Yunnan Buddhism Photography Tips

Yunnan is easily one of the most photogenic regions on the planet. Photography in Yunnan is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and wander around a thousand-year-old ethnic villages, the beautiful Dianchi Lake, the clear Fuxian Lake, the breathtaking Tiger Leaping Gorge, mysterious Meili Snow Mountain, the beautiful Lijiang Ancient Town, Buddhist holy land-Songzanlin Monastery, etc. Every scenery is a wonderful picture. These are quite a few of the many reasons why Yunnan is a paradise for photographers.

As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious border province, the nationality and internationality of Buddhism in Yunnan are prominent and unique. Buddhism is the path of practice and spiritual development leading to insight into the true nature of reality. It is the main religion of Yunnan and is practiced by many people, especially, the ethnic groups, such as, Dai, Tibetan.

Why Is Yunnan the Best Place for Buddhism Photography?

Yunnan Buddhism has a distinct national feature and has a wide range of beliefs in many ethnic groups. Han, Bai, Tibetan, Naxi, Pumi, Nu, Dai, Wa, Jingpo, De’ang, Achang, and Blang more than 10 ethnic groups or parts of them believe in Buddhism. Buddhism has a profound impact on all aspects of the production, living and social activities of these peoples. Some religious festivals or religious ceremonies have also evolved into ethnic festivals and customs.  To some extent, respecting the religious beliefs of ethnic minorities is equal to respect these peoples.

Why is Yunnan so special  to foreign photographers for Buddhism photography? Yunnan is  a beautiful and unique place that the camera can come alive in your hands all year round and even the amateur photographers can take some spectacular photographs with the most basic camera. The clear blue sky and white clouds are the most beautiful backdrops for Buddhism photography. Small wonder it has become the most popular place for many Chinese to have their portrait photos and wedding photos were taken.

Read more about Portrait Photography Tips in Yunnan, and Yunnan Wedding Photography

Buddhism in Yunnan is mainly divided into Chinese Buddhism, the Southern Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism.  The people whose belief is Chinese Buddhism are mainly Han, Bai, Yi and Naxi. The people whose belief is Southern Buddhism are mainly Dai, Achang, Blang, De’ang, Jinuo, Lahu and Wa. The people whose belief is Tibetan Buddhism are Tibetan, Pumi, Naxi, Lisu. To some extent, for the people who are interested in Buddhism photography, Yunnan is the most suitable place. And come to Yunnan, let the everything related to Buddhism be under your lens.

Best Places for Yunnan Buddhism Photography

Chongsheng Monastery in Dali

Chongsheng Temple is the evidence of the prosperous Buddhism of Dali. Which is the Royal Temple of Dali Kingdom. It is famous at home and abroad, especially the Three Pagodas. Three Pagodas is the symbol of Dali.

Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La

Built in 1679, the monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple complex in Yunnan Province and one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region, which belongs to the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelug order of the Dalai Lama. It is reputed as the Little Potala Palace due to its complex of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Located in the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, it is also the most important monastery in southwest China.

Yuantong Temple in Kunming

Yuantong Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Kunming with a history of more than 1200 years. It is also the largest temple in Kunming.

Bamboo Temple in Kunming

Bamboo Temple is a famous Buddhist temple in Yunnan. These life-sized clay figures are stunning – either very realistic or very surrealistic. Down one huge wall come the incredible surfing Buddhas, some 70 odd, riding the waves on a variety of mounts – blue dogs, giant crabs shrimp, turtles, unicorns. One gentleman has meter long eyebrows; another has an arm that shoots clear across the hall to the ceiling.

Yufeng Monastery in Lijiang

Yufeng Monastery (Chinese Name: 玉峰寺), located at the southern foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain with ancient forests clustering around, is 9 km away from Lijiang. Yufeng Monastery is called ‘Kalashicongfeilin’ in Tibetan language. There is a small pond in front of the temple embraced by big pine trees. The whole temple shows a distinctive and conjunct architecture style of Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism and the local Naxi Dongba Religion due to the cultural communion between different minorities and different areas. It is also the witness of the peaceful coexistence and syncretism of multinational cultures and religions, and still plays a very important role in acculturation of Naxi Ethnic Group.

Manfeilong Pagoda in Jinghong, Xishuangbanna

Manfeilong Pagoda is located on top of the mountain in Manfeilong Village in Jinhong County of Yunnan Province. The pagoda is a famous stupa group in Xishuangbanna.

Jiele Great Golden Pagoda in Ruili City, Dehong

Jiele Great Golden Pagoda is situated at Jiele Village, 7 kilometers away from Ruili City and close to No.320 National Highway. It has a long history and has experienced the destruction and reconstruction for eight times. The pagoda now was modeled in the early 1980s at its original style. It is honored as the first Buddhist pagoda in Dehong. It enjoys the same prestige as Mandele Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar and is one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in Southeast Asia.

Top Scenes for Buddhism Photography in Yunnan

Chinese Buddhism

The people whose belief is Chinese Buddhism are mainly Han, Bai, Yi and Naxi. Zhusheng Temple of Jizu Mountain in Binchuan County, Dali is a typical example for Chinese Buddhism. Come here and experience the charm of Chinese Buddhism.

Monks’ costumes

As Buddhism was introduced to China, the founders of Chinese Buddhism reformed the costumes of the monks according to the actual situation to adapt to the climate and the customs of Chinese area. As far as the three pieces of clothes are concerned, the monks in Chinese area all wear one of the three pieces of clothes, and they are outside the uniform. The three pieces of clothes of the Buddhist monk have different functions: the Wuyi(五衣) clothes is called Wu clothes(物衣), and the Buddhist monk wears it while working;the Qi clothes(七衣) is ritual garment and the Buddhist monk wears when chanting; Zu clothes is the most formal garment while wishopping, bhaiksya,etc.

Southern Buddhism

Southern Buddhism is mainly distributed in Xishuangbanna, Dehong, Puer, Lincang and Baoshan in Yunnan. The ethnic groups who believe in Southern Buddhism include the Dai, Blang, De’ang, Achang and some Wa. The main pagodas and temples or monasteries of Yunnan Southern Buddhism include: Manfeilong Pagoda in Jinghong, Xishuangbanna, Jingzhen Octagonal Pavilion in Menghai County, XishuangbannaGuangyun Burmese Temple in Cangyuan County, Lincang,Yunyan Stupa in Yingjiang County, DehongYuantong Temple, Kunming, Wuyun Temple in Mangshi City, Dehong, etc.

The Buddhist temples of Southern Buddhism are mainly places for Buddhist activities. At the same time, the monks living in the temple also bear the obligation to teach the ethnic culture. Therefore, the Dai boys must be monks at the certain age for a period of time, ranging from 7 days to many months. Later, most people also resume secular life and go home, and a few left to continue to practice and become religious professionals.

Monks’ costume

The reddish-brown, yellow-brown cassock worn by the Buddhist monks of the Southern Buddhism must be cut, sewed and dyed in accordance with the provisions of Vinayapitaka, which preserves the Buddha’s clothing style. In this way, seeing the monks is like seeing the Buddha when he is alive.

Tibetan Buddhism

Monks Debating

The Debate is a unique way for Tibetan Buddhist monks to practice Buddhism. It has been thousands of years old. At each location in Tibet, the debates are held under eight debating schedules in a year, depending on the rituals and festivals observed during the whole year. Each daily session is held between eight breaks when students debate on issues of Buddhist scriptures and related subjects.

Monks’ Costume

Monks live as simply as possible and follow the model of the Buddha, who traded in his clothing for simple robes. The monks of Tibetan Buddhism shave their heads and faces to discourage vanity, and have traditionally lived a cloistered existence. Traditional costumes of monks include a waistcoat, a monk skirt and a kasaya, which is simple and grave. Robes are the most common costume of Tibetan monks.

Best Tibetan Festivals and Activities for Buddhism Photography

Festivals are the Tibetan way of celebrating historic events and significant religious ceremonies. This is a great time to explore much more of the Tibetan way of life, the fancy festival costumes, and the religion and culture of the Tibetan people. There are many holidays and festivals in Buddhism, which have evolved and gained great popularity among Tibetans, such as Tibetan New Year, Butter Lantern Festival and Shoton festival.

Shoton Festival

Held every year in Diqing, the Shoton is the great festival among Tibetans, which is one of the most important rituals in Tibetan Buddhism. Moreover, it is a great place to get photos of the monks and lamas in full ceremonial costume in Songzanlin Monastery.

Tibetan New Year

The Tibetan people have a strong participation in Tibetan New Year that have been established and generally recognized. They used to start on the 1st January of the Tibetan calendar and 15th January of the Tibetan calendar. It is roughly the same as the Han Chinese Lunar New Year. On the 1st January of the Tibetan calendar, people have to put butter lamps in front of the Buddha’s buddha, put on the grains bucket in advance.You must burn incense and worship to the gods when cockcrow, sacrifice the god of water, and pick up new water. After eating the morning tea, the relatives and neighbors must celebrate each other and wish each other with good luck. On the 15th January of the Tibetan New Year, the various sects of Tibetan Buddhism hold various ceremonies of large-scale chanting, dancing, exhibition of Buddha, exhibition of butter flowers and treasures of the temple.

Festival Attire

With the development of the society, traditional Tibetan costumes do not suit today’s pace and lifestyle, but they try to keep pace with the fashion while maintaining its ethnic features. They take advantage of modern things to keep alive the traditional culture. For example, they make modern clothes but decorate them with traditional cultural elements, such as Tangka and some beautiful pictures.

Pilgrims’ Prostration

The area around Meili Snow Mountain is a sparsely populated region. Most of the inhabitants are Tibetans. The biggest event should be the Inner Circumambulating Pilgrimage and the Outer Circumambulating Pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is the custom of Tibetan people, it’s an act of religious observance and respect for nature, undertake a pilgrimage on foot around some sacred places like a mountain, a lake or a temple. Each year multitudes of pilgrims spare no efforts and travel long to conduct their Buddhist Circumambulating to Holy Mountains and Lakes for good luck and ascending to the paradise after death.

There are two trekking routes, one is outer Circumambulating pilgrimage, the other is inner Circumambulating pilgrimage. The Inner Circumambulating Pilgrimage is easier trekking route which will cost about 6 days, And the Outer Circumambulating Pilgrimage would take 7-15 days.

The Route of Inner Circumambulating Pilgrimage
1. Xidang Village- Ninong Village- Lower Yubeng (Sacred Waterfall and Sacred Lake)-Upper Yubeng- Xidang Spring
2. Xidang Village- Upper Yubeng (Ice Lake)- Lower Yubeng (Sacred Waterfall and Sacred Lake)- Ninong Village- Xidang Spring

The Route of Outer Circumambulating Pilgrimage
Deqin County Center- Yunling Town- Yangla Village- Yangza Suspension Bridge- Yongjiu Village (northwards) or Yongzhi Village (southwards) – Yongshitong- Dekangyading- Duokeyaka- Shusutong- Qienatong- Abing- Lakangya(near Nu River, at an altitude of 1700m)- Zhana- Longbu- Damuyaka- Gebu- Daguya(4100m)- Gezaya (4300m)- Meijiubugong- Shuoya (4828m)- Dulongyong- Meilishui (near Lancang River)- Adong River- Deqin

Photography Gear Recommended

Specialist equipment for taking photos on a Yunnan Travel is not really required, but if you are into photography in a big way, then there are some things to remember when packing your camera equipment as follows:

  • Digital camera: Films are less useful at high altitude than digital cameras and the photos quality are lower and tend to blur at near-freezing temperatures.
  • Batteries: In general, the batteries can only last for a lot shorter period of time. So please take more batteries.
  • Tripod: A tripod is a kind of support frame used to stabilize the camera to achieve some photographic effects. The positioning of the tripod is very important.
  • Lens: After the light reaches the  retroreflector through the lens of the camera, it is refracted to the upper focusing screen and formed into an image. Different lens can meet the different requirements of the photographer.
  • Body: A body with good ISO performance is best here and can get the best photos possible.
  • Recharger: Ensure very batteries are in full of energy.
  • Filter: It can help us produce the best imagines.

Yunnan Province in China is renowned for its rich Buddhist heritage, offering photographers numerous opportunities to capture stunning images of temples, monasteries, and the vibrant Buddhist culture. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your Buddhist photography experience in Yunnan:

1. Research and Plan

  • Identify Key Locations: Research and list the prominent Buddhist sites in Yunnan, such as the Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La, the Shaxi Buddhist Temple, and the Western Hills in Kunming.
  • Check Schedules: Some temples and monasteries have specific visiting hours or are closed during certain times for private rituals. Plan your visit accordingly.

2. Timing and Lighting

  • Golden Hours: The best time for photography is during the golden hours (early morning and late afternoon) when the light is soft and warm, adding a magical touch to your images.
  • Festivals and Ceremonies: Attend Buddhist festivals and ceremonies for vibrant and culturally rich photo opportunities. These events often feature traditional attire, rituals, and decorations.

3. Respectful Approach

  • Dress Modestly: Ensure you dress modestly when visiting religious sites. Long sleeves and trousers or skirts below the knee are recommended.
  • Seek Permission: Always ask for permission before photographing monks or local people, especially during private moments of prayer or meditation.

4. Composition Techniques

  • Frame with Nature: Use natural elements like trees, mountains, and water to frame your shots, highlighting the serene environment around Buddhist sites.
  • Symmetry and Patterns: Buddhist architecture often features symmetrical designs and intricate patterns. Capture these details to emphasize the artistic aspects of the temples.
  • Close-Ups: Focus on the intricate details of statues, carvings, and murals. These close-up shots can reveal the craftsmanship and cultural significance of the artifacts.

5. Equipment and Settings

  • Wide-Angle Lens: A wide-angle lens is ideal for capturing the grandeur of temples and monasteries, as well as the surrounding landscapes.
  • Telephoto Lens: Use a telephoto lens to capture candid moments from a distance without intruding on the subjects’ personal space.
  • Tripod: A tripod is essential for stable shots, especially in low-light conditions or when shooting detailed architecture.

6. Cultural Sensitivity

  • Silent Mode: Keep your camera in silent mode to avoid disturbing the peaceful atmosphere of the temples.
  • Non-Flash Photography: Avoid using flash as it can be intrusive and disrespectful, particularly in dimly lit prayer halls or during ceremonies.

7. Post-Processing

  • Enhance Natural Colors: Use photo editing software to enhance the natural colors and light in your images without over-processing them. Aim for a realistic yet vibrant representation of the scene.
  • Highlight Details: Adjust the contrast and sharpness to bring out the intricate details of the Buddhist artifacts and architecture.

Popular Buddhist Photography Locations in Yunnan

  • Songzanlin Monastery (Shangri-La): Known as the “Little Potala Palace,” it offers stunning architectural details and a serene setting.
  • Shaxi Buddhist Temple: Located in the ancient Shaxi village, this temple provides a glimpse into traditional Buddhist practices.
  • Western Hills (Kunming): Home to the Huating Temple and the Dragon Gate Grottoes, offering panoramic views and intricate carvings.

By following these tips, you can capture the essence of Yunnan’s Buddhist culture and create memorable photographs that reflect the spiritual and cultural richness of the region.