Ah, the festival of lights in Luang Prabang, Laos! As the full moon graced the sky, the town was aglow with candles everywhere. Lanterns of every conceivable shape and color adorned the temples and monasteries, turning the place into a photographer’s dream. It’s the one time of year when you can’t tell if you’re at a festival or if the whole town just really, really loves candles. Either way, it’s a sight to behold, and a reminder that sometimes, the best way to light up a night is with a whole lot of wax and wick.

Boun Ok Phan Sa festival

As the evening unfolds, the city is transformed into a wonderland of twinkling lights, with temples and monasteries adorned with an array of candles and lanterns, each one vying for attention like an overenthusiastic contestant in a beauty pageant. It’s as if the entire city is saying, “Move over, Christmas lights, we’ve got this covered!”

The festival is a paradise for photographers. But amidst the sea of serene faces and flickering lights, there’s always that one person who’s trying to capture the perfect selfie with a candle as their only source of light. It’s a test of patience, balance, and the ability to not set your hair on fire – a true modern-day challenge.

And speaking of challenges, navigating through the crowds can be quite the adventure. It’s like a real-life game of “The Floor is Lava,” except instead of lava, it’s a sea of candles waiting to claim the soles of your shoes. Dodging and weaving through the maze of flickering lights, you can’t help but feel like a character in a video game, trying to reach the next level without getting burned.

As the night progresses, the air is filled with laughter, music, and the occasional “Ouch!” from someone who underestimated the heat of a candle. It’s a symphony of joy and merriment, with the occasional comedic mishap adding to the overall charm of the evening.

A Photographer Dream

We were all giddy with excitement, like kids on Christmas morning, as we waited for the festival of lights in Laos to begin. The air was filled with anticipation and the smell of street food, and we were armed to the teeth with our cameras, ready to capture every single moment of the magic.

I had my four photographer friends with me, and I was on a mission to help them to not only get the perfect shot but also to teach them about anticipating and understanding the perfect moment. We made sure to arrive early, just as the golden light was casting a warm glow over the festival preparations. As the sun began to dip below the horizon, we feverishly set up our equipment, each of us determined to get that one perfect shot. I, of course, recommended everyone to use their fastest lens while I had with me my trusty Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 lens at the ready, knowing full well that the fast aperture would be my saving grace in the dim light.

But as I looked around, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of one of my guests wrestling with her standard zoom lenses (f/3.5-5.6 lens), clearly struggling in the dim lighting. I couldn’t resist the urge to suggest she switch to her 50mm 1.8 (she was informed before). It was like watching someone try to open a can with a spoon when a can opener was right there!

I realized I needed to lend a helping hand during this photographic crisis. After a quick lesson, her smile returned, and she triumphantly clicked her first shot despite the challenging f/1.8 aperture. It was a classic case of “the right tool for the job!”.

We live and we learn, right? And in the end, we all managed to capture some truly magical moments, even if it meant a little bit of trial and error along the way. Ah, the things we do for the perfect shot!


As night fell and the deep blue sky gave way to a much less interesting black sky, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the full moon, the symbol of the end of the Buddhist Lent and the reason for this festival. With the moon rising behind the trees – I must confess I took a few photos for me too, while everyone was having fun with big smiles -, I decided to anticipate the movements of the monks primarily, but also other Laotians, to try to have the moon in my field of vision in each shot to understand the complete story.

The image I am presenting here is ultimately a very simple composition – the rule of thirds – that gives you all the information about the context. In the foreground, a young apprentice monk lights a candle in a lantern, behind him the temple, and in the last third, the full moon emerging from behind the canopy. In practice, this may seem quite simple, but by shooting from a low angle (down on my legs), all the elements of the image are perfectly distinguished without clumsily overlapping. Finally, the final challenge was obviously to trigger the shutter at the moment the light from the candle illuminates the monk’s face, and even better, his eye, especially at f1.4 with a very shallow depth of field!

Boun Ok Phan Sa festival

Picture Taken during our Laos Photo Workshop
12 October 2019
Camera: Canon EOS 5D3
Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4
Mode: Manual
ISO: 3200
Aperture: f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/125sec
Focal Length: 35mm
Editing: Adobe Lightroom

So, there you have it! The story of how I captured this image at the festival of lights in Laos and where our guest had a blast too! It was a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about it as much as I enjoyed living it. Until next time, happy shooting!