I have just published two new web albums on the Photo Dharma website that I took recently at nearby Chinese temples. They were taken to try out my new Olympus ZX-1 camera, which is advertised as being especially useful in low light conditions.
As I am many times photographing inside temples, this seemed like it could be a useful addition, having a very bright lens, indeed in its class (compact), the brightest lens on the market at present.
So where better to go than an old and dark Shin temple that I had seen during last year’s Hungry Ghost Festival, but was unable to photograph at the time because of the large crowds packing out the small space.
Like many of the old Chinese temples (this one dates from around 1885), there is very little light inside, and the shrines are light by small incandescent lamps, and are often filled with incense smoke, which is released through a chimney above the temple, which provides a little more light.
As there was not too much to photograph there and Dr. Tan knew of large Taoist temple in Butterworth which would be worth visiting so afterwards we went along to have a look at it.
The temple started out as an attap shrine in the 70s dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods (identified with the constellation the Plough), but I noticed it is now officially called the Tow Boo Kong Temple.
Tow Boo (Mandarin Dou Mu) is the Mother of the gods who (together with the Father), holds the Registrar of Life and Death, and inside she does in fact have her shrine above the Emperors.
The Temple is a newly built complex, which was begun in the mid-90s. The entrance has a large and imposing archway which forms the entrance to the grounds. The buildings themselves are a set of three linked sections.
The front section has a shrine for Tow Boo and the Nine Emperor Gods, as well as other, less exalted gods. The middle section, the Holy of Holies is not open to visitors, but only to those invited by the Gods themselves, of which I was not one. The back section has an inner courtyard and the Tow Boo prayer hall.
Throughout the Temple is permeated with Taoist and traditional Chinese symbolism like the Yin-Yang sign, dragons, lions and well-carved decorative work abounds throughout.
The main purpose of the photo-shoot was to try out my new camera, and I wasn’t entirely satisfied. Although overall it did seem to perform quite well when taking in low light conditions, on occasion it overexposed anywhere there was a light source in the frame, which meant that the photo became unusable, as there is no way to get the detail back if it burned out.
I was also hoping that the large lens and therefore quicker shutter speed might help more with camera shake – I am quite weak physically and quickly become tired and shaky – but there wasn’t much of a visible improvement there either.
I didn’t play around with the camera much but just took the photos on the normal program settings, so next time I might try out some of the many settings that are available; also next time I might take along my old Panasonic and take some comparable photographs so I can see what the difference is between the cameras.
Cheng Shin Temple, Bukit Mertajam
Shrine from Side
Tow Boo Kong Temple, Butterworth
Outer Gate of the Temple
Naga on Roof
Yin-Yang Roof Decoration