It’s quite a moving experience to be at Bayon temple first thing in the morning. Getting there before dawn is easy, with hundreds of local tuk tuk drivers willing to pick you up at your hotel or guest house in Siem Reap at 5 AM and be with you all day for only $10 US. Thousands of tourists trek to Angkor Wat every day to view sunrise at the big temple, the namesake of Angkor Wat. Most people don’t start the day anywhere but the main temple. This is great to know if you really want your soul to experience and absorb the essence of Angkor Wat. My takeaway is; get there early and stay completely away from the main temple.
At the time I visited here, two months ago, the impact of the experience wasn’t fully in my consciousness. My focus was on photography, more than “being” with the soul of this place. Even then, it was difficult not to just stop photographing and bask in the essence of Bayon. Inside me still dwells a sense of missing out on what the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm are all about. Between my exuberance to photograph everything and the masses of tourists, there was little time or inclination to just stop and contemplate this place. Next time.
Visiting and photographing at Angkor Wat has been on the old bucket list for a long time. When the time came, it was very exciting for me, of course! Then, when I came back home to the US, why is it that I didn’t immediately transfer the photos off the SD cards onto my iMac and process them? Always, throughout my life, I have been totally impatient to see my results. Why am I not attached to that this time?
Two months have gone by and I only began working on my Angkor Wat photos last week. For two long months I’ve often ask myself the question, “Why not?”
The first thing that I’m present to is a fear of failure or not being a good enough photographer. What if I didn’t get any great shots at Angkor Wat? When I was there shooting, that very same question was in my mind. I felt fearful that I wasn’t getting what I had travelled so far to get. This is especially true of my short time at Ta Porhm. Ta Phorm is the temple where Laura Croft – Tomb Raider was filmed. The trees of the jungle have taken over at Ta Phorm and are literally consuming the sandstone walls of the ancient temple. This makes for very interesting and dramatic photos… but is so not good for preservation of the work of the ancient Khmer empire. Tree roots always win.
At Ta Phrom I was disappointed that I didn’t get any really great shots… at least nothing I’m looking at right now is inspiring me. It may have been that I didn’t get to Ta Phrom until later in the morning and it was crawling with tourists by then. The heat was getting oppressive too and it was only about 9 AM. There was also a lot of construction/restoration going on so many places were off limits or just not photogenic. My right brain was a bit weary from the full-on artistic assault earlier at Bayon. To be smart, I should have quit and come back for a third day to get a fresh start… before the crowds… before the heat. Are these all just excuses to hide some deeper fear that I just wasn’t good enough?
Finally, after two months, last week I mustered up the courage and processed three HDR photos from Angkor Wat. Then, over the weekend I processed the morning sunrise shot of Bayon at the top of the page using only Adobe Lightroom 4.3 and the Photomatix merge-to-32-bit Lightroom plugin.
I’ve talked about this software combination before. Back in August when Photomatix released this plugin I was so happy. Using it to merge my bracketed RAW files into an HDR radiance file turns out to be a workflow that works with ease & grace within Lightroom and returns spectacular results…. even for beginners to HDR photography! It’s always gratifying when I am able to process a photo so easily and it comes out so nice. With this one I didn’t use Topaz, Nik, or OnOne filers at all. No Photoshop needed either. All it takes is selecting the three bracketed photos in Lightroom, right click sending them direct to the Photomatix merge-to-32-bit plugin where they are merged and automatically re-imported right back into Lightroom for final processing! No muss, no fuss. It doesn’t get any easier to make perfect HDR images with this software combo!
Just to give you an idea of the power of Lightroom and the Photomatix plugin, here is what the RAW file from my Nikon looks like. Click to enlarge and compare it with the similarly enlarged photo above.
This RAW photo is exactly like what most vacationers come home with; pictures that looked so great when you took them and lose everything when you finally see it on your screen. We all have experienced that disappointing letdown. Those shots become lost and quickly forgotten. Such a shame.
What I’m saying here is, who would have known that this forgettable throwaway vacation shot could so easily end up becoming so great a photograph that you would want to proudly hang on your wall? All it takes is a few minutes of time to process. Do you think you might have some epic shots of your own lurking on your hard drive? Beautiful pieces of art that simply haven’t yet been nurtured into existence with the help of Lightroom and Photomatix? Yeah. I KNOW you have some of those.
Why not get Lightroom and the Photomatix merge-to-32- bit plugin and let out the artist in you? Here’s a tip; save 15% on any Photomatix product by using the promo code “PerfectHDR” when you buy.
Last week I processed and posted a different shot of Bayon temple taken about 20 minutes before the one on this page. For that one I was on the south side of the temple before sunrise and this shot is taken from the north and the new day’s sun rays shining on the right side of the spires. I like both shots. It’s the foreground in both shots that, for me, make these images so wonderful to welcome and draw the eyes in. Then I find myself exploring in the rich details of the temple itself and the surrounding jungle.
This photograph just nails the essence of what it was like at Bayon that morning. The stillness in the air. The solemness of the sacred temple ruins that a millenium ago was the finest tribute to Buddha in the Khmer empire. The sturdiness and resiliency of the sandstone spires rising over the jungle pitted against time and nature, yet acknowledging the reality that nature always wins that one
After living with the above shot for the past two days, I think I can say that this is my best photo of all time. I didn’t fail and my fear of not being good enough is gone. Hope you like it too.