A Serendipitious Image

We often think of serendipitous photographs as those amazing images that “just happen.” I would say “sometimes” but more often it happens because you have positioned yourself to allow it to happen. Think of a Venn Diagram where the circles titled “Awareness,” “Opportunity,” “Persistence,” “Patience,” and “Preparedness” overlap: that intersection is where “Serendipity” resides. This image is a case in point.

I was recently in Sri Lanka and was at the country’s most revered Buddhist temple for a ceremony (Sri Dalada Maligawa in the city of Kandy, built in 1595). Wandering the main temple area I saw this beautifully painted hallway that lead into some gardens. The curved walls glowed with late afternoon light and people were passing in and out. I knew a good photograph was likely with the right conditions. Awareness. The light was right but eventually the glow would dissipate as the sun lowered. As well, the temple hall would eventually fill with people for the ceremony and no photography would be possible in that direction. Soon would work, but not later! Opportunity. I snapped a few photos when there was just a few people passing in and out of the hallway including of a young tourist posing for her friend’s iPhone. It was a nice snap but photographing tourists was not what I was looking for. I needed a better, local “model,” perhaps a woman in colorful sari, or maybe an orange-robed monk? Surprising, there were almost no monks around. Usually in temples like this I see quite a few, but not here. Persistence. So, I just waited for someone of interest to pass through the hallway. There were a number of possible “models” though in most cases there were too many people, as I wanted to isolate one or two people not photograph a crowd. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a young monk appeared, smiled at me — as I smiled at him — and he proceeded towards “my” hallway (I had become very possessive of this small section of the temple!). In he walked! Patience. In 3 seconds I took 26 frames (yea for burst mode!) as he traversed the hallway and — bonus — no one else entered it! My ISO was high because I did not want him as a blur as my shutter speed was high enough to freeze him and my aperture was open enough to ensure I would not lose focus on him for that short distance. Noise I would fix in post-processing. Preparedness. I could see on the LCD that I had done the best I could in those 3 seconds. Later that night I selected the image I most liked and processed it using Lightroom’s AI Noise Removal, Lens Blur, and Perspective Correction tools. In Photoshop I used Generative Fill to remove both a flag and one person standing in the garden. A touch of DXO’s Nik Color Efex and Topaz’ Sharpen AI rounded out my post-processing.

A lot does indeed go into “Serendipity!”