A Picture is worth a Thousand Words

I use a lot of photos on my blog. But for years I’ve always wanted to take and use better ones. It’s not that I lack opportunity for great shots what with the amount of travel I do. For example whilst I was on Spain’s Camino last month, I took some not bad pictures. But then I saw photos taken by other people of the same places, and mine looked dreary in comparison.

A monkess in the temple near Silk Island.

It unfortunately all came to a head then last month when I was about to sell a story to a pretty cool magazine. The editor said his decision would be down to how good my story photos were. Needless to say, he didn’t buy the script.

The Golden Temple outside Phnom Penh, on the road to Silk Island.

First step was to buy a better camera. After asking those in the know, I opted for a Nikon D90. And I was able to buy it in Cambodia and got it at a surprisingly good price.

Next I had to learn how to use the blummin’ thing.

Fishing around in Cambodia’s floating village.

A friend recommended that I go see Nathan Horton, a photographer based in Phnom Penh. He runs weekend courses out of Cambodia’s capital as well as a host of other tours. Two days of training costs 200 USD at this time of year.

Old lads hanging out on the floating village, Kampong Channang.

I wasn’t feeling the most confident as I rocked up to his studio. I was a complete beginner, and had only taken the Nikon camera out of its packaging the day before. There were five other people in the class. And they seemed pretty confident around their apparatus.

Fortunately Nathan didn’t ask us how experienced we were or ask us our expectations. Instead he launched straight into a session, explaining to us all the basics. It was all ISOs and f-stops and shutter speeds. After two hours, I knew enough to never have to use the automatic setting on my camera ever again.

Cambodian lady with traditional khmer scarf on Odong Hill.

Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Silk Island, a 10km drive and ferry ride out of Phnom Penh. I’ve been to this place ten times already what with its mountain bike trails. However Nathan was able to bring us to spots and show us stuff that I had never before seen out there.

Weaving silk on Silk Island, Cambodia.

We went first to the temple I’ve passed so many times, and took photos of a Buddhist water-cleansing ceremony. And then we went into the temple itself to take advantage of the light and to create photos of the monks and monkesses.

A Buddhist Cleansing Ceremony near Phnom Penh.

We then spent a few hours joy riding around the local villages. We stopped to take photos of shop-keepers, people weaving silk, kids playing around, and to get a few tips on how to take motorbikes at high speed.

Sundown over the Tonle Sap river, and waiting for the ferry back to Phnom Penh.

The next day we had another morning session, this time on the subtleties of travel photography. We talked about composition and the rules of thirds, how to engage better with locals, and when to get the best light.

Fishing in Kampong Channang.

Then we got to practice it all in Kampong Channang in the floating villages. On the drive back we stopped at Odong and the temples on the hillside to try and capture the sunset.

Buddhist monkess on Odong hill.

I was totally amazed at how much better my photos were after a few hours of simple instruction. And I was even shocked to realize how much more I enjoyed travelling within Cambodia when I had the goal of taking better pictures. Now all I have to do is take the time to practice and to use these new found skills.

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