Vembanad Kayal & Kumarakom, Kerala, India

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The Kerala backwaters form a large ecosystem similar to the bayous in the Louisiana delta. Vembanad Kayal, or Vembanad Lake, in Kumarakom is India’s longest lake, but only one in this network of rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals. The backwaters have long been used for transportation, fishing and farming. Now, it’s also a destination for foreign and domestic visitors drawn to experience the kettuvallams, or houseboats. From the outside, they resemble old thatch-roofed barges that carried rice harvested in the fields; from the inside, the updated versions are comfortable and commodious, making for a serene ride as each kettuvallam gently navigates the lakes and canals.

India has four seasons: winter, summer, monsoon (rainy season) and post-monsoon. Climatic variations lengthen or shorten each of these seasons, influenced by geography and topography. Kerala is a southern state on India’s west coast, with a tropical wet climate. “Tropical” is often a euphemism for hot and humid, and so it’s true in the backwaters. Monsoon is long; most rain occurs from May through November.

Photo Experience
What drew us to Kumarakom was the bird sanctuary, stories of Kerala’s backwaters and the cuisine. We wanted to explore this place new to us with our senses and our camera gear. Many of India’s iconic images come from Kerala, including the backwaters. During our houseboat experience, the best opportunities occurred as the sun was setting. Since the boats follow a set course, there’s little flexibility to compose the photo. This one captured a kettuvallam as it passed along our port side with the sun descending in the background. Using a telephoto zoom and tripod, the ƒ-stop and ISO were preset for the conditions. No filters were used; the photos were taken under natural light conditions. As the kettuvallam moved into position, the exposure was set, while waiting for the sun to drop within the frame. From the first frames captured, from the front of the houseboat to the very last taken from the aft, one minute lapsed as we drifted by.

Best Times
It’s best to visit Kerala during the cooler, drier months—from December to March. Late January is an idyllic time. Foreign and domestic tourists are still rebounding from the year-end holidays. The temperature is comfortable, but there’s no escaping the humidity. Plan your trip by visiting the India Ministry of Tourism,

Essential Gear

When you’re concentrating on an impressive background, it’s important not to forget about getting a great foreground. LED lights allow you to gain control over underexposed foregrounds, thanks to controllable light throw and dimmable power. They also consume less energy than typical flashes, so batteries last longer in the field. Litepanels offers a large selection of high-quality, lightweight LED light sources that have been tailored for use with DSLRs and video camcorders, including their Litepanels Micro, MicroPro, MiniPlus and Ringlite Mini models. Contact: Litepanels, Inc., (818) 752-2437,