Angkor Vat Cambodia is a Hindu complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.  Recently it was in the running for the 8th wonder of the world.  These fabulous Khmer temples span many square kilometers and in fact outer temple structures have been discovered hundreds of kilometers away.  There is certainly a lot to see here, and of course we want to photograph it. My first piece on Angkor Vat  was just a primer, today we'll discuss how best to photograph the site and I'll share some examples.

 

Angkor Vat Cambodia is a Hindu complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F11 1/40th  58mm  ISO 100

 

The problem with photographing Angkor Vat is that it's damn hard to make really good photographs of the place.  It's not enough to just photograph something old or something no one has seen before, you also need to keep composition in mind.  To start with, the weather is almost always very difficult, hot, humid, glaring sun or deep darkness.  Achieving decent light, shadows, and any sort of depth is only possible for about 15-20 minutes per day at any given location.  You need to study the site and desired shooting locations noting the surroundings, direction, and headings.  Make a plan and then shoot the plan.

 

On the interiors stray and directional light opportunities can really make for an interesting image.  Angkor Vat is going to make you work very hard for any sort of decent image, so these types of opportunities should be taken advantage of.  Directional light and shadow lend depth and scale to the composition and can make even drab boring scenes more interesting.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE  @F9 1.6 secs  ISO 200

 

On the interiors stray and directional light opportunities can really make for an interesting image.  Angkor Vat is going to make you work very hard for any sort of decent image, so these types of opportunities should be taken advantage of.  Directional light and shadow lend depth and scale to the composition and can make even drab boring scenes more interesting.

 

There is certainly a lot of texture and shape at Angkor.  This simple passageway was a long exposure with an ultra-wide angle lens that shows the texture and patterns of the stones and arches.  By using a cap on/off technique it's possible to capture "ghostly" images of fellow photographers for effect.

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4  @F8 36 secs  13mm  ISO 100

 

There is certainly a lot of texture and shape at Angkor.  This simple passageway was a long exposure with an ultra-wide angle lens that shows the texture and patterns of the stones and arches.  By using a cap on/off technique it's possible to capture "ghostly" images of fellow photographers for effect.

 

This image was an accident and I've talked about it before.  I was driving by and at the last minute stuck half my body out the window to grab this shot.  Can you tell the car was moving at nearly 40kph?  The light striking the great roots of the tree towards the end of the day caught my attention as did the landscaped scene.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F8 1/40th  70mm  ISO 800

 

This image was an accident and I've talked about it before.  I was driving by and at the last minute stuck half my body out the window to grab this shot.  Can you tell the car was moving at nearly 40kph?  The light striking the great roots of the tree towards the end of the day caught my attention as did the landscaped scene.

 

I remember my guide taking me from my comfortable hotel at 0400 and driving me for what seemed like a good few kilometers before finally arriving at our destination.  Using the light from our cell phones we stumbled about 400 meters from the vehicle before stopping in complete darkness.  You couldn't see your hand in front of your face.  He told me to set up my camera, point it in that direction (in the dark I could only see his face and half his arm), and to be ready for the sunrise.  What really surprised me was that I thought we were alone, but as the sun rose I realized there were hundreds of locals and tourists standing next to us waiting for this awesome scene.

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24 F4  @F11 1/15th  24mm  ISO 200

 

I remember my guide taking me from my comfortable hotel at 0400 and driving me for what seemed like a good few kilometers before finally arriving at our destination.  Using the light from our cell phones we stumbled about 400 meters from the vehicle before stopping in complete darkness.  You couldn't see your hand in front of your face.  He told me to set up my camera, point it in that direction (in the dark I could only see his face and half his arm), and to be ready for the sunrise.  What really surprised me was that I thought we were alone, but as the sun rose I realized there were hundreds of locals and tourists standing next to us waiting for this awesome scene.

 

Throughout the complex you'll find old crumbling structural remains amongst huge rooted trees with tons of foliage. It's very difficult to show any sort of depth or color in these images as the light is extremely flat.  I had to come up with a processing profile to get any sort of contrast or depth.. so sometimes you do your best to make the image in post processing.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE  @F8 1/8th  ISO 200

 

Throughout the complex you'll find old crumbling structural remains amongst huge rooted trees with tons of foliage. It's very difficult to show any sort of depth or color in these images as the light is extremely flat.  I had to come up with a processing profile to get any sort of contrast or depth.. so sometimes you do your best to make the image in post processing.

 

A popular scene straight from Laura Croft Tomb Raider.  Giant roots, ancient ruins.  The original image was extremely flat and unsaturated.  I went back to this scene a dozen times and the light remained horrible each and every time.  I've processed this image to about 5-6 final renditions.  This is the latest.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE  @F11 1/60th  ISO 200

 

A popular scene straight from Laura Croft Tomb Raider.  Giant roots, ancient ruins.  The original image was extremely flat and unsaturated.  I went back to this scene a dozen times and the light remained horrible each and every time.  I've processed this image to about 5-6 final renditions.  This is the latest.

 

Here I was doing my best to show access through the path using my Canon 90mm TSE lens.  This is an incredibly sharp lens and the tilt/shift capabilities I think helped lend the feeling that you're walking right in the middle of the ruins.  A TSE lens isn't a normal lens a tourist would carry on a long journey, but I sneaked one along anyways and made excellent use of it.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE  @F8 1/20th  ISO 200

 

Here I was doing my best to show access through the path using my Canon 90mm TSE lens.  This is an incredibly sharp lens and the tilt/shift capabilities I think helped lend the feeling that you're walking right in the middle of the ruins.  A TSE lens isn't a normal lens a tourist would carry on a long journey, but I sneaked one along anyways and made excellent use of it.

 

These giant tree roots obscure the entrances to the ancient temple.  These roots are as alive as you and me and I tried to give that feeling.  Again, a unique post processing workflow was necessary to deal with the flat contrast-free light.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE  @F11 1/10th  ISO 200

 

These giant tree roots obscure the entrances to the ancient temple.  These roots are as alive as you and me and I tried to give that feeling.  Again, a unique post processing workflow was necessary to deal with the flat contrast-free light.

 

Here I used an 'aging' workflow to date the image to a certain era.  This leaves us free to concentrate on the great roots and temple structures.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE  @F11 1/8th  ISO 200

 

Here I used an 'aging' workflow to date the image to a certain era.  This leaves us free to concentrate on the great roots and temple structures.

 

A more generous framing of  the next image in this sequence that shows more of the structures texture, added some large tree roots, an upper arch, and steps.  Did it make the shot more interesting?  I'm not sure.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F14 1/6th  24mm  ISO 400

 

A more generous framing of  the next image in this sequence that shows more of the structures texture, added some large tree roots, an upper arch, and steps.  Did it make the shot more interesting?  I'm not sure.

 

This framing allows us to concentrate beyond the door frame and on to the light falling on the big stones inside the building.  It also brings the green door frame front and center to the composition to great effect.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F14 1/5th  35mm  ISO 400

 

This framing allows us to concentrate beyond the door frame and on to the light falling on the big stones inside the building.  It also brings the green door frame front and center to the composition to great effect.

 

Leaning against a great tree centuries old I wiped the sweat from my eyes and rinsed the grit from my mouth with a bottle of hotel water and then sat observing this scene.  The light killed it as it had during my previous 6-7 visits.  To show the scale to more effect I selected a 12mm rectangular lens, used the great tree as my foreground, the two buildings as my mid-ground, and the far building and tree as a background.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F14 1/5th  24mm  ISO 400

 

Leaning against a great tree centuries old I wiped the sweat from my eyes and rinsed the grit from my mouth with a bottle of hotel water and then sat observing this scene.  The light killed it as it had during my previous 6-7 visits.  To show the scale to more effect I selected a 12mm rectangular lens, used the great tree as my foreground, the two buildings as my mid-ground, and the far building and tree as a background.

 

This is one of my favorite images.  The giant tree roots were a sight to behold as they covered more and more of the highly detailed hand carvings.  I couldn't help but think these great roots were covering stone carvings human eyes haven't seen in centuries of time.  Again, I used my Canon 90mm TSE  to help give the feeling you were right there on the path and then I aged the image to match the venue.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F8 1/50th  28mm  ISO 400

 

This is one of my favorite images.  The giant tree roots were a sight to behold as they covered more and more of the highly detailed hand carvings.  I couldn't help but think these great roots were covering stone carvings human eyes haven't seen in centuries of time.  Again, I used my Canon 90mm TSE  to help give the feeling you were right there on the path and then I aged the image to match the venue.

 

Most often the scenes just look cluttered.  Big piles of stones, huge trees, multiple structures.. no apparent rhyme or reason to anything.  In person its overwhelming, but when viewed through a 12mm ultra-wide lens the scene takes on new meaning.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F8 1/80th  24mm  ISO 400

 

Most often the scenes just look cluttered.  Big piles of stones, huge trees, multiple structures.. no apparent rhyme or reason to anything.  In person its overwhelming, but when viewed through a 12mm ultra-wide lens the scene takes on new meaning.

 

Late afternoon near sunset provided this image.  See he sun angling in past the roots and into the hollow?  The different shades of green, the many different carvings, and no fewer than five door frames though you can only see 3 easily.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F9 1/30th  24mm  ISO 400

 

Late afternoon near sunset provided this image.  See he sun angling in past the roots and into the hollow?  The different shades of green, the many different carvings, and no fewer than five door frames though you can only see 3 easily.

 

Huge piles of stones are everywhere you look.  The preservation teams have each of these stones labeled, measured, and fed into a computer program to help them put the structure back together in its original form.  With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck this pile of stones will be resurrect itself as a structure once again.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F9 1/30th  24mm  ISO 400

 

Huge piles of stones are everywhere you look.  The preservation teams have each of these stones labeled, measured, and fed into a computer program to help them put the structure back together in its original form.  With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck this pile of stones will be resurrect itself as a structure once again.

 

As the sun sets over the main complex I once again set up my tripod for a long exposure, capturing the waters reflections and evenings sky colors.  There is a type of magic to Angkor Vat.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F8 1.6 secs  45mm  ISO 900

 

As the sun sets over the main complex I once again set up my tripod for a long exposure, capturing the waters reflections and evenings sky colors.  There is a type of magic to Angkor Vat.

 

AV19

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-105mm F4L IS  @F11 1/200th  35mm  ISO 200

 

These small individual structures are everywhere, though most of them have long fallen.

 

An infrared capture of a fallen wall capped with the ancient roots of a long dead tree.  Stones that used to make up the wall are now strewn everywhere, perhaps by design, providing the visiting photographer the unique gift of a rare composition.  At 14mm a different perspective is captured than was seen.

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24 F4  @F11 1/100th  14mm  ISO 100

 

An infrared capture of a fallen wall capped with the ancient roots of a long dead tree.  Stones that used to make up the wall are now strewn everywhere, perhaps by design, providing the visiting photographer the unique gift of a rare composition.  At 14mm a different perspective is captured than was seen.

 

You can easily spend all day walking around a hot, dusty/gritty, colorless maze of ruins and not see a single color other than green and grey, so when I came upon this scene, barely visible to the naked eye in its darkness, I carefully and quietly set up the tripod and with a long exposure made one of my favorite images depicting a local in quiet prayer and the brilliant colors or the flowers, robes, and carpets.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8  @F8 1/5th  35mm  ISO 100

 

You can easily spend all day walking around a hot, dusty/gritty, colorless maze of ruins and not see a single color other than green and grey, so when I came upon this scene, barely visible to the naked eye in its darkness, I carefully and quietly set up the tripod and with a long exposure made one of my favorite images depicting a local in quiet prayer and the brilliant colors or the flowers, robes, and carpets.

 

Outside another alter/shrine was assembled but it didn't have nearly the effect of the scene above.  This sets in plenty of light and you can snap it with a point and shoot compact.  The image above requires a 'photographer' with the dedication to carry the gear which allows him/her to capture the scene only experience makes visible to the experienced eye

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24 F4  @F11 1.6 secs  17mm  ISO 100

 

Outside another alter/shrine was assembled but it didn't have nearly the effect of the scene above.  This sets in plenty of light and you can snap it with a point and shoot compact.  The image above requires a 'photographer' with the dedication to carry the gear which allows him/her to capture the scene only experience makes visible to the experienced eye.

Photographing Angkor Vat  with any sort of competence is very difficult, but with proper planning and thoughtful gear selection, a lot of time and even more patience, it can be done.  These aren't my best shots, but they are the best I haven't already shared.. :)

I plan on a road trip to Angkor Vat sometime in July.  A cross country drive from Bangkok, across rural Thailand, and into 12th century Cambodia.  I'm hoping it makes for a memorable experience and I'll be uploading images and my journal several times a day.