Guest post: Photographing Cambodia

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I am way behind on publishing guest posts. I will try to catch up in the next few weeks. Here is a quick write-up on photographing Cambodia by JonBauer (click on images for larger view):

Last year, I was looking for somewhere interesting to visit and photograph. I looked at photos of lots of places, and decided that Cambodia would make for an interesting trip from a visual and cultural perspective. I think that idea turned out to be absolutely correct! Was hands down my favorite photo experience to date.

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Shooting Cambodia was a spectacular experience. Of course, the locations and landscapes are visually stunning, but in addition, the people are warm, inviting, and fascinating.

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Some friends had booked a photo tour with a professional photographer that's based in Phnom Penh named Nathan Horton. He offers tours of Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Bali, and a few others. His tour was amazing ( In fact, I'm going on his Myanmar tour in October this year.

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If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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  • Jon

    Hi all. If anyone is interested, I’m also posting my shots from a recent trip to Myanmar and India. See

    • fjfjjj

      Poor light.

      • Guest

        You must really be a great photographer. Why don’t you contact admin and set up your own guest post! I see that you do a lot of snarking at other peoples work, it might be worth letting other people snark at yours too…

  • TR_T-Rex

    Amazing photos. I’ve been to Siem Reap, what a wonderful place! It was very interesting that USD was much more widely used instead of their own currency, and I’ve never seen such a variety of booze for such low price!

    Anyhow, which camera and lenses did you use?

    • TR_T-Rex

      Also, did this guy Nathan arranged some monks to pose for you?

      • Jon

        Hi TR_T-Rex. Thanks for the complement. I was using a D700 on that trip, and was using the 14-24, 24-70, & 70-200, plus the 50 f/1.4. Yes, Nathan lives in Phnom Penh, and knows all the monks, nuns, and a lot of other locals in Angkor Wat so he sets most of those shots up! (I know, it’s like finding out there’s no Santa!)

  • Aldo

    HDR or raw? with the d800e sensor we can’t really tell. Awesome work. very inspiring.

    • Jon

      Thanks Aldo!! Some of those shots were done with HDR. The tags on Flickr will let you know which ones. (BTW, I was shooting with the D700 on that trip.)

    • rkas

      Theres really no difference. Tonemapping is tonemapping regardless if the source is one or more pictures.
      But anyways, if he used brackets he just wasted exposures on his camera. All cameras nowadays can capture the range he got in these pictures..

  • Laci

    Pretty artificial posing monks. How much were they paid?

    • JonSF

      No idea. Nathan paid them discretely.

      • Laci

        So you pretty much indirectly bought these setups, most of which may as well could have been taken with a compact camera set to vivid…

        • Jon

          Yeah, exactly right.

        • Z

          A curveball douchebaggery comment, no?

      • nathan horton

        Hi, thanks Mr_Miyagi for interesting insight that ‘times change’ and concern
        that resident monks of Angkor
        Temples might receive some financial benefit for having their picture taken.

        It’s been a major struggle since the Khmer Rouge era but in
        Cambodian’s many local people are finally getting their head above the absolute
        poverty line, including those who dedicate their life to religious practice and

        Although there is a general premise that monks should do
        there best to give up all material wealth as with most human beings in all
        parts of the planet there is also a basic necessity for some financial income.
        Even if it’s just to put a new roof on aging Pagoda, or insure supply of clean
        water and basic food stuff’s.

        If you were a fleeting visitor 20 years ago you will be for
        given for not really understanding that all monks in Cambodia live by means of
        local generosity.

        That generosity often takes the form of a financial donation
        in return for good luck prayers, to local residents and businesses. Since
        Angkor Wat was protected as a UNESCO world heritage site there has been very
        strict regulations about new houses and business being built with-in a six mile
        radius of Angkor Wat. In it’s splendid isolation it doesn’t have that many
        local residents to fall back on.

        Unfortunately the resident monks on Angkor Wat receive not a
        single dollar of millions that are now poring in via the lucrative Angkor
        ticket concession (still majority owned by a Vietnamese petroleum company) but
        they now also have the added problem of very few local neighbors to ask daily
        donations from.

        Subsequently, In the 7 years I have been visiting Angkor Wat
        on a monthly basis I have noticed
        that the quality of life for it’s resident modern monks seems to be in a
        reverse trend to the obvious wealth the ancient monument is now attracting.

        As John has pointed out I run photography tours in Cambodia
        and part of my aim is to teach that all travel photography is to respect and
        truly engage with the people you photograph.

        Now, if I am to also personally to follow what I preach,
        after 7 years of constant engagement you would assume that I know the resident
        monks of Angkor fairly well by now, and indeed I do.

        After many discussions with the head monk I have hopefully
        entered into a mutually beneficial relationship with him where he grants my small
        tour groups privileged access to some of his novice monks in return for a small
        but consistent donation to his woefully under financed pagoda, resident monks and
        orphan school. On previous occasions he has also asked that I help out further
        by donating something extra that they desperately need – simple things like toilets and a
        generator. Because I make reasonable money by local standards I am always
        willing to give back what I can to those who need it, and I do believe in good

        Above all, beside’s the financial aspect the other dialogue
        I have entered into with the head monk is to do our best to represent Angkor
        Wat in a positive way. Unfortunately, as the temples of Angkor Wat has
        gradually become just another destination to tick off the list of things to do
        on the merry-go-round of larger tour companies, all too often many tourists who
        visit have very little appreciation of it’s true significance as a religious
        temple. All too often many inappropriately dressed people turn up to make
        inappropriately (V signed) hand gestures of themselves stood in front of the
        building just to prove they had been there (who needs the t–shirt in the day of
        i-phone photography?)

        I have a special relationship with the head monk because he also
        see’s that I am keen to try a drag back the temples of Angkor from it’s new
        ‘playground’ status and give my students at least the opportunity to try and
        represent Angkor in a sensitive way in respect to it’s on going religious

        With various degree’s of success ( I think John has done a
        great job but I rarely turn keen amateurs into National Geographic Pro’s in 4
        days) I am very proud that these are the kind of images my tours propagate
        around the world. For most Khmer people Angkor Wat is still a place of contemplation
        and prayer.

        For my own take on this theme please visit

        By the way, in no condescending way, if your memory does
        serve you correctly and you did leave the monks ‘a few coins’ just 20 years ago
        it would have been just a token gesture. No Cambodian coins have been in circulation
        since 1975.

        • Aldo

          The fact that you take time to reply to something that started as a douchbaggery comment speaks well of you. Your take on the theme is quite impressive as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • JonSF

      Also – pretty much all shots that have Monks at Angkor Wat are posed. They just don’t go there to pray regularly… So, if you want shots like that (and not everyone does) then, that’s what you have to do…

      • Mr_Miyagi

        Times have changed (not surprising). When I was at Angkor more than 20 years ago, the monks didn’t ask for money to have their pictures taken, but they did appreciate it if you left them a few coins. During my visit, there was a battle going on in the area around Angkor, and there were guards posted at each temple with machine guns. Government forces apparently won a major skirmish that day. The newspaper carried photos of the victorious army commander on the front page, which we saw as we boarded a plane to leave. In his raised arm–as best we could tell from the front line report–he clenched the prosthetic leg of the defeated commander in the rout.

  • Benicio

    oh look, the same tired photos EVERYONE takes in Cambodia

    • Aldo

      everyone except you…. obviously =]

    • JonSF

      Benicio, may we see YOUR portfolio to see how we need to take our photos?

    • Dover

      Nope. There are better ones out there.

  • The HDR shots are way overprocessed, with the typical HDR mistakes most beginners make: black clouds and halos around edges. They are also oversaturated and worse, they actually lack dynamic range – ie they look rather flat in terms of lighting.

    The silhouette shots are pretty good, and the portraits are also decent.

    • JonSF

      Csaba, I know this will sound lame, but over processed is sorta what I was going for on those shots. If you look at my other HDR shots, you’ll see that I know how to use it with a lot more subtlety… Thanks for the other complements!

      • You’re welcome 🙂 Of course, this is a matter of taste, but my problem with such heavy-handed processing is that it’s too common, 90% of shots tagged HDR (on flickr, for instance) would have the same look.

        Angkor is very spectacular, which also makes it kinda tough to photograph, and you do have some nice shots in there 🙂

        • mikeswitz

          Csaba, I understand what you are trying to say, and in some repects I agree with you. But I think what Aldo is saying, and he can correct me if I’m wrong, is that you stated your opinion as fact. JonSF even says he intended the HDR to be over-processed for the look. I just think that if you had prefaced your opinion with “I think…” there would be very little to argue about. I give Jon credit for having the conviction to submit his work as a guest poster and submit himself to comments such as Benicio.

          • Good point there, and sorry if I sounded a bit harsh. That said, the two problems I pointed out are well known problems with HDR photography, so they are factual to some extent 😉

            And I agree, we should give Jon credit for the courage to expose himself to criticism and to take it so well. And finally, I’d like to say that Jon has some amazing shots, and I respect him as a photographer.

        • frank

          I think 10 years from now, HDR images will be the equivalent of Disco. That is to say that it was very popular, everyone loved it (for a while) and then it just lost it’s appeal. HDR is a fad, IMHO, and will last as long as fads do.

      • BluePlanet

        @JonSF Thanks for the article. I did enjoy it!

    • Aldo

      There is really no right or wrong when it comes to hdr… you do what speaks to you. Post your own hdr shots I’m pretty sure I can find something I dislike… doesn’t mean it was done wrong.

      • You can say pretty much the same thing about all types of photography. My problem with this kind of processing is that it’s commonplace and rather predictable. Search for HDR on flickr, and most of them will have the same flat cartoonish look with black clouds and halos.

        I don’t claim to be an HDR expert, and I’ll probably never be as good as Trey Ratcliff or Klaus Herrmann. I don’t have many HDR shots in my portfolio (I think I have about 2 dozen shots in total). That said, here are two forest shots (forests are also tough to photograph):

        • SonyMonster

          Thanks for telling us about those tough to photograph forests. Those dang trees keep jumping all over the place. Really hard to get properly exposed shots without all that motion blur. Timber!

          • Dover

            Fool. You didn’t even notice that the forest images were showing a tasteful use of HDR. Not the sledgehammering that the photos in the article received. And by the way, I don’t think the temples did a lot of jumping around either nitwit.

            • Aldo

              The shots don’t look more than simply pulling out the dark areas. Is that hdr to you?

            • Dover

              Opening up the shadows without increasing the highlights? Therefore increasing the dynamic range? Spoiler: HDR means “high dynamic range”. Now answer your own question Ansel.

            • Aldo

              I guess google is still hard for some people…here we go knock yourself out….

            • Dover

              Increasing shadow detail without losing highlight detail increases the dynamic range Einstein. Put you iPhone away.

            • Aldo

              I know what HDR photography is… you on the other hand… need to use that iphone more often…

            • Aldo

              HDR photography : “Increasing shadow detail without losing highlight detail”

            • Dover

              Ha! Just had a look at your profile. Just an uneducated complainer that makes himself feel better by criticizing others.

            • Aldo

              like I said… You don’t know what HDR photography is yet YOU think you can criticize.

            • Dover

              Pulling out the shadows (opening them up showing more detail) increases the dynamic range, yes. What is so hard to understand? HDR does not mean it has to be an image that is so hammered with software and flattened out with bright shadows and dark highlights that it doesn’t even look real anymore, although newcomers like yourself probably think that is the only definition.

        • Aldo

          I see your point but just because YOU have a problem it doesn’t mean that this excessive processing has an appeal to many people. Of course as photographers we may get bored of seeing the same thing over again, but that takes no merit away from the skill required/needed for producing such shots.

          As far as those two shots you posted, as good as they are, they don’t strike me as hdr. And to my personal liking have too much ghosting. I do see the natural look you go for and I can appreciate what you are trying to project. But you see what I mean? Even that ghosting in your pictures can enhance the photograph depending on your personal liking… it isn’t necessarily a “mistake”.

          • Dover

            I think I’ll step in here. The hdr shots in this article are pretty much cooked. Plain and simple. No bad intentions here just the obvious ham-handed approach is….obvious.

            • mikeswitz

              That is beside the point. The photographer was aware of the “mistake” but that is what he wanted. From his point of view its exactly sushi-handed. You may not like it, and that’s fine, but it is your OPINION, not a fact. There are whole blogs devoted to “over- processed” HDR pics and sometimes, in my OPINION, those pics are great, sometimes not.

          • Degsy

            Spot on

          • peanutpancake

            Everyone hates HDR, except the Instagram kiddos. You could take the same pictures with your iPhone and overprocess them to get the same results as this crap.

        • Dover

          Artful use of hdr.

        • BluePlanet

          @molnarcs:disqus Csaba I do like how you processed your forest shots. Well done. Actually, I like them more than the latest Trey’s shots!

          • That’s quite a compliment! Thank you for your kind words 🙂

        • Frank

          If shadows are the soul of the image, and HDR for the most part has been used to remove those deep shadows, then what are we left with? An image without a soul?

      • wtfdidyousay

        There is no right or wrong when it comes to opinions, even for daft ones such as yours.

        • Aldo

          Oh please spare me of your brilliance mr. unknown…

    • Matt

      The author didn’t post the pics on her asking for critique.. but, predictably, people on here cannot resist.

      • Dave

        If you post pictures on a highly viewed website with a comments section, it’s going to get critique whether you like it or not.

      • BluePlanet

        @Matt What did you expect when you post a picture on a Nikon rumors site that mainly visited by photographers?

        • Aldo

          “…mainly visited by photographers” <— idk about that

          • BluePlanet

            @Aldo Why would one visit a Nikon Rumor site if he/she wasn’t a photographer?

            • Aldo

              good question.

            • zoetmb

              Sometimes I think the people on here and other such sites are very into equipment, but don’t actually go out and shoot very much. Sort of like the expensive car collector who has a garage filled with fancy cars, but never actually drives any of them. They are camera collectors, but not necessarily photographers, even though they may think of themselves as such.

              Or, they do go out and shoot, but basically just aim at something and keep their finger on the shutter button and fire off 50 pics at a time and shoot thousands of pics in a day (and actually brag about that).

              IMO, that’s not really photography or at the very least, it’s not what photography once was. Photography is about making a conscious decision to capture a specific moment. It’s not about essentially shooting a video and then selecting frames after the fact. (All in my opinion, of course.) Sometimes I think the worst thing that happened to photography were the technological advances that led to automatic everything because it enables photographers to shoot without thinking.

    • BernhardAS

      Hmm I live in a place where we have rarely any clouds in the sky. But this morning they were there and they were black.

      Nothing wrong with black clouds they do exist

      • Yes, they do exist, but so does light. The black clouds in these particular photos, however, are the symptoms of overprocessing. Unfortunately, it’s not the only one. A more serious symptom is the lack of any kind of natural light balance. The sky has the same brightness as the foreground. You’ll see the exact same flatness in 90% of HDR images you find on Flickr. I hope you see the irony there – it’s remarkable how most HDR images lack dynamic range. There are exceptions of course, but the photos you see here are obviously not.

        Through his other images, you can see glimpses of Jon’s vision as a photographer. What bothers me is that those HDR images brings down the overall impression of his collection.

        The subject matter is well known – probably one of the most photographed monuments on the planet. The angles presented here are not new. What could have worked is spectacular HDR processing, but that’s really really hard to do. What you see here is not spectacular, but typical. Typical, because the next step would be advanced masking techniques, layer blending, meticulous post-production work (just see one of Klaus Herrmann’s postprocessing timelapses) – attention to detail.

        I believe these photos are at the beginning of Jon’s HDR journey. Everyone has to start somewhere. Check out Trey Ratcliff’s early images – not much better. In fact, his Angkor photos are the least impressive of his portfolio. As I said, it’s a tough subject.

        • JonSF

          Csaba -> I INTENTIONALLY overcooked those images because I liked the effect. Sorry you don’t! It’s ok, not everyone will like what I like. I’m ok with that!

          • I understand that Jon, but considering how good the other photos are, I still think it was a poor choice. This is one of the reasons I made such noise about it, and I’m sorry for some of the negativity my comments generated.

            Our photographs need to stand on their own – we shouldn’t need to explain our intentions.

            • JonSF


            • Can’t argue with that 😉

    • Matt_XVI

      Couldn’t agree any more. The HDR landscape shots look supremely amateur at best. I actually couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw them posted to NR. I have about 60 professional photographers in my Facebook feed (mostly from international conferences) and about 80 amateur photographers (mostly local) and those shots absolutely look like what the amateurs post when they are testing out HDR for the first time around.

      **Not to say that this is a bad photographer what so ever, and I can’t stress that enough, but I’m very surprised that this made it as a guest post on a high-profile on site such as Nikon Rumors.

      As you said the silhouette shots are quite good and portrait shots are decent.

    • onthedot

      I agree. When I see a shot that has obvious HDR, especially when presented with ones that do not, it is so unnatural, I cannot relate to it. I don’t see how it fits into the medium. It is neither photograph or illustration.

      • zoetmb

        I don’t disagree that it might appear unnatural, but I think it’s completely valid as art. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell whether it’s a photograph or illustration. Just as in the world of music, it doesn’t matter if a music recording doesn’t sound like a live performance and instead is something that could only be created in the studio (like the later Beatles’ work).

        All photographic work is not documentary in nature. A photograph should tell a story and/or create an emotion. I think this photographer’s work, including the HDR, does that quite well.

    • Michael

      I think these are excellent photos. I’ve been to each of the locations you shot, and it’s refreshing to see a different take on them. HDR were a bit ‘harsh’ but I actually liked the effect. Same with saturated orange of monks compared to unsaturated backgrounds. But overall, I loved the photos. Here are a couple from my visit last year.

  • Seki Ryunosuke

    Cambodia is a great choice for photo trip. Cambodia and Laos are neglected areas but they have rich cultural backgrounds in spite of tragic history in recent years especially for Cambodia.

  • Andy Aungthwin

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I went to your Flickr set and had a look. I like the one with the boy and plastic containers the best. Beautiful shot.

    We also just got back from Cambodia where I shot with a V1 and mostly with the 18.5mm f1.8 lens. (Also took the 11-27mm)

    I don’t want to side track but want to say that it was such a relief to carry such a small and light combo. And the prints – 30x40cm, look really good!

    Here are some shots from the trip if you want to have a look:

  • Davis5

    Great images but… in some images is to say: raises his hands to the fucking slide Viveza and contrast! is not for you!

    • mikeswitz

      I have no idea what you are trying to say? What’s a “fucking slide Viveza”?

      • Davis5

        lost in traslation… I refer to the last two slide down present in the first folder of adobe camera raw… a lot of people hate this kind of result like an easter egg…

        • mikeswitz

          Oh, yeah. Right. agree.

  • HDR eewwww

  • fjfjjj

    Low level of intentionality in these shots. Vignetting that takes away from the picture and should have been corrected. A silhouette that looks crooked. Highlights that are so compressed and saturated that they almost look blown. Better to spend 6 hours making a good final print/edit of one picture, than to produce a batch of images so flawed.

    • RxGus

      You must really be a great photographer! Why don’t you contact admin and set up your own guest post!

      I see that you do a lot of snarking at other peoples work, it might be worth letting other people snark at yours too…

  • Neopulse

    Thanks for this post, helped me get ideas for what to look for if I ever go visit.

  • Zesty

    this discussion is further proof that the internet is a complete waste of time. an HDR argument…really. Nowadays, everyone is an expert. everyone thinks their voice is the one everyone wants to hear at the podium. everyone thinks they can top the next person. does anyone ever stop and just read articles or enjoy life through photography. I have never been to Cambodia and when I viewed these photos the last thing that crossed my mind was gear or how someone may or may not have over cooked their photos. Who cares. you may be an awesome photographer but in reality you are swimming in the same ocean as many other awesome photographers. you’re not that special.

  • rosshj

    Thanks for sharing. Love the portraits.

    Photography is art, you can do whatever you want with it. If you want to do HDR, go right ahead, don’t listen to anyone else.

    It’s also fine to critique someone’s art, if they ask you for your feedback. Otherwise I suggest keeping it to yourself.

  • zoetmb

    Everyone’s a critic. Regardless of any specific valid complaints (black clouds, etc.), they are very striking photographs and are quite compelling. They made me want to visit Cambodia and they also gave me the impression that the people there are friendly and warm. They convey emotion. That’s the purpose of a photograph.

    Check out this site:

    It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at how internet critics would attack the photographs of the great classic photographers. It’s like the criticism here. I’m absolutely sure that everyone who criticized these images from Cambodia take brilliant photographs themselves on a regular basis.

  • Steven Hyatt

    Hi Jon. Thanks for taking the time to write this post and share your work.

  • Z

    Ignore the snark from the peanut gallery …
    thanks for sharing … enjoyed your photos … makes me wanna book a trip to SE Asia myself …

  • TexDoc

    Just got back from Siam Reap, Bangkok, Philippines with my D7000/18-300 Nikon DX super lens..totally amateur (shot a wedding in the PI posing as “NatGeo”). Great Shots…I did the water mirror one as well.. Poor country. Nice people…great photo stuff. Look on Flickr for Angkor Wat tags.. great stuff.

  • peanutpancake

    That HDR looks disgusting. This guy went all the way up to Cambodia to take HDR landscapes? What’s wrong with him?

  • David Cummings

    HDR Gone Wild. God save us.

  • Nice pictures from Angkor although some of them are a overprocessed to my taste. Anyway the temples of Angkor is a paradise for photographers not be missed:)

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