Both my Muse and I were tossing and turning restlessly as the dim outline of my window started to grow brighter. My Muse questioned my rather heavy dinner choice of a spicy Indian feast the previous night but she also had worries of her own vaguely recalling a promise to Yosef to enlighten the masses on what the term Street Photography meant to us. Me. When it became clear that sleep was no longer a possibility and roughly at the time when streams of tuktuks, cars and buses head to Angkor Wat to experience the legendary sunrise I made myself (and my Muse) a nice cup of tea and set to work.
I don’t know why Yosef picked me as I don’t consider myself in any way a Street Photography Master although I do rarely leave my house without at least one device capable of recording images. Many smart and articulate articles (pun!) have been written about street photography, the approach and the gear so, intimidated, I will look at the topic more or less from the pondering angle and see where that takes us.
Some of you in the colourful 52Frames community know that I live in Cambodia where I run my own photography business - well, the term “business” could be slightly overrated, it’s more a one woman band marching to the beat of her own drum somehow making money doing the thing she loves!
Wow, Cambodia, you gasp! Exotic and pulsating with that relentless energy and slight madness of all Asian lands where towns and cities awake with honking of horns and cries of chickens, steam rising from giant rice pots and dishes made of those chickens too slow in the waking-up process. Now, I can’t lie to you and tell you that I often roam the streets at the crack of dawn enjoying the amazing photo opportunities arising on every corner, no - I am in bed, but I do know that early morning is indeed a very special time of day here in the far east (or far west - depends where you are, reader!). The photographer or the curious observer are both rewarded with cooler temperatures, golden light and the smell in the air which will always remind me of summer holidays. Here life happens in the morning or at least more so than in the middle of a hot day when many take to the national sport of extreme hammocking elsewhere known as siesta. Mind you, that’s good to photograph too!
To me Cambodia no longer holds the exotic stamp and mystery of the unexplored. But saying that I am bored here would be a bit blaze as well. It’s been my home for over 6 years now. I live here and my eyes are accustomed to the bizarre scenes. I do still chuckle at the array of overloaded vehicles and get excited at the sight of monks in their bright orange robes but I admit that at times I would rather spend hours in a nice, cool pine forest taking photos of moss and cones or get lost in the cobbled streets of Europe. I confirm the theory that the grass is always greener on the other side - unless you change your point of view.
I am a believer that there is ALWAYS something to photograph be it in nature or out on the street. Our 52Frames challenges help us along nicely and channel our vision to a specific topic each week. I sort of wish our Street Photography challenge came along earlier in the year when I was in fact lost in the cobbled streets of the Czech Republic (my other home, the original one) or when I went to Bali and explored something completely different and very new.
So here we have the dilemma - the new versus the old and ingrained. What makes for more interesting photography topic and what’s the advantage? Knowing your surroundings like the back of your own hand or photographing something new with completely fresh eyes? In the end it’s the viewer who decides what they like but who’s judging us, anyway?
I find that there is a difference in our outlook on these various known and new places. Having analysed the style of my photography from a new place versus the familiar one I notice that when I am somewhere new I take more wide angle shots recording the overall look of the location, the views, the mood. On my home turf I can be seen taking a photo of a droplet of water on a blade of grass while the temples of Angkor are getting the view of my back. Go figure. It really confuses the locals….Gentle tap on my shoulder: “Madam, the temple is THAT way!"
When it comes to people photography I find this task much easier here in Asia. Life is, in some aspects, so much more colourful, yet simpler here. It happens outside, in plain view, sometimes leaving little to the imagination. There are local customs and traditions, there is everyday life, there are messy shops and markets, there is traffic with no rules, there are monks, people planting rice, people harvesting rice, conical hats, cheeky kids with the biggest grins and the list goes on.
Ever since the purchase of my Fuji X100T I pretty much retired my big and bulky Canon DSLRs (7D and 6D) - for street photography and general walk around purpose anyway. My big camera buddies and their lenses will always have a place in my working life but I value the benefits of travelling light more and more these days. There is something liberating in the simplicity of having just one small tool with you. You make it work and you confirm that the best camera is the one that you have with you. You learn to know your settings (and change them fast) and your limitations. You use your legs for zoom if you have to and get closer to people, say hi and show them the photo you took. You have the advantage of being discreet and kind enough not to poke too much glass into people’s faces. You sit and you wait and see what street life brings you. Or you move with the flow.
While shooting life in Cambodia, rather than being in Aperture Mode I often switch to Shutter Priority to either be ready for those fleeing moments of crazy situations that never repeat or slow down to pan some amusing traffic action and get creative. Of course there are situations when Aperture Priority will be better suited such as mulling around in dimly lit markets or taking portraits of people in their natural environment. Mind you, "snapping people" fast is sometimes essential before the dreaded “V” sign makes appearance. So you are stuck between what you know you should do (politely ask for permission) and what you actually want to do (take that candid shot of the person there and then). It’s a fine line where, with a zoom lens you can get away with that candid shot and your “subject” unaware that you took a photo of them whereas with a prime lens (no zoom) you will have to use your little legs to get closer and articulate your way around taking the desired shot. I use a mixture of body language and my embarrassingly basic Khmer language skills to obtain permission followed by a short chat and showing my “models” how beautiful they are (admittedly not so easy if you shoot film!). It’s always appreciated and mostly received with giggles and in good spirits.
The 52 Frames Street Photography challenge took place a while back now but it came around at precisely the right time after all - when I was travelling around Cambodia on a motorbike. It was a mixture of different shapes and sizes of the familiar with a dollop of something special and unknown on the top. The cherry on the cake. I was at home but outside my comfort zone at the same time. So I put on my tourist goggles and snapped away.
Photowalking is the act of walking with a camera for the main purpose of taking pictures of things that the photographer may find interesting.
It is often a communal activity organised by camera clubs, online forums or commercial organisations, sometimes in the form of a walking tour. Often the aim is to practice and improve one's own photography skills rather than a specific focus on documentary photography.
While the camera need not be a digital camera, in practice the low cost of digital photography and the ease of digital photo processing and online photo sharing allow a casual approach in photowalking.
While related to street photography, photowalking is differentiated by its impetus to photograph things of interest rather than people specifically. As with any walking that may go a few miles or kilometers, photowalking can also promote physical fitness.
…. the thing is, there is so much more to Siem Reap than “just” the temples. Trust me, I am a photographer. It doesn't matter if you just arrived or have lived here for half a decade. The lively streets of our little town provide countless source of entertainment – at least for me. How long have I wanted to get a picture of pigs bellies up on the back of a moto? Or other weird and wonderful methods of transportation for that matter.... It's all there, on two, three or more wheels, carrying variable loads and countless passengers. My collection is growing steadily ever since I got inspired by a wonderful book called Carrying Cambodia still for sale today (Monument Books for those who are interested). But it all requires a bit of patience, being in the right place at the right time and being ready with your camera or phone.
People photography can be daunting and so can venturing into a local market armed only with your limited two-word Khmer vocabulary and your camera. There is safety in numbers though and with the right approach and attitude there is a possibility to capture real local gems. From the gory meat section not suitable for vegetarians nor the faint hearted via the fish quarters one can wander past nail and hair salons all the way to the cooked food court and with a bit of courage try some of the items on offer. I always go for the puffy spongy pancakes sold by 10 for just over 50c.
Then we have our colourful pagodas. Local knowledge claims one of them to be at least 400 years old and that is OLD. One would think that after five years in the kingdom of wonder I would be immune to the sight of orange clad monks but no, I'm still clicking away. And the same goes for conical hats bobbing up and down with rice harvest....I can't help it, it just spells Asia.
Now, with our riverfront so nice and green and kept it's actually a pleasure to stroll in the early morning hours when the temperature is still relatively cool and local happenings are in full swing. Taking photographs in a new, exotic place is almost always easy – everything is new and photo-worthy. But what if I was to drag you out of your snuggly bed on a Sunday morning and take you on a short photo walk through the town you have called home for some time? Would you come? Come on, you know you want to! No big bulky equipment is necessary, your phone or pocket compact camera will do a perfectly good job - wait a minute, YOU will do a good job of it. With a few hints and tips on composition and possibly discovering what all these buttons do, you can create amazing images.
My photo walks will run on selected Sundays through the streets of Siem Reap with variable routes and topics. Next one will be Siem Reap in monochrome. In the pipelines I also have some evening walks focusing on low light photography, use of tripod, playing with shutter speed and all that jazz. Locals and visitors alike are welcome so I'm looking forward to seeing you there!
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.