Low Light Photography on the Morning of “Vaikasi Visakam”, with Ilford Pan F 50 – by Simon King

This year in mid-May Vaikasi Visakam (the birthday of Hindu Deity Murugan) saw a morning of communal ceremony before an auspicious foundation stone laying in the construction site of an extension to the temple grounds. The Milton Keynes Neath Hill Murugan Temple has hosted a growing community for some time, and will now be expanding physically in order to accommodate even further.

Ilford Pan F 50

Together with Sagar Kharecha I photographed this event, waking up at 5am in order to arrive before anyone else, and staying throughout the proceedings in order to make sure the story was understood in full. Rain was forecast, but thankfully there was only a little early on, and the rest of the day was dry which meant that the outdoors elements of the ceremony weren’t affected.

Sagar, on Ilford Pan F 50

The first part of the day, from 6am until around 8am we were inside the Temple, at first with only a few others while we helped to set up, but soon joined by the congregants. I was working mainly with my M6, which I’d used over the previous few days in quite bright sunlight, so had loaded in Ilford Pan F 50, an absolutely special low ISO black and white film. I realised that I should have thought just a little further ahead, as the lighting indoors on this overcast morning was not my ideal use-situation for this film. My favourite places to work with this film are ones where there is a background of snow or sand, bright and light coloured against which to work my compositions, and not have to worry too much about the light.

Women braid a length of Jasmine flowers into each others hair. Ilford Pan F 50

Nevertheless I decided to commit and do my best until I was able to switch out to the more versatile HP5+. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of steady handheld slow shutter work, and surprisingly I didn’t need to work with as slow a shutter speed as I first thought. I metered for the candles and dim electric bulbs, and hoped that my stand development methods would give me a little leeway overall.

Where possible I braced myself against walls and beams, knelt down to use my knees, and kept my elbows in. For portrait images I held the camera with my right hand underneath, thumb on the shutter so as not to twist even slightly when I pressed the button.

I was working wide open at f/2 on my 90mm APO, with shutter speeds of between 1/s to around 1/15ths. You can see motion blur in many of the images, but not from camera movement. I like seeing some motion in these kinds of images, it feels a lot more alive and dynamic than a more stagnant, repressed ritual expression might come across visually.

Overall despite the stress I actually think the aesthetic of these images with the Pan F is quite lovely, and I may look at using FP4+ for future indoor work, which would offer a little more latitude and comfort while still providing the contrast and fine grain seen here.

A Ghee lamp is lit by a devotee. Ilford Pan F 50

In between my images throughout this event I worked on a few video clips, nothing fancy as I really don’t enjoy working outside of stills, but I like the resulting mini-documentary which shows Sagar at work, interspersed with some of our images.

The work from this day has been published as “Foundation Stone” which is available to buy here: bit.ly/foundationstonezine

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8 thoughts on “Low Light Photography on the Morning of “Vaikasi Visakam”, with Ilford Pan F 50 – by Simon King”

  1. Alasdair Mackintosh

    Fascinating set of shots.

    One always associates Hindu festivals with bright colours, and my first thought on reading the article was that B&W (especially low speed B&W) wasn’t the obvious choice. But having seen some of the video, in full colour, it’s now clear that your B&W portraits really have captured the feeling of the event. Nice work!

      1. Alasdair Mackintosh

        Was just scrolling through some past comments, and I ended up looking at your images again. And one of the interesting things I noticed is the way that in the last three of these portraits, the subjects themselves are out-of-focus, and slightly underexposed. If you’d asked me in the abstract whether this was a good idea, I;d have said that of course it wasn’t. But in practice, I think it works amazingly well. The eye is directed to what they are doing, rather than towards the subjects themselves. And in some sense, this is what religious rituals like this all about – it’s a group getting together to perform an action that others have done before them, and others will do after them.

  2. Once 50 speed film was very fast an allowed some of the first candid indoor shots combined with fast lenses.
    The light here seems more than able though, judging from the footage.

  3. I think that is quite a brave choice, my instinct would be to go for a fast film. Your photos are fabulous and have opened my eyes to using slower films inside. Thank you.

  4. Very nice article and images, many of the portraits are wonderful. Thanks. Personally I do not like fast films in B&W and even at night working hand held I tend to use FP4 and sometimes Pan F which can be an absolutely superb film.

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