Angkor Wat is probably one of the most loved locations for travel photographers. The image of the sun rising reflected in one of the small pools in front of the main complex is iconic. The scene oozes stillness, calm, serenity and beauty. What the photo doesn't show you is the hundreds of other tourists gathered behind, beside, around, on top of you, all clamouring to 'get the shot'.
So much for the serenity.
I'd love to say I opted out of the madness of sunrise at the reflecting pond on purpose, or principal. But in reality, I just got lost.
I had showed up well before sunrise, pedalling a bike through the early morning darkness from Siem Reap and after leaving the bike, set out looking for the location for the classic shot. Perhaps foolishly, I didn't scope out the location in it's entirety. I think I was perhaps dissuaded from entering the temple complex itself by the throngs of people hurrying over the walkway and beyond the gates of the temple, however if I had known for certain that inside was in fact the location of 'Classic Angkor', I have no doubt I would have scurried in along with them, and ended up elbowing and jostling for position at the edge of the reflecting pool as the first light breached the temple peaks.
Not quite the ideal start to a day.
Chances are, I would have been too late to get the shot anyways, being stuck behind scores of people all waiting to get to the front of the line and snap their souvenir.
In the end I was much happier that I ended up outside the gates of Angkor, watching the sun rise with a quiet crowd of only a dozen or so others. Peaceful, serene, Angkor Wat as it should be.
I was initially a little disappointed at the photographic opportunity that the location presented. The main temple was off in the background, not the least bit dominant in the frame. Exploring my surroundings however I soon noticed these beautiful Lotus flowers rising from the water, and I knew I had a special shot.
My sunrise at Angkor experience ultimately taught me something about photography, and the value of not simply accepting what has been done before as the only 'best' shot of a location, even (maybe especially) if the shot is iconic.
I still got a version of the classic shot of Angkor, but I would have missed this opportunity entirely if I had only focused on the shot that's been taken a million times already. At this point, this image is more special to me than the other. I feel as though this shot has some originality, some of my personality in it, whereas the other is simply a carbon copy.
Since this shot and my experience it has become second nature to work my way around a scene that I am already familiar with through the photos of others. Exploring the different angles before ending with the classic shot, only after all other alternatives have been covered.
For technical details the shot was bracketed with the lotus being manually blended in PS.
I'd love to hear your experiences with photographing iconic images. Is there a specific way you prepare for them? Research the location? Workflow for when you arrive? Let me know in the comments section!