Captivating, Alluring Angkor Wat

Charming yet confounding. This is how Lonely Planet describes the Kingdom of Cambodia in their guide books. But from touch down in Siem Reap’s picturesque International Airport through the short 7-kilometer taxi ride to a fantastic yet inexpensive hotel, my family and I (yes, this was a family trip) met with much of the charming, and none of the confounding. So far so good. Perhaps the confounding part was relegated to the nation’s bigger and busier capital Phnom Penh, of which we had no intention of visiting this time. For now it was just Siem Reap, and the Angkor Archeological Park.

Covering an area of over 400 sq kilometers (including forested areas), the Angkor Archeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several Khmer empire temples, the most famous of which are Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple. Within its grounds too, stands majestic Ta Promh, where part of Angelina Jolie’s movie ‘Tomb Raider’ was filmed.

Angkor Wat will leave you breathless (figuratively and literally) as the walk from the your drop off point to the main temple complex is long and hot. But once inside the sheer magnificence of your surroundings will, once again, take your breath away. From Bas-relief carvings in its stone walls to soaring tower peaks, Angkor Wat stands as a mute testament to the skill and determination of the people who built it. A testament to a people’s love for things that are beautiful, that are enduring. Angkor Wat. It is all it is touted to be.

And then there is the Bayon temple. She of the hundred stone faces. For me, this was even more awe-inspiring. Just how an ancient population, now long gone, managed to pile up huge stones in the absence of modern equipment and put exquisite carvings into them still amazes me to this day. You will just have to see it to believe it.

And of course, Ta Promh. Picture centuries old strangler fig trees, with massive roots winning in a death match against a crumbling stone structure and you have the perfect backdrop for the Tomb Raider. Angelina Jolie and all! This place is beautiful in its eeriness. And the sentiments they evoke, whether good or bad, will stay stay with you for a very long time. That I can guarantee.

This park is huge. One day will not be enough to cover everything except the most popular sites. Which is exactly what we did. But by the end of the day, we were pretty much tuckered out. My wife and two daughters had seen “enough stones to last them a lifetime”. Being outvoted 3 to 1 against further exploration, we decided to cap the day with a sumptuous dinner in a popular restaurant that featured a cultural dance presentation. And as the story of the gods unfolded through the motions of exquisite Apsara dancers we took our fill of Cambodian cuisine and let the night melt away in the charm of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

My personal tips for a hassle-free Angkor Wat experience:

  1. Best time to visit would be after the rainy season, between October and December.
  2. Go on a Package Tour. While it is possible to get around on your own, why go through the trouble? A ready vehicle,an English speaking tour guide and a prepared lunch will save you a lot of time especially if your are traveling in a group or with family.
  3. Start early! But this should not be a problem as your tour guide will INSIST you start as soon as the park opens. And believe me the sun and the humidity will be all the motivation you will need for an early start.
  4. Be prepared for some serious legwork and fancy footwork. Clambering over piles of fallen stones and steep inclines and even steeper steps will take the best you can give. So dress for the occasion. Remember this is the tropics, where near 40 deg C temperatures and 98+ percent humidity are the norm. A dri-fit shirt (the one that wickers away moisture from the body) over a pair of sturdy walking shorts and hiking boots should do the trick. A small towel to wipe away the deluge of sweat that is sure to follow is desirable. Oh, and don’t forget headgear. Hat, cap, sun-visor, anything to keep the sun from off your face.
  5. My personal best. Ask your tour guide for a REVERSE tour. Simply stated: start with the last item on your published itinerary. This way you avoid the crush of dozens of other eager bodies and have more time for yourselves to enjoy the sights in relative calm and peace.
  6. Water, Water, Water. As much as you can carry. The next pit stop could be miles away.
  7. I would avoid the sunset viewing atop Phnom Bakheng. The 30+ mins of sweaty, uphill trudging was not worth it. And did I mention that you will have to elbow your way to get a good view once at the top? But that’s just me.
  8. REMEMBER TO TIP YOUR TOUR GUIDE. There is no fixed amount but be generous. They do this for a LIVING so be generous.
  9. I’m sure you won’t but let me say it again. DON’T FORGET YOUR CAMERA! Photo ops like these may not present themselves again.

Underwater Photography – When Your Subject Is Always in Motion

As much as there is magic on land, many photographers find themselves underwater to look for new challenges and inspirations. The aquatic scene is a whole new world to conquer and the promise of breathtaking shots is an opportunity that is hard to miss out on. Photographing below though, requires a whole new set of skills and equipment. All the challenges however will be well rewarded with unique and captivating images in the end.

Keep in mind that when shooting underwater it’s important to have a heightened awareness of your environment. Since you’ll be spending a great deal of time submerged in the water, it’s important to get well acquainted with the surroundings. As the photographer, the majority of the outcome of the whole endeavor rests on you so you must be in your element while shooting.

You must have excellent swimming skills if you want to take on a deep water shooting project. These will come handy especially in situations where subjects are constantly moving around. To take outstanding shots, you need to be able to move and swim around fast. If you can’t catch up with a subject in motion, the photos will not turn out as great as you want them to be.

Know the subject very well before undertaking an oceanic adventure. For instance, if you plan on shooting sea creatures, it is imperative that you know their nature. Remember that the undersea is their world and you want to be in harmony with their nature. Know what kind of approach is needed so as not to spook or provoke any subject you want to shoot. Understanding the swim pattern of a fish, for example, will give you the know how on angles that can produce stunning images.

Using the right equipment is a must in a project below the surface of the water. You don’t really have to go out of the way to achieve what you’re aiming for. A point-and-shoot camera in a waterproof gear will do. It is economical and easy to use. However, most professionals prefer to use a DSLR camera since it is a more sophisticated system and easier to control. For moving subjects in the water, a DSLR camera is the more appropriate choice.

The water can be a very charming environment but it can also be dangerous. It is important to pay attention to your safety when taking on underwater photography. Understand your limits and employ the help of professional swimmers or scuba divers if necessary.

How to Take Motion Shots Like a Pro

Motion shots are categorized into three headings that include stop, pan and blur. Each category will enable the photographer or hobbyist to obtain a different effect in their shot. The majority of people prefer the stop effect where the motion of the object is frozen in a millisecond of time. This is exactly the shot desired in most sports photos of athletes. It is achieved by a very fast shutter speed that enables the picture to be etched on the film or sensor so quickly that they are frozen in that moment of time. The faster shutter speed means that the particular ISO setting must be higher to allow in more light when taking the photo and snapping the shot.

To pan effect will follow the motion along with the photographer’s camera and will give a sharply focused object with a blurred surrounding. This captivating motion effect is similar to the stop effect as it stops the motion of the object that is the focal point of the shot. It is challenging to follow an object with a camera while snapping a great shot. This skill can require patience and much practice to master. Photographers and hobbyists should not become discouraged because over time they will find their shots becoming better. Some people use a tripod with a swivel head to assist them in keeping the camera still when achieving a pan effect. A plain background works best for panning. It is recommended by most professional photographers to begin with a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second to start and then to make sure nothing obstructs the view once the object that is the focal point of a picture moves.

The effect of blurring is when a slow shutter speed is used so the object of the photo is deliberately blurred but the impression given is one of speed and is the whole aim of the shot. In the event a camera is point and click it might also have a sports or action mode.

A great tip for capturing motion in shots is to use the burst or servo mode on the camera if it is available. This will offer a series of shots taken in a burst which makes it more likely to get that extra special shot. This effect gives the illusion that action is happening in the photograph. If people want to shoot in burst mode on their camera they will be clicking away with speed taking many shots. A memory card with a large-capacity is ideal when taking many shots in an outing. It is a true nightmare for photographers to run out of storage space on their camera when great shots present themselves. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared with additional storage space when venturing out to take photos. If shutter lag is a dilemma with a camera then burst mode will increase the chances of a great shot.

If photographers are after a particular scene where something is moving and they want the background to be clear with sharpness like a landscape with moving water then it is best to use a slow shutter speed and a tripod to prevent camera shake. This technique is able give an unusual effect making the water blurred to the extent it looks like it has been painted into the photo. Whether photographers and hobbyists choose to use stop, pan or blur effects to take motion shots these few basic and simple to follow tips can assist in taking great photographs like a professional with their digital photo camera.