Making of 40 Photographs #21

This is #21 in my series ‘Making of 40 Photographs’. A lot of images work because there is a repeating theme within. Often I feel, composition is about breaking down a scene into the simplest components available. Like I’ve said before - it’s more often about what you omit from the scene than leave in that’s important.

Simple is good. Simple is effective.

Angkor Wat Crescent Moon Sky

I’d wanted to come to the Angkor Wat temple complex ever since I first saw Steve McCurry’s work here. But I just hadn’t expected the thronging crowds that gather there each morning at 5am to watch the sunrise. So powerful is the tourist brochures, that the place is swamped with over 1,000 people each morning.

So I was looking to exclude them. Would you know that this shot was actually taken in a packed place? If I’d shot 90 degrees to my left or right, you would have seen a row of wannabe National Geographic photographers - photo vests adorned, Canon L series glass at the ready for this sunrise shot.

But what I was attracted to was the crescent moon shape in the sky. If we think about this image, it’s not really about Angkor wat. It’s really about that sky, reflected in the small moat within the Angkor grounds, and that crescent moon shape - created by mirroring the top half of the frame.

Positioning myself at the very edge of the moat allowed me to extract all the other tourists out of the shot. I’m always looking at the bigger picture too so I couldn’t help but take in the expanse of the sky and the textures going on in it. Angkor was far too dark to use as a main subject so I resigned it to becoming a silhouette - breaking down the scene into a collection of simple shapes and forms is an effective approach. But don’t forget the quality of that monsoon light too. Shot in the early hours, I knew the dynamic range was narrow (once I’d accepted that the temple would be almost black), so it was now just down to figuring out how best to represent the sky, and I did that by utilising the mirror effect and that crescent moon shape too.... simple forms, simple repeating patterns and great light are often all that’s required to create a new reality that’s pretty effective.