My first date with Eddie was short and sweet and … incomplete. Let’s say we ran into some problems having to do with Cambodian bureaucracy.
Today I had a second date with Eddie and we had a much better time. All issues have been remedied.
He’s a nice kind of fellow. Talkative, with a matter-of-fact sense of humour and he’s grounded. In a way. One has to be, having lived in Cambodia for more than a decade and being considered part of the inventory. On the other hand, he’s not grounded so much as he most likely spends more time in the air than on terra firma.
Now, of course, dates with Eddie were no ordinary dates. Eddie took me flying!
Microlight flight has been on my Cambodia Bucket List for as long as it has been on the scene but somehow I never got to do it. Despite the fact that I worked in tourism for 3 years. Yes, old boss, if you are reading this, take note :)
I have heard much good feedback and could not wait to jump on board with my camera. Eddie is an accomplished photographer and aside from breathtaking aerial shots of all things Cambodia (which are worthy a coffee table book or two!) he also takes great photos of wildlife - big and small - be it from the air or with feet planted firmly on the ground, stuck in bushes or knee deep in mud. I am a big fan of his work.
I was lucky to be able to join Eddie on his private expedition hence we covered an unusual route. I was lucky that I could have borrowed a lens that almost tipped us over the microlight weight limit and gave my arms a good workout throughout the flight. For gear heads: I was shooting with a Canon 6D and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5 - 5.6L IS II USM lens stripped off the lens hood and camera off the eye piece to remain as streamline as possible. Still, manipulating with this roughly 2.5kg beast in a confined space I could get photography registered as extreme sport after just an hour. And I was only joking about the weight limit, we had plenty of room for more pies.
The exhilarating feeling when taking off is probably the closest to my dreams of flying, without the flapping hands and maybe just a bit faster. What precedes is a safety check of runway, machine warm up, strapping of my body into the cocoon pod neatly tucked behind the pilot’s seat, placement of headphones and microphone finished off with a helmet with full-face visor and throwing my slip on sandals overboard (read: Eddie’s car which is locked) because anything that could potentially fall out and hit the propeller in the back would be trouble. Big trouble. So I was flying barefoot. It doesn’t get any more free than that! The grin remains on my face just thinking about it. Cellphone photos, unless your device is somehow glued to your hand or strapped to your wrist like a point-and-shoot camera, are out of question.
Eddie would know everything about the different faces of Cambodia in different seasons. The rainy season has its obvious draws with everything green, whereas now, during the tail end of the dry season we fly over patchwork of cappuccino coloured plots of land, cows roaming in the dust and looking up, the lake shrunk to its lowest levels in years which is a worrying thought. The edges of its murky waters are lined with giant arrow-like fish traps making for a great photo opportunity. In the already bright morning light the scene is almost devoid of colour but there are soft hues of pinks, oranges, greens and many shades of milky brown. People are small dots recognisable by distinctive waving gestures. Eddie always waves back and I do too when I am not too busy shooting and taking the scenery in.
So, is shooting easy from the up there? Not really. Well, it’s easier with smaller cameras, medium sized lenses and point-and-shoots. But with a long lens and a very confined space plus obstacles in the form of wires and other controlling gear, gadgets and devices it’s hard to frame and compose the scene. Also considering that Eddie’s microlight, which I have renamed Giggly (see registration on wing), travels at roughly 110km/h it can be compared to shooting from a fast moving speed boat. So it’s essential to “crank up” the shooting speed to roughly 1/1250 sec or faster if zooming in to eliminate shake as much as possible, while leaving all other settings for the camera to decide. Also don't forget to activate your image stabiliser. Because most cameras have their shutter button on the right it’s generally easier to shoot scenes to your left and Eddie is well aware of this making his flight path the most convenient for your photographic needs. The fact that full head gear is worn makes it hard to frame the scene through the viewfinder so often I had to adopt the point and shoot approach with only a tiny fraction of the scene visible through the viewfinder from about 10 cm away from my right eye. But the benefits of having such a long lens outweigh the limitations by a long shot - pun intended. The zoom cuts out scenes nicely, showing all the interesting patterns on the ground, gets closer to people and their habitats but it’s also possible to still get a decent wide angle shot when focusing on the horizon at 100mm. Small point-and-shoots and wide angle lenses will have the limitations of losing all the interesting details and not being able to get to the scenic stuff close enough.
Needless to say, it’s important that you arrange your settings and focus buttons on your lens before take off. There is little room for fiddling about and if you don’t know your camera well enough to change shutter speed by a simple scroll of your finger, learn it first before you go up and try to shoot - if photography is your main objective. If you just want to take things in with your eyes, that’s just fine!
We travelled approximately 120km during one hour and some minutes as a bonus thanks to Eddie’s clock running 15 minutes fast. A clever way to buy some time! We waved to the smiling faces of Kompong Khleang and Kompong Phluk, flew over thickets of greenery, which, shaped as rectangles, suggested the presence of ancient temples or remains thereof. The maximum height achievable in local conditions is 250 meters but often we would be cruising at much lower altitude, not only seeing but also smelling the thick waters of the lake! That’s what I call enhanced experience!
One hour in the air allows for a pretty good look at what surrounds us here in Siem Reap. It’s a way of getting your revenge on this pancake-like land with only a few hills breaking up the monotonous straight line as far as the eye can see. Shorter flights will offer a taster of Cambodia from air with varied routes in all directions, the lake being Eddie’s favourite. You are likely to see temples, herds of buffaloes, solitary cows, patches of rice fields in different stages of planting, harvest or rest, vibrant fishing communities on stilts or afloat and get a tingling buzz of adrenalin in your limbs when you touch the ground again. I fear it’s very addictive, this sort of thing.
Hurry up and book a flight. The fish traps will disappear soon as the seasons are about to change. Mind you, you can’t really lose. Later, with rains, the land will be soaked and glistening in the sunshine, shoots of young rice blinding your eyes with incredibly vibrant green and you may have to de-saturate your photos in processing to make it more believable.
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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.