Hear from the photo editors of National Geographic about what it takes to create some of the most memorable images appearing in the magazine.
Light on the Maya
Posted Aug 13,2007

Photo: Maya

How do you make distinctive photographs of subjects that have been photographed countless times? That was the challenge British photographer Simon Norfolk faced for the assignment of shooting the classic Mayan ruins of Central America.

Simon identified two challenges that ultimately drove how he approached the shoot.

First, during the day, many of the monuments would be covered with tourists. Second, a number of the structures are situated in deep valleys or dense foliage which would result in obscuring shadows when the light is at it’s richest early or late in the day.

Simon’s solution: shoot the entire assignment at night when there will be no tourists, using multiple lights to illuminate the stone structures.

Photo: Maya When Simon first suggested this course it gave me pause. The idea of arranging for evening access to the sites, the logistics of hauling lights to remote sites, and the need for power where there might be none, were added hurdles to an already challenging assignment.

Simon, certain this would work, took the time to run a full fledge test near his home in England. He lit up and shot an entire church. The result was convincing and he was given the green light to proceed.

But all the detailed planning in the world still can’t guarantee memorable photographs. And in this case Simon received an added boost when a light fog serendipitously arose at a few of the locations. The flood lights caught the thick air adding visual depth and texture to the scenes.

Simon and his crew threw themselves into this project, worked to create a unique portfolio, and the readers of National Geographic magazine reaped their well earned photographic rewards. (Click here to view more of Simon's Maya photographs.)

David Griffin, Director of Photography

Posted by David Griffin | Comments (8)


Marten Blumen
Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

A big thumbs up to Simon for the perfecting the technique - one strobe is enough for most of us!

scott shurian
Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

I have a photo I would like to submit to you.

May I?

How do I?

scott shurian

Kent Johnson
Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

Ok so he used lights at night. This still doesn't tell us much. Did he use a thousand small lights? Did he drive a couple of cars into place just outside the frame? Is it a time exposure with people running around flashing strobes? More details please.

Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

Hi Scott! Try posting on Deviant Art. People will see it, and you can offer it for sale from there.

Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

My hat's off salute to Simon for this excellent work.

bob weiss
Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

Do any of your photographers still use film?

brian gratwicke
Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

That picture drew me to Tikal - I waited till night-time for the temple lights to be turned on so I could emulate the picture. They didn't come on so I figured he must have brought his own spotlights with him what I did get was the full moon rising behind the temple though... http://www.flickr.com/photos/briangratwicke/2178772397/

Benjamin Ong
Aug 13, 2007 4PM #

Bob: Simon's Maya portfolio was shot on large-format film. And yes, I do believe a number of the Geographic's photographers still use film.

- Advertisement -
Please note all comments are reviewed by the blog moderator before posting.