Happy Children, Bigger Smiles

A photo of two young children in Bhutan, showing their big smiles.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

There seems to be a lot of children in Bhutan. Everywhere I went, I’d see lots of them, running around, happily playing on the streets of the cities and towns I visited. Even if they were out of sight, they were within earshot, as I could hear playful laughing and the sounds children make when they play games.

According to the U.N., about 33% of the population of Bhutan is under the age of 15. It felt like more, and I have a lot of photos of children that back up my informal survey. And without exception, every child I came across in Bhutan was friendly, a bit curious about me, and very eager to be photographed. Ok, there were a few shy ones…but they warmed up.

Photographing children, especially happy children that don’t have the (often cynical) influences of western culture, can be a wonderful experience. So often in the West, we are reluctant to photograph strangers, and even more so if they are children. In the group I was traveling with, we remarked how it was strange that in Bhutan, young mothers would be quite happy to have us photograph their children. There was no security risk, no suspicions, no sense of privacy breach. It was a simple social transaction, that was met with joy and genuine friendliness. It was refreshing.

Happy Children

I came across these two kids, when wandering down a side street in Punakha. The town isn’t all that large, with a population of about 27,000 people. And lots of kids, of course. These two were chasing each other in a simple game of tag, when I saw them. I took a couple photos, and they immediately stopped their game, and come over to me to look at the photos. Obviously, they had been photographed before, so they knew the routine. They laughed and giggled a little when they saw the screen on my camera back, overjoyed with how they looked.

I asked them to let me take some more photos of them, but they didn’t understand me. They looked a bit puzzled at my request, but when I held my camera up to my eye again, they immediately understood, and started playing in front of me. They didn’t know quite what to do, and I couldn’t explain it to them in words. I wanted them to give me a smile, so I stuck my thumb and index finger into my mouth, and spread my cheeks and lips apart in a big goofy smile, hoping they would reply with a big smile too. But instead, they mimicked my gesture and used their fingers to make a big goofy smile too. But it was a great shot, all the same. I can still hear them laughing.

Technical: 1/250 sec @f5.6, ISO 400 on Nikon D800e with 24-70mm at 58mm, shot at 1:49 pm in shade

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