Siem Reap – with a difference
I left a constantly wet and soggy Saigon for even wetter Siem Reap in the midst of having its main river burst its banks. A friend of mine who films for the BBC and writes for the Telegraph in the UK was exploring the country with a focus on covering the more remote temples of the country. I spent a bit of time with her and we both procrastinated on what to do in Siem Reap under the weather conditions we were experiencing. I wanted to take her out to the East and West Gates of Angkor Thom, both of which are rarely visited by tourists as anything larger than a small car is able to transverse the dirt track to get there – all the more reason these places are special. At the East Gate, also known as the Gate of Death, I arranged for an elephant from the nearby Bayon to walk through the gate to add a sense of drama and colour to the photography (and for her to film). I hadn’t expected the mahout to come dressed with a bright yellow umbrella to fend off the rain – and hence add further colour and angle of interest to what was really very challenging and limited lighting conditions.
The above image was taken with myself lying on my back on the wet grass in order to hold the camera firm so I could drop the shutter speed down for an f/8 aperture. The mahout thought I was a complete madman but the image result speaks for itself and remains my favourite from the shoot that afternoon. Note the fogged in corners from the rain which adds atmosphere to the scene.
Most of the images were taken on a tripod (with the distinct exception of the top image as noted) with an ISO of 1250. Granted, blown up these shots will show some grain, however, there was no choice under these conditions and, with the rain and low lying cloud proving to be unrelenting, I remain satisfied with the results. Needless to say there was not a soul in sight, making it all the more enjoyable.
I had the afternoon to shoot the elephant scene and there are a number of other shots that I will bank, however, as of writing I have not had the chance to process yet therefore will add to the library in due course.
The following morning, more rain and more challenges. A little known gem of a temple en route to the Tonle Sap lake is Wat Atvea. Although Angkorian in structure and character its isolated location, in a small village community, means it sees few visitors who concentrate on the main temple sites. I did a shoot here earlier in the year of the main temple, however, when we arrived we had just missed a small ceremony held in the adjacent Buddhist pagoda to commemorate the death anniversary of a head monk of the village. A few of the Buddhist nuns were leaving the site, but there was one elderly lady still inside the pagoda, sitting in solitude and quiet prayer (see below image). The gold leafed, carved door, provided the perfect backdrop to the scene. I waited from across the other side of the pagoda hall until she lit an incense stick, allowing me time to set up the shot and rest my camera on a window ledge to avoid shake in a low light situation. Again, I had to bounce the ISO up to 1250 to shoot at f/2.8 but I find the Nikon D3 performs beautifully at this level and the texture and tones are even more rich and warm than at lower settings.
Directly opposite the Buddhist nun was a young monk sweeping up the floor after the ceremony. The activity itself did not necessarily grab me but I found the side light coming in from the doorway and the complimentary colours of the textured wall against the deep orange of his robe to make it worth a take. I rushed across to the other side of the pagoda and applied the same technique to capture this nice little image. Shortly thereafter, a younger monk walked up to one of the windows so I rested on the floor and set up the shot to make sure I included all the following windows to draw the eye into the monk at the end of the hall.
All in all, a very worthwhile morning was spent taking images I did not necessarily envisage, but this is one of the many joys of photography in South East Asia. There is always something culturally interesting happening, whatever the time, whatever the weather.