Photographing Angkor Wat

There are few places in the world as beguilingly photogenic as Angkor, where brightly-clad Buddhist monks wander crumbling temples overrun by tree roots and the vines of strangler figs, all set against a backdrop of steamy forest.

But while its temples are slowly overrun by the ever advancing jungle, the Angkor complex itself is being overrun by the sheer number of visitors it receives each day. Photography vacations, are by their very nature, a more relaxed and responsible way to explore this fragile site. You’ll travel more slowly, seek out the quieter spots away from the coach-trip hordes and find that photography here is even better when backed by the dramatic skies of the ‘off’ season.

Angkor photography highlights

Angkor Wat

The Cambodian sun silhouetting Angkor Wat’s stone towers as it rises is as an iconic an image as you can get, and reflected in the mirror-flat, lily-specked waters of North Pond it becomes a photography dream. Don’t expect to have sunrise to yourself though – you’ll be jostling for tripod space with a horde of other tourists so arrive early and be prepared. You’ll also enjoy capturing the early morning shadows dancing across the 800m stretch of intricate bas-reliefs (stone carvings) that decorate the temple’s outer walls.

The Bayon

Over 200 serenely-smiling faces stare out from the upper towers of the Bayon, with at least a dozen or more visible from any angle as you explore. Visit in the late afternoon after the majority of the crowds have disappeared - most people tend to head here in the mornings - and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of time and space for peaceful photography among the hazy shadows of the soft, evening light.

Beng Mealea

Remote and barely escaping its jungle clutches, huge Beng Mealea – around 40km from the main Angkor complex – is one of most photogenic, and quieter, temples in the region. Visit early in the morning and you’ll be one of the only people there – with the added bonus of the misty, morning light creating perfect conditions for mysterious atmospheric photos of the moss and creeper-covered stones.

Phnom Bakheng

Touted as Angkor’s top spot for sunset – and certainly top spot for sunset crowds – we suggest bucking the trend and watching the sunrise here instead. This hilltop temple offers spectacular panoramic views across the Angkor complex and is just as glorious in the early morning light. If you want a decent image of Angkor Wat though, you’ll need at least a 300mm lens – the iconic temple is 1.3km away.

Preah Khan

Sat in a dense pocket of jungle, Preah Khan is a photographer favourite for its huge trees, which tower over the temple roof with roots that wrap themselves around its distorted stone walls. Take some time to soak up the atmosphere here – camera at the ready – and you might capture the parakeets that call it home too. It’s also an excellent alternative to the busier Ta Prohm – the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’.

Tonlé Sap Lake

Just 15km from Siem Reap, Tonlé Sap offers an alternative style of photography to the jungle and temple vistas of Angkor, with boat trips taking you to traditional stilt villages and colourful floating markets. Communities here are poor – so choose a tour which supports small scale tourism projects generating a sustainable income, for example the Prek Toal water hyacinth weaving project. You’ll enjoy much closer personal interaction with local people too – perfect for charismatic portrait photography, but don’t forget to ask for your subject’s permission first.

Photography vacation practicalities

Photography vacations to Angkor Wat are open to photography enthusiasts of all abilities, whether you’re a complete beginner or an almost-pro. While there’s no prerequisite for an expensive camera (you can turn up with you iPhone if you prefer) you’ll find that most people joining a specific photography vacation are unlikely to pay the extra to do so unless they’re quite serious about improving their skills. You can expect most participants to bringing a basic digital SLR along for the ride at the minimum.
Vacations with a specific photography focus will usually include time in the Angkor Archaeological Park as part of a wider itinerary through Cambodia – taking in a range of photography subjects from rural countryside to busy cityscapes. You’ll be accompanied by a professional photography tutor, who will be on hand to offer advice on how to improve your skills. They won’t be lining up photos for you – but offering tips as to how to use the light to your best advantage, or suggesting ideas for shots that you perhaps might not have considered.
If you’re simply after some guidance on taking better photos at Angkor, then you might prefer to enjoy the services of a photography guide for just a couple of days. Your Cambodia vacation specialists should be able to help arrange this for you.
Lesley Schofield from our Southeast Asia specialists All Points East, explains more about how photography tours work: “With photography tours where you have a professional experienced travel photographer accompanying you, the aim is the help you make the most of your style of photography. These are very small group tours – a maximum of 10 guests, but often smaller so help and tutoring is given on a very individual basis. You’ll find in the evenings the group will often help each other edit, review and process the day’s photos, sharing knowledge and experience – with the tutor on hand too.”
“For photography vacations you’ll need enough flexibility in your itinerary to play it by ear when it comes to the weather. So, if the weather isn’t great you might have to wait a day or so for the sunrise shot at Angkor and swap your itinerary around.”
“Generally we build in an extra day on our photography tours. You’ll also spend more time at each temple and see less of them. Every part of the itinerary is designed with flexibility in mind and you’ll travel more slowly to give you the opportunity to capture the best photos you can”.

Our top Angkor Wat Vacation

Cambodia photography vacation

Cambodia photography vacation

11-day Cambodia Tour with a Professional Travel Photographer

From US $1825 9 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2019: 30 Nov, 25 Dec
2020: 17 Jan
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Angkor Wat or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to go on a photography vacation to Angkor Wat

Keen photographers should seriously consider the May to October rainy season. Not only will you encounter fewer crowds – and fewer selfie sticks making an unwelcome appearance in your carefully lined-up shot – but you’ll also be rewarded with dramatic skies and vibrant, lush countryside. Rain generally comes in short, but torrential downpours, easily avoided by heading to one of the small cafes that dot the Angkor Archaeological Park – and the images of the clouds rolling in behind the temples can be spectacular. April is generally too hot to be comfortable, but if you’d prefer more consistently dry weather then travel in November to March, however this is peak season so you’ll need to be prepared to be patient to get that perfect picture. Either way, your expert photography guide should be able to help you find the quieter spaces in the busiest of spots.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: anna_oj000] [Beng Mealea: Lawrence Murray] [Tonle Sap: Julia Maudlin] [Practicalities: JJ Ying] [Lesley Schofield quotes: Greg Willis]
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