Cambodia Photo Workshop

Each year I travel overseas to lead a photographic workshop. This year, while Yunnan province in China was the original destination of choice, the logistics surrounding SARS fears made this all too difficult. So, Cambodia was the last minute alternative. I was pleasantly surprised when almost all those who were originally planning to travel to Yunnan province were happy to rearrange, just so they could enjoy an overseas destination where photography was the priority. That – perhaps more than the destination itself – is the benefit of photographic tours and workshops.

Cambodia is a fascinating place and it has progressed remarkably well despite the devastation caused by Pol Pot and his unfathomably brutal KhmerRouge regime in the late 1970s. The result of Cambodia’s gradual ascension back to normality is a struggling society that finds itself tottering between the technologies of the 21st century and the traditions of its age-old culture. For the photographer, this is an ideal place to be. Images abound and range from tropical landscapes and ancient temples to multitudes of faces and colours in villages and vegetable markets.

Within minutes of our arrival on the first day, we were in such a marketplace, and it was a great way to get started. Each day after that, I had my crew up at 4:30am or 5am, ready to be on location for sunrise and the early morning light. There were few objections, as we all knew too well that we were here to seize the best photographic opportunities. As the sun rose behind the magnificent Angkor Wat complex, there were certainly no complaints as camera whirred and clicked madly for those few fleeting minutes. When the sun was too high for pictures, we shopped, or waited in our swimming pool for the late afternoon and yet more photo opportunities. In this respect photo tours are ideal for photographers who enjoy travel photography. Photographers prefer to spend their time taking pictures, not organising tours, meals and accommodation. Photo tours take care of the needs of the photographer by ensuring that the group is not only in the right place at the right time, but that their logistical needs are also catered for.

The other benefit is the “birds of a feather” factor. Within a very short time, each of us on the tour had made friends, bonded by our shared passion for photography. Warring factions also formed – Canon users against Nikon users – and the friendly hostilities began. The war still rages by email. For the first time on an overseas shoot, I was able to take pictures digitally. It’s said that a picture paints a thousand words, and the little pictures on the back of my camera were often enough for me to explain a technique to the group. Using the screen, I revealed my ideas for perspective, composition, exposure and viewpoint with anyone at any time. For me, this was ideal, and I know that it benefited those who travelled with me. It was also ideal for breaking the ice in marketplaces and villages where the locals featured in thousands of images. All I had to do was show them the little screen, and suddenly they were “famous”. Back on the bus, each of us would discuss the images we’d made and the experiences that accompanied them. It was tremendous fun, and reminded me that there really is no better way to fly than with birds of a feather.

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