After spending a day at Angkor Wat and exploring the temples, I was desperate to return at sunrise to get the best photos with the best light. The problem is that I’m not the only one that thinks that way and the crowds are pretty crazy! Luckily, I anticipated this and was up at 4am to get ahead of the game. A tuk tuk (paid for and organised through the hostel for $8) was outside and ready to go at 4:30am. I could've got a handy head start by already having a day ticket, but I only booked to go the night before and I had no other choice but to get one that morning. Thankfully, the ticket office was open and I held my position at the front of the queue. By 4:45, I was out of the ticket office and, by 5:00, I had made it to the temple – where it was seriously spooky in the pitch black!
Along the way, my tuk tuk driver overtook all of the other tuk tuks and hugged the corners closely at every turn. He was great but, despite his efforts, I knew that I didn’t make it there early enough when I had so many people walking by my side over the causeway. Nevertheless, I stayed focused on getting ahead of whoever else I could, because I stated to see parted clouds and got excited for what was to come!
The lotus pond is definitely the place to be for sunrise and probably the best place for photography in general. Along the edge of the pond that faces the temple is the ideal spot, but there was no space there for me to squeeze into. So, I had to make do with the north-west corner. People soon filled the space around me and the sound of people talking started to pick up. Everyone was fighting for photos, but I knew that the best was yet to come! Plus, it was still too dark and I wanted to use a much lower ISO. On the other hand, I did find it useful to take some high ISO and faster shutter speed shots so I could get my framing right and nail the focus.
I could eventually use lower ISOs and take clean images when the sky got brighter. I even had to use a graduated ND filter to pull back the exposure. As I fiddled with my settings and filters, I lost the rock that I was using as a seat to the people that continued to pile in behind me. From that point on, I had to stay in a squatting position, getting less and less comfortable. By the time I was done, I could barely stretch my legs and it hurt to stand up. On top of that, I had people's bags from behind digging in my back and hitting me in the head, and I remained focused regardless!
In terms of framing, I knew that it was important to keep the foreground balanced. For this reason, I made sure that the bottom third of the photo was not half grass (or the people to my left) and half water from the pond. My tripod was in the water so that no one could step in front of it, but the occasional selfie stick still managed to find it's way into my photos. In the end, that just forced me to explore other options and compositions. After I was happy with the shots I had taken, I decided to try my luck back on the causeway. At this point, the clouds started to turn somewhat colourful, but it just wasn't enough for some people - they were calling it quits and walking back now to. In turn, that also forced me to try different things, like creating motion blur. I tried a few different things for a short while and got a few different shots that I was happy with and called it a day. My tuk tuk driver was waiting for me in the car park, so I could get back to the hostel straight away to edit the shots.