Tips for Best Sunrise Capture in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Photography of Angkor Wat Temple during sunrise is a must do activity if you are a travel photographer.

It is a photographer’s dream to get the best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple, framing it in its full glory. Light plays a crucial role to get that perfect capture and light is different on different days and months. No two days can have similar scene; each new day is a new spectacular scene. A good deal of planning and loads of luck is needed for a very colourful frame. The month of the year, the weather that day and your location – all these decides how good a capture you will get. I have categorized main factors that one has to keep in mind to plan for a good shot of this great Hindu Temple.

Best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple

What time of the year

Sun rises everyday, so what time of the year is the best to frame it?

During the 12 months of the year sun takes different positions in the horizon to rise. Sun moves from south to north during the months March to September and back to south from north during the months September to March. Twice during this period, in the equinox dates of March and September, the sun rises directly above the main tower. So if you wish to get that ball of fire resting on the sharp spire these equinox dates of March and September are ideal.

Also during Jan to April, the sky is usually cloudless. The chances of getting dramatic colored clouds during Jan to April is slim.

As monsoon sets in, clouds float in and chances of getting dramatic captures are more. Since my travel dates had to coincide with my children’s vacations I had to forget all such plans. In the month of May sun is still at south and in all my photographs I got it at one extreme end of the complex. Luckily there were some clouds and on my second attempt I did get some red skies.

Best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple

Best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple

Best location for best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat

There are several locations inside and outside the temple complex to frame Angkor Wat temple with rising sun. Go for that location where you are able to frame the temple, its reflection and the rising sun behind it. The water bodies around the temple give ample opportunities to frame the temple with its reflections in water. I initially positioned myself outside the temple across the moat, later moved inside and got the temple with its reflection in a small pond which is to the right of the path to the temple.

Angkor wat Plan

The best position to capture Angkor Wat in its full glory is at the extreme corner of the pool in the left side of the path to the temple. I have marked it X in the picture. That place is the one which gets fully occupied by tripods. I found the pond with lots of lily pads.

The next most sought after place for best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat is the pond in the right side of the path. This one didn’t have any lily pads growing in it. Finally the place beyond the moat is filled up. You will get the reflection of the main gate to the temple and also the temple with its 4 spires from here, though the sight of newly constructed foot bridge is an eye sore.

Proper gear for that perfect capture

The night life at Pub Street of Siem Reap is interesting but you have to resist all that temptation and hit the bed early. Best location gets crowded very fast; it is first come first get so you have to rise early to capture that place. As per Angkor Wat standards, a 4AM riser can be assured of that coveted space. I learned this the hard way. Arrive much before the actual sunrise time. It is then you will get the entire drama of changing tones, colors and hues in the sky.

Take a tripod with you for that perfect undisturbed capture. A click on camera too brings that unavoidable shake to the picture. Remote control for camera also is advisable.

Best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple

Settings matter

Shoot in RAW mode
Landscape mode
Manual mode, if not comfortable in that try Av mode that way you can lock the aperture
low ISO with a tripod, around 100 or 200

Some composition tips

Too much symmetry can be boring
Allow dramatic clouds to occupy two thirds of the picture
Remain longer at the place; there are chances of getting many interesting elements in frame
Try different settings, different exposure times
Try different locations, plenty of water bodies around the temple.

Best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple

Good luck for that great shot

Remember that 90 to 95% of all that wow pics you see of Angkor Wat Temple at sunrise are photo-shopped. So don’t be disappointed if your pics are not anything similar. You can always enhance your captures to enlarge and frame them up for your wall. Good luck that to get those dramatic skies to get the best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat!

Best sunrise capture in Angkor Wat Temple

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21 Responses

  1. Thanks for all tips. Awesome clicks.

  2. Niranjan R says:

    Helpful tips, Indrani.

  3. I will definitely keep this in mind, nothing can really be more rewarding than capturing a perfect sunset or sunrise and Cambodia has been on top of my travel list and I will surely apply this tips once I get there! Cheers!

  4. I’ll be using your tips to assist with photographing sunrise and sunset in general. Thanks so much.

  5. Wow, I normally go to a place and get an image based on luck but I see there is so much go more going on when you want the perfect sunrise picture at Angkor Wat. The time of year, the season are definitely worth considering and a colourful sky will really add to the picture. Important tips only where to take the picture from and to get there early too, so go to bed early. I over photo shop my photos and would love to photo shop Angkor Wat sunrise photos, so colourful!

  6. Kevan says:

    Just like studying up on travel locations, it is more important for a serious photographer to do even more research to get that perfect shot. You’ve done a great job of being very detailed and could save someone a lot of time trying to get the shot they want (or a shot they never would have been able to get.) Living in Las Vegas I am close enough to the Grand Canyon that I have photographed it in all seasons and times of day and realize how important the changes in lighting and atmosphere are to a photo.

  7. yukti says:

    Wow lovely shots of sunrise in Angkor Wat. I am a great lover of sunrise and love to shoot them. You have given a very detailed information about how to take best shot and from where. I am also riding in the same boat like you, that during children’s vacation I can go for holidays. Tips for Setting modes in Camera is gr8 and I will save it for future reference for all sunrise shot.

  8. This is such a useful post! I’m so sad I’m so far away right now. But I’m hoping to get back to SEA at the end of next year. So I have added this to my Pinterest. I love how you have not only broken down when the best place to get a good sunset is but also where to take it from. Thank you so much, this is so helpful!

  9. This is the guide EVERYONE needs if going to Angkor Wat! Nothing feels better than going right away to the right spot and take the money shot without being worried you are missing out on it because of time! Great guide and so spot on!

  10. Kim says:

    When the water is still it gives the perfect mirror effect! Great photography tips, sounds like I need to invest in a tripod asap. Thanks for the useful map with the location clearly shown, going to keep this in mind when I visit Angkor Wat.

  11. Excellent post. Hadn’t factored in the time of year but that makes so much sense to get the perfect sunrise positioning. Grateful for the positioning tips too.

  12. Iza Abao says:

    I have not visited Angkor Wat yet but I am curious how to take awesome photos of this place. They were probably edited a lot.
    You have mentioned excellent tips. I am not good in my photography skills yet. I think it is quite difficult to capture a massive historical monument or building. I would probably buy a tripod before visiting the Angkor Wat. Your photos look great. The water reflection looks nice too.

  13. Ha! Thanks for this! These tips should come in handy as I’ve been thinking of going to Cambodia myself. Looks like equinox day this Sept would be the best day to capture the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

  14. Monica says:

    Beautiful. I visited this January and your pictures just rekindled memories. I lost track of how many pictures I clicked of Angkor Wat and visited four times at different timings as the temple changes shades with sun. Your photos are fantastic and you are right that one can never be satisfied with the pictures as the ones online are heavily photoshopped. I liked your idea of inverted photo. Great

  15. Jean says:

    These are wonderful photos of Angkor Wat. Well done on getting up early and snapping the sunrise. It’s a magical experience and I can’t wait to do it again one day soon:

  16. Cat says:

    Great information on capturing the perfect sunrise at Angkor Wat! I have never been so this is super helpful when I travel there in the future! I try to avoid monsoon season in South East Asia though because the chances of not having a clear sky for sunrises are quite high.

  17. Great tips, I bet this is a common question for many visitors wanting to capture it! Sunrises are so beautiful, especially when you can see the reflection in the body of water. The other trick I would add is about framing. Find natural elements in the foreground that you could use to frame your shot. Am yet to visit South-East Asia – one day though!

  18. Nancy says:

    Thanks for these tips. I visited Angkor Park earlier this year – we had so-so weather and it was very busy. I wish I had this guide before our trip!

  19. Chris says:

    What a handy guide! I wish I’d had access to this resource when I was there back in 2013, although that would have required not sleeping in until 11am. Whoops!

  20. Thanks Indrani for sharing such wonderful tips. Am heading out there in August, and clicking Angkor Wat during Sunrise was definitely on the top of the chart. Your post just made my job easier.

  21. Great tips for anyone trying to capture that amazing sunrise. Hopefully one day in the future I get my chance to camp out there with my tripod too

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