the crowd to photograph Thaipusam
It is important to keep in mind you are there to photograph Thaipusam and not be a part of the ceremony. Flow with the crowd. Keep your eyes moving and be ready to instantly snap a shot, because it is gone in an instant. In this case, we were facing the procession towards Batu Caves, moving with others in the same direction.
A gaggle of photographers
One thing we noticed on this particular shoot was the tremendous number of photographers, all there to photograph Thaipusam, all vying for the perfect position to get the perfect shot. As the sky got brighter, it revealed opportunities to capture scenes in every direction. Better chances to capture people who were before hidden behind the darkness of their burdens. The light exposed their faces and the images found their way to sensors throughout the crowd.
Good and bad photographers are not always judged by their images alone
The quality of the image may be the basis of judging a photograph, but that does not tell the story between a good photographer and a bad photographer. A good photographer not only captures stunning images, but does so in a manner that is not rude, intrusive or endangering those around.
It is rather rude to shove your lens in the nose of another, especially one who is there to worship in a religious ceremony that is sacred to him, not there to model for the photographer. It is doubly rude and unacceptable to do so to a child. Keep in mind: In some countries, it is forbidden to photograph a child without permission of the parent.
How NOT to photograph Thaipusam at Batu Caves
If you plan to photograph Thaipusam at Batu Caves (or anywhere), here are our top suggestions to give yourself the best chance for a successful day of photography:
Be sure to arrange transportation beforehand as trains do not run at 4:30 am
Bring your fastest lens, no matter the length, for the early morning shooting.
Work from the front towards the back, standing near a good light source to get the best images.
Avoid getting in the flow to the top of the stairs, allow them to have their time of worship
Photograph the scene and don't become a part of it.
Don't be an intrusive photographer, but always be aware of what is happening around you.
Bring extra batteries, but leave the tripods home to avoid hurting others within the sea of people.
At the end, be prepared for a massive sardine line to board the train. Better yet, pay a little extra to have private transportation waiting for the journey back.
We hope this helps you prepare your own photographic adventure to a crowded place you've never been to before. If you have some more advice, boy, would we like to hear it. Just comment below.
Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots at As We Saw It travel blog. Enjoys catching children at play, showing their innocence in every situation … we all can learn that, to be content with what our Father in heaven has provided. Photography is unique in that it captures light in all forms, and since the Bible says YHVH (God) is light, photography captures Him in many forms.
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