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Angkor Wat is on many a traveler’s bucket list. And whether those travelers are professional photographers, aspiring shutterbugs or just Instagram enthusiasts with smartphones, chances are they want to take home beautiful photos that will help them remember and reminisce about their trip for a lifetime to come.

My trip this year was no exception. Actually, as this was my third visit to Siem Reap and to the temples of Angkor, the focus — pun intended! — of this trip was almost purely photography.

The truth is I’m no expert — though I took several photography classes as part of my undergraduate arts degree and have interned with a professional photographer, my technical knowledge is limited. But what I lack in manual shooting skills, I make up for with an eye for composition and aesthetics and tight editing. And seven years after my first visit to Angkor Wat, I’ve picked up a tip or two about photographing temples along the way just by trial and error.

Want to wow with the photos you bring home from Cambodia? Read on, and share ideas of your own in the comments.

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Start With The Basics

Unless you’re trying to shoot a silhouette, make sure the sun is behind you. Don’t cut off people’s feet in photos (my personal photography pet peeve!). Be patient when waiting for crowds to clear from your shot. Use people to add scale and the human element to landscape and architecture shots. Don’t be afraid to lay down on the ground or stand up on your toes and hold your camera over your head.

Start with those photography basics that apply anywhere in the world, and you’ll be off to an amazing start.

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Be Direct With Your Driver

I have had the experience many times in Southeast Asia — not just at Angkor Wat — that I hand over a detailed plan for a tuk tuk ride or explicitly explain a route I want in a taxi, only to have the driver nod and then just go right ahead and do something completely different.

Obviously language barrier accounts for at least some of this, but I do sense that sometimes there’s also an assumption on the part of the driver that they know better  — which in most cases they probably do! No one knows this temples complex as well as the drivers and guides who spend all day everyday driving in and around it, so don’t be shy about asking them for their favorite spots and the best times to avoid the big crowds.

But if you’ve pored over maps and sunset timetables to craft a perfect photography itinerary; if you’ve studied guidebooks and other photographer’s work to see if there were specific doorways, temples and trees you wanted to try to capture through your own lens in certain lighting conditions, don’t be afraid to explain that directly to your driver — and pay attention to which direction you end up headed.

Embrace Overcast

While cloudy skies might not make for the best panoramas, they can provide nice even lighting for shooting portraits, interiors, close ups. I was disappointed by the white skies that hung around for the majority of our day at the temples — I would have at least settled for dramatic clouds if I couldn’t have bright blue skies! — but tried to use them to my advantage to shoot details that would have had too many drastic shadows on a nicer day.

Editing a photo to black and white or sepia can also be a post-production save for blown out skies.

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Think Outside the Wat

If you come home with nothing but the iconic shots of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon, they will all blend together into a taupe colored blur by the time you get to the twentieth shot in your post-vacation slideshow. Look for hand-painted signs, bright foliage, and scenes of every day life that punctuate your photos with color and human interest and tell the complete story of your trip.

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Set Your Expectations For Sunrise

Watching the sun rise over the back of Angkor Wat is an incredibly popular experience in Siem Reap, yet as someone incredibly averse to alarm clocks this was my first time attempting it.

We arrived in the pitch black long before the actual sunrise, and still had a hard time jockeying for a prime time spot. If that sunrise picture is really important to you, get up an hour earlier than you think you have to. For me as a third time visitor, seeing the sunrise was more about having a new experience than it was about actually getting a postcard perfect shot, but if I had arrived hoping to find a place to put down a tripod I would have been disappointed. In the end it was a cloudy, gray morning and we never got that “sky on fire” look so many photographers are chasing.

Check sunrise times online or on your iPhone weather app the day before to properly plan. And take a headlamp and a sweater — it is dark (and for us, cold!) when you get there.

Hand Your Camera Over, Or Selfie Without Shame

My first trip to Angkor Wat was with my dad in 2009, and we took one measly photo together. Just one! It’s not even a particularly good one, and I regret that we didn’t shoot more whenever I look back those albums.

This time, Ian and I went to town handing my camera over to random people or turning it back on ourselves. Are any of these photos great? Not really. Would I frame them? Nah. But I love that we have them to look back and remember how much fun we had there together that day.

One thing I do urge you to do is think beyond the front camera on your iPhone. The quality is awful! Consider a camera like the instead — more on that below.

Be Patient

I have found patience to be one of the secrets of great travel photography. There’s a tour group in front of the building you want to shoot? Sit tight. You need traffic to clear a bit so you can get that perfect shot from across the street? Just wait. You have a beautiful portrait set up but there are stragglers in the background? Be patient.

I remembered the window sill at Bayon below from a previous trip to Angkor and wanted to shoot Ian in it. When we got there, there was a small crowd, so we just sat and chilled out for a moment and waited until the group cleared out. We gave them plenty of space and time so that we could enjoy the same when it was our turn.

What if the small crowd grows to gargantuan? At some very popular iconic spots — especially the overgrown doorways of Ta Prohm — there will be lines of entire tour bus groups waiting to each individually have their photo taken. Personally, I didn’t care enough about posing in front of a bunch of tree roots to wait for it, but I did want to shoot the overgrown doorway myself. I watched several other photographers walk away annoyed, but I saw an alternate opportunity.

I walked down next to the line off to the side, waited for the moment between various people setting up for their shots, and snapped. You might have to wait for a few switches as there’s only a millisecond or so of the view being unobstructed, but it’s a lot better than waiting at the end of the long line. That’s how I got the second photo in this post in less than five minutes, as opposed to waiting in line for half an hour.

Have The Right Gear

You don’t need a dSLR to get great photos of Angkor, though I did shoot the photos in this post with the , the love of my pictorial life. I found the 24-105mm lens to be the perfect walking around lens for these temples — wide enough to shoot interiors and vast panoramas but long enough to capture detail at a distance.

For those looking for something smaller and lighter — or with tighter budgets — I cannot more highly recommend the . I upgraded to this camera last year (yes, I need to update my photography gear page!) and I’m just obsessed with it. The image quality is gorgeous, the size couldn’t be more convenient, and it’s wifi-enabled in order to send photos straight to your smart phone. Best of all? The LCD screen flips up so that you can take perfect, high quality selfies — I wish I’d brought it with us on this particular day just to use this feature as they’re a little trickier with a dSLR.

Once you’re in Siem Reap, keep your camera out of the air conditioning, if possible — I kept mine in the bathroom at Navutu Dreams. Otherwise the hot, humid climate of Siem Reap will cause some serious fogging once you take your camera out of the icy arctic air con — bring a lens cloth just in case. This is secondary reason to go with a tuk tuk (or even a bicycle!) over an air-conditioned car — the primary reason being fun!

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Take A Deep Breath

For travelers just looking to take better vacation snaps to show their friends and family back home, there’s probably no need for a reminder to relax and enjoy the ride. But for those for whom photography is a serious hobby, stress over getting the right shot can interfere with the experience.

Even on a great day, shooting the temples of Siem Reap can be a frustrating experience — crowds arrive by the literal busload, lighting conditions can be tricky and oh, did I mention the crowds?

One benefit of knowing this wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime for me but a thrice-in-a-lifetime was I just didn’t sweat the shots I was or wasn’t getting. However, I’m no stranger to getting worked up worrying about whether or not I’ll capture something as well as I want to. When I feel myself going in that frazzled direction, I take a moment to stop and literally meditate on the idea that as much as I love photography, I’m not going to let my pursuit of a great photo — or rather, my inability to snag one — ruin an amazing experience.

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Select, Edit and Share

Once you’ve got these gorgeous photos on your memory card, don’t let them just linger there. Edit down to your best shots, give them at least a light edit, and then share them with the world however you see fit!

I get a lot of questions about my own editing routine. In short, I download all my photos through Adobe Bridge and try to aggressively cull down to my favorites. Then I do a big batch edit through Bridge to straighten horizon lines, crop as needed, and tweak saturation, contrast, brightness, and color balance. Along the way I’ll flag any photos that I absolutely love or that need a little extra attention, and I open those photos and individually play around with them in Adobe Photoshop. I love looking for free Photoshop actions online to download and play with! One premium plugin that I couldn’t live within is , which cleans up noisy images. On my iPhone, I use Snapseed to edit before uploading.

Angkor Photography Tips

Angkor Photography Tips

Now that I’ve spilled a few of my own secrets, I want to hear some of yours! What are your favorite tips for travel photography? Let’s share some ideas in the comments!

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Last chance to ask me anything! Want to submit a question? Ask , or in the comments, or privately via email. Nothing is off limits to ask, though I exercise the right to be choosy in what I answer <img scale=

Also — many thanks to Navutu Dreams for their hospitality. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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43 Comments...
  • Good call on the air conditioning! First time that happened to me I was so distraught – I missed some prime picture taking moments. I now keep a cloth on hand just in case! Love all your other tips too 🙂
    Amanda | Lesson Plans & Layovers recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 15 2016

      It’s happened to me too — yet another reason that I hate arctic air conditioning!

    • John
      July 20 2016

      I know what you mean! I lost one great camera because of the AC – rookie mistake!
      John recently posted..

  • Kelsey
    July 15 2016

    These are some great tips, they can be used in many locations too!

    I love how beautifully the pictures you took turned out 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      July 15 2016

      Thank you Kelsey! It’s fun to look back and see how much my photography has grown since my first trip to Angkor Wat… I guess I’ve had lots of practice time inbetween!

  • Cate
    July 15 2016

    These were really helpful tips! I recently was gifted a Canon power shot model similarar to yours, and they are amazing! Thanks for the tips! I like to do a few practice shots first and then give myself a minute or two to line up
    Cate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 15 2016

      Yup, taking a few minutes to shoot, look at the image and adjust for a second round definitely makes a difference! Glad you’re loving your Canon.

  • Marni
    July 15 2016

    This is probably one of my favorite posts you’ve ever done. I love hearing tips from people, particularly when it comes to photography. Patience is definitely one of the key factors to capturing a great shot.
    Marni recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      Light and patience… I don’t think there’s anything more key! Glad you enjoyed this post!

  • Melinda Gerow
    July 15 2016

    Great tips! The photo of the temple ceiling is amazing! I really like the advice to be sure you get photos of yourself. Do you use the Powershot and edit with Snapseed for Instagram?

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      It depends! But yes — sometimes that’s what I do! If you ever have a question about how any of my specific instagram photos was shot, feel free to ask and I’ll spill all my secrets 😉

  • I’m trying to grow my photography and so this post is fabulous, even if Angkor Wat isn’t on my travel list in the near future. I’ve always been drawn to your photos, Meihoukai. They’re so bright and I just absolutely love them. I’d love to hear more about your post-production process too. 🙂 That’s something I do…ah…not at all…right now and think might take my visuals up at least 10 notches. 😉

    Great post!
    Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      Thanks Amanda! I’ll keep an editing post in my drafts list 🙂

  • Dominique
    July 15 2016

    When it comes to photography, I have a lot to learn 🙂 I’m always looking for tips on how to deal with a white sky… It’s the bane of my photography experiences. I’ve heard the tip about take close-ups and portraits rather than taking landscape & building photos, but I can’t stop myself from taking those photos. I also need to work on my patience as I do take photos with crowds. I always love your photos though, so at least I have something to inspire to still!
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      Ugh, white skies — nothing worse from a photography standpoint! I’m open to tips on this topic, too!

  • Wow, this post is great. I always look for photography tips and I find yours very useful. I will definitely give them a try and do my best! Your photos are beautiful! I have a lot to learn from you.

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      Thanks Natalia, you’re too sweet! Good luck!

  • Alissa
    July 16 2016

    Hey there, thanks for sharing these tips. I’m definitely a super duper amateur photographer (and quite proud of that!), but the longer I travel the more photography has been growing as a passion of mine. Angkor Wat looks beautiful! Thanks for sharing your photos and a different perspective on your experience there.
    Alissa recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      Everyone starts an amateur 🙂 Enjoy the journey, Alissa!

  • I only discovered photography tours last year when researching Siem Reap. I ended up booking one in Chiang Mai and loved it! A local, professional photographer took me to key spots AND helped me understand my camera so much better!

    One thing that keeps me from becoming a great photographer is patience…I just don’t have it – I get bored (and annoyed) so easily!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 21 2016

      Ah yes, I meant to mention photography tours as an option — thanks for bringing that up! I know there are quite a few in Siem Reap in particular and thought they might be a good option for some travelers. Glad you enjoyed yours! And yes, patience is SO key. I can’t tell you how long I’ve sat around waiting to take some of my favorite images.

  • Sarah
    August 2 2016

    What awesome pics! I have been toying with the idea of getting into photography as a hobby, going beyond my iPhone you know 🙂 I looked up the canon powershot g7x that you mentioned and it comes in at a pricy $650 :/ do you have any recommendations for less expensive but still small cameras? I just read one of your old posts about the canon power shot s100, but that was back in 2012- do you think that’s one of those things that’s just too old now? Thanks for any camera tips ahead of time!

    • Meihoukai
      August 3 2016

      I would definitely say the s100 or the s120 or whatever the most recent version of that is, is still a great choice! The best camera out there is the one you have in your hands, as they say 🙂 Enjoy!

  • Morgan
    August 5 2016

    Wow, your work is amazing! I absolutely love these photographs! Thank you so much for the pointers!

  • Erik
    August 25 2016

    Hey Meihoukai, thanks for this post 🙂 you take lovely photos and it’s nice to hear your tips. I was going to post a photo on Instagram and I was looking for an app to edit the photo, when I remembered you mentioning one in your blog. Snapseed works really well! Easy for beginner photographers and more advanced ones 🙂 good choice and thank you!

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2016

      Awesome! I’m thrilled to hear that worked out for ya 🙂 I love Snapseed! Wish it was so easy on my laptop, ha!

  • Christina
    October 20 2016

    You make a sensible point about starting with the photography basics no matter where you are in the world. This view should make it a lot easier to think up shots for beginners and professionals alike.

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2016

      Indeed — thanks for reading Christina!

  • Joelle
    January 22 2017

    Thank you so much for this article sharing, my first trip to Cambodia is schedule to be July 2017. i am thrill everyday thinking about this and i am so worry that i couldn’t make it to this or that temple and miss out all the beautiful scene.

    after reading your article, i just feel calm and let the arrangement happen naturally. this is my trip and i believe the highest power have something plan specifically for me.

    what ever weather it may be, i will capture angkor and my whole trip in Cambodia with an open heart.

    once again, Thank Meihoukai

    • Meihoukai
      January 31 2017

      Sounds like you have the perfect perspective and state of mind for this trip, Joelle <3 Wishing you a wonderful time, no matter what the weather may hold!

  • Patrick H
    May 17 2017

    You’ve captured some great images from Cambodia and Angkor Wat, it’s a place that like your intro says “i’ve read about but have no immediate plans to visit” Hopefully next year i’ll manage a fair amount of time in SE Asia! Keep up the good work!
    Patrick H recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 30 2017

      Thanks Patrick! Appreciate the kudos 🙂

  • Darren
    June 10 2017

    Wow fantastic captures! Great tips also, keep up the great work.

  • Heather
    June 22 2017

    These shots are gorgeous! You documented your trip to Angkor Wat with such lovely clarity. I definitely agree, being patient is a great virtue, especially with photography! You don’t want to take the shot just because you want to get it over with – always wait for the right moment. Thanks for sharing!

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2017

      Absolutely. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from “this crowd will NEVER clear” to “wow, there’s my shot!” Thank you for reading!

  • John
    June 24 2017

    Hi, Meihoukai!
    My girlfriend Amy suggested I read your blog for tips and I am glad I gave in. LOL

    Loving the content and the overcast shot of the guy with the helmet was EPIC!! I also love the shot of the Monkey but wouldn’t want to meet that dude in person. LOL, I am now a fan AWESOME BLOG!

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2017

      Tell Amy I said thanks for the recommendation, John 🙂 Thanks for reading — would love to hear from you again here in the comments!

  • Joe
    July 10 2017

    Really great advice! The images you took are just stunning! Your trip must have been full of excitement and a great time!

    • Meihoukai
      July 11 2017

      It really was Joe — thanks for the kind words.

  • Robert
    August 24 2017

    wow! amazing clicks these captures are priceless. As a passionate photographer, I’m always keen to reading about photography and getting more tips. Thanks for sharing !

    • Meihoukai
      September 20 2017

      You’re so welcome! I actually have another photography post coming out soon. Stay tuned!