In Siem Reap, Cambodia there is nothing more famous or iconic than the ancient Temple compound of Angkor Wat. True to it’s reputation, it’s become the most popular sunrise spots in all of Cambodia. With the main entrance facing the west, sunrises have the potential to produce vivid and beautiful light directly behind the temple spires. So on one early morning, I marked my spot at the waters edge and watched as the purple light danced above, brilliantly illuminating the sky as well as the blooming water lilies on the pond below.

Now, while I could talk this moment up some more and make it sound totally romantic, let’s get real instead. 😀

An iPhone snap of the scene to my right.

The truth is that this place is slammed with people in the morning—to a ridiculous degree. There are literally hundreds of people trying to push and cram into the lineup to get the shot using, iPhones, Androids, iPads – whatever they have with them. Those of us on the frontline arrived at least 1.5 hours early to secure the spot. And for every one of us up front, there are a dozens of people behind, trying to push through anyway they can. As a photographer, you have to draw the line in the sand and protect the valuable real estate, while trying to manage random arms and hands pushing through every possible hole in your defenses. People’s cameras over your shoulder, by your face, around the side, underneath, and everywhere else they can go… Getting felt up by cameras? Now how’s that for romantic? ;p

It’s important to point out that this is pretty common with famous locations and as photographers, it’s also a great example of why we get up so early in the morning. If the shot is important to you, then do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means a 4am wake up call. Personally, I’d rather be the guy up front than the one stuck in the back of the crowd, especially with a such a beautiful sunrise.

Technical Mumbo Jumbo

Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70 f/2.8 (Shot at 35 mm)
Tripod: RRS TVC-33 / BH-55 Ballhead / RRS L-Plate
ISO: 100 at f/4.5
1 Exposure at 30 seconds.

Location: Shot in Siem Reap, Cambodia – December 2012, and post-processed in Phuket, Thailand – December 2012.

Hardware: 15” 2011 Macbook Pro, Wacom Intuos5 Small Tablet

Software: Lightroom, Photoshop, NIK Color Efex Pro 4, NIK Define

Technique and Details: RAW Processing / Photoshop Editing

First, there was absolutely no color added to this photo. The sky was really that beautiful. Using curves in Photoshop, I only made some minor tweaks to the overall brightness and contrast, making sure to bring out the natural pink and purple tones.

After balancing the brightness and contrast, I also recovered about 5% of the of the temple structure luminance to make it a bit more than just a silhouette.

Espresso: Lavazza Oro (I’m down to the last of my coffee supply. Oh no!)

As the sun rises over Angkor Wat Temple, the skies light up with beautiful red and purple light.