Back to Phnom Penh (Day 1)

'In the avenues and alleyways' M9P, 35mm 8 elements

We've had a crazy busy few weeks in Hong Kong leading up to Christmas, shooting tens of thousands of stills images for commercial work and several commercial video projects have kept us busy right through December, so it was high time for a short break and catch up with some fellow photographers on a jaunt to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

'Welcome back to Cambodia, step inside', M9P, 24mm

So far I've only been back here one day, but already i can feel the stresses of city life easing away into the background as I wander the vibrant streets of Cambodia meeting some inspirational characters and getting back to basics shooting only with Leica rangefinder.

Shooting thru the Tuk Tuk canopy to create a natural widescreen effect, M9P, 75mm

All the images here were taken over the space of 3 hours on the first day.  Yet again for me i find inspiration on every street corner in this wonderful country, and am lucky enough to have 3 of my best friends all shooting with me, Trevor, my old army buddy has travelled all the way from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to shoot here, Stephen Patterson from China has come via Thailand and the North of Cambodia to join us in Phnom Penh and Steve managed to escape Hong Kong a day earlier than me to get a head start with his trusty Canon rigs.

Pastel colours are everywhere, M9P, 35mm 8 elements

We are exploring some different areas of the city this time, as we have become familiar with several districts now so wish to explore some of the even less trodden sidestreets around town, am very much looking forward to unveiling some new characters.

Peek-a-boo from Mummys bike, M9P, 50mm Lux ASPH

We will be back in Cambodia for another workshop in the south in February 2013, but for the meantime we will continue exploring Phnom Penh...this must be my 12th or 13th visit to this place and it never ceases to impress me, the people are so friendly, the light is great, the colours are amazing and the company is good.

Heres a few more images from the first day and wishing all a Merry Christmas of photography that for me will be spent with a bunch of fellow photographers.


Washing line, M9P, 35mm 8 elements

Home Sweet Home, M9P, 24mm

Looking at me?, M9P, 50mm Lux ASPH

Colour, colour, everywhere, M9P, 50mm Lux ASPH

F8 Photography provides stills and video production for weddings, events, corporate, commercial, training, sports, documentaries and NGO projects around the world, to see more of our work our meet us to discuss a project, please contact us here: or check out our work via the galleries that can be accessed from the front page of our website here.

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog here.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and photography and video training workshops, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.

OMD goes to Manila

(street scene in Manila) NOTE ABOUT PROCESSING:  All images here are shot on the Olympus OMD with various prime lenses.  They were then all processed in Lightroom 4 with 1 click presets from 'VSCO film 02' using only their Fuji Superia 800 for colour or Fuji Neopan 1600 settings for black and white.  These are my favourite film simulators and make any digital camera RAW files sing instantly with 1 click.  More information can be found here at the VSCO website on these presets.

So, after a successful trip to Cambodia using the Olympus OMD  the previous week, I decided another trip was in order, this time the other direction from Hong Kong, heading South East to test the EM-5 on the streets of Manila in the Phillipines.

Now some things must be mentioned about Manila for any budding photographers wishing to travel there.....BE CAREFUL.  As much as I liked the city, for sure there is a lot of things that could easily go wrong here....some of the poorer parts of the city are for sure totally unsafe for westerners to venture into alone, and carrying expensive camera gear around is only going to attract unwanted attention.  Like many other places I have visited you must stay streetwise, don't flash expensive gear, leave your nice watch at home and most of all use common sense.  Walking around at 2am in a poor neighbourhood in Manila is going to end in tears for sure....

(Traffic wardens in Manila....ummm whats the point...)

The first thing I noticed when walking around various parts of Manila was the seemed there was complete chaos on the roads, not dissimilar to Hong Kong at rush hour, only here it seemed to be the same all day i chose the best options of transport, my own two feet :-)

When I did travel between districts I used the famous 'Jeepney' buses that can be found everywhere, they are great fun to drive around in, extremely cheap and provide good photo opportunities from the back door, open windows and even of the people inside.

The first day I was in Manila I was lucky with the weather, the light was great, it was hot, just a nice afternoon for strolling around exploring the city.  Lunchtime is clearly siesta time in Manila with people strewn all over the place getting an afternoon nap, kind of reminded me of my parents place in Spain where the same thing happens every day.

(siesta time in Manila, its sleep, read or relax...)

The few people that weren't asleep were having an easy time playing board games in the street.  This kind of place was helping me relax a lot even after a few hours, as I always compare with Hong Kong, which seems to be really non-stop (part of the reason I love to escape as often as I can), you really don't see this kind of lifestyle in Hong Kong, despite the heat, people are running around at full pace 24/7, at least in the inner city where I work and live, so its really nice to see people taking time out and 'smiling'!!!

(A lovely lady who was more than happy to pose for photographs in the street)

Like most asian cities, the streets were full of children playing and kids always make great subjects for me, they are innocent yet their faces tell a thousand stories, something i noticed recently when shooting a scene in Hong Kong was that everyone in the scene was just going about their business apart from 3 kids in the scence, all of them were looking directly at me....maybe kids would make the best street they are very very aware of their surroundings and dont miss a trick :-)

(happy kids (and dogs) playing in the street in Manila)

Of course some people view photographers a little more suspiciously, but despite that, a big smile and a handshake go a long way, and as usual, everyone I met and befriended were absolutely fine being photographed.  Even the gangster looking dudes who try to look 'tough' guy tend to break a big smile when I show them their photo and tell them they look like 'James Bond'....flattery gets you everwhere...

(locals in Binondo district, Manila)

The variety of people and colour around the city really attracted me, it really is a bustling metropolis and a great photography location.  As I mentioned earlier discretion is the better method with camera gear (as is pretty much anywhere in my experience), so using the little Olympus OMD was actually perfect (yet again), as it allowed me to shoot discreetly from the hip using the touchscreen with its super fast autofocus.  This is the 2nd time I have used it travelling in a month, and it didn't skip a beat at all, ultra reliable....I thought I would miss my Leica M9...but if I'm honest, this thing is far more functional, never ever stutters like the Leicas do (thats a simple fact that sometimes the M9 just won't react when you press the button...) and the image quality is amazing, of course not superior to a full frame camera...but most of our work is going on the internet or medium sized prints, I am quite positive to 99% of people, there is no visible difference in image quality, and those that think they can tell a difference on a processed image (especially at web size images)....well their name is Pinnochio I'm afraid....

(diverse characters around town, security, driver, and the oldest paperboy!)

A quick note again on the presets that I have used to process these images, they are from VSCO, and are the simplest and most powerful presets you can get in my opinion for Lightroom, ACR or Aperture.  They really do emulate the film looks do i know this....because I shoot a fair bit of these exact films on my Mamiya 7ii and my Contax G2 and scanned files have very similar tones and characteristics to these digital files once if you are looking for a filmic simulator that takes seconds to process your RAW files, these are worth a look for sure.

(Processed with VSCO Fuji Neopan 1600 or Fuji Superior 800 settings)

Whilst I was in Manila, I did some shooting in a very poor area called Ulingan in Tondo, probably the roughest and most dangerous area of Manila, the reason being I want to work with a charity there called Project Pearls, and I will be heading back to Manila now that they have made contact in a few weeks to do some video work with them.  You can see the blog post and video of the images shot there last time at this link, its really quite amazing to see the resilience of these people who live and work there.

For other posts I have written recently with images of the OMD please see the links below:

LINK TO BLOG POST: OMD shooting in Ulingan, Tondo, Manila

LINK TO BLOG POST: OMD goes to Cosplay event in Hong Kong

LINK TO BLOG POST: OMD goes to Cambodia

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.


Guest post: Down under in Phnom Penh (Dave)

Note:  This post is written and all photos by Dave Grady who came from Australia for one of our Hong Kong workshops then travelled to Cambodia with us.  Dave shoots with a combination of Leica M9P, Sony NEX 7, Nikon V1 and Canon 5D Mk III rigs.  This is his story.

(Boat boy crossing the Mekong)

In July 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend F8 Photography's documentary photography workshop in Hong Kong.  Just prior to attending the workshop I was also invited to go along with Gary, Giles & Steve to Cambodia directly after the workshop to practice some new found skills, an offer I couldn't refuse.

After attending the documentary workshop which broadened my mind and the way one can approach photography (picking a theme and shooting a series of shots rather than just looking for  one shot), and then spending my last day in Hong Kong with Gary while he shot editorial work on a 1 million dollar yacht, I barely had time to pack and we made our way to Phnom Penh on the early morning flight direct from Hong Kong equipped with an Leica M9, Sony Nex 7 and  Nikon V1.

Having just been to remote areas of mainland China, some of the scenes I'm seeing are familiar but in general it's very different to what I'm used to seeing in Sydney.  The traffic is chaotic yet flowing at the same time, People walking all over the place carrying who knows what, families cramping up on one scooter (up to 6 people on 1 small scooter) and the little shops on the side of the road and the mobile street vendors all made for a very interesting drive to our hotel. It was evident very early in Phnom Penh that Cambodia is not a wealthy country but was amazed at how friendly and happy people were.

We arrived at our hotel that Gary had organised for us which was really nice, we dropped off our gear and jumped on a tuk tuk (my first tuk tuk experience) and made our way to the riverside bistro which became our regular watering hole for the rest of the trip, after a brief nap and swim at the hotel pool (which was great for mid/late afternoons after shooting all day) we made our way out for a walk along the riverside were we came across what i'm guessing is a daily ritual where people go to a small temple to pray with people around selling flowers, candles and birds which I believe are offerings to the Gods. This event made for good photography with lots of people around to shoot and lot's of stuff happening everywhere.   This was my first real chance to shoot in Cambodia and was really surprised and taken back by peoples willingness to have there photo's taken especially with kids which is a big no no in many western countries.

(Nikon V1, 10mm)

The next morning we met up with Gary's translator and our tour guide/tuk tuk driver Sammy (Samedy) and off we went to Mekong Island, after a short ferry ride across the Mekong river we arrived and stopped at a small shop to get supplies for the day and pick up a few Krama's (traditional Cambodian scarves).

(Dave modelling his new Camodian scarf on route to Mekong Island)

Mekong Island is a small remote area across the river from Phnom Penh, it's not an area tourists would normally visit and the same goes for Phnom Penh locals many hadn't even heard of the place let alone been there.  What I saw of Mekong Island consisted of 1 small dirt road with houses on 1 side and the Mekong river on the other, It was however full of photo opportunities.

(Leica M9P)

We met lot's of nice people alongside the road who were more than willing to have there picture taken, A little girl who waved at us even motioned for us to go into her families yard where we spoke to her mother and took photo's of them both. The one person who will stay with me for a long time was a blind man in a small shack who allowed us to take pictures of him, after which Steve got out a $20 note (usually we would give a $1 or $2) and gave it to him, after finding out the value through Sammy who translated for us just seeing his reaction was truly priceless he was so gracious and had many nice things to say.

(Blind villager)

(At the female monastery)

(Dave (right) and others from the team offering rice to the Nuns on our arrival)

Moving on we then arrived at a Women's monastery which was in the middle of nowhere and you would never know it was there unless you were with someone who knew about it. This place was very peaceful and had some amazing statues all throughout the monastery. We spent around an hour just wondering around just taking everything in and taking photos of the many statues and Monks who were more than happy to have there photo's taken. After we had all finished walking around it was mid afternoon and we were all hot and hungry so back we went to the hotel for a swim and lunch.

The next day we had a few different options but we decided on going to a temple complex about 45 minutes from Phnom Penh, It was quite a long ride on the tuk tuk and when we finally arrived.  As we walked around and looked at the temple you could easily be mistaken and think you were in Angkor Wat.

(Temple complex outside Phnom Penh)

This place made for some great landscape, texture and portrait shots, 1 old lady we found between the 4 of us we must have shot 3-4 rolls of film and a couple hundred digital shots, she just had this amazing face to shoot close up portraits, it had so much detail from all the wrinkles & damage from the sun over many years.

(102 year old Temple Minder)

This place was also very peaceful and was very nice just walking around taking a photo here and there.  While it was a long way out and back it was well worth it, everybody who I mentioned that I'm going to Cambodia all asked if I was going to Angkor Wat and everyone was shocked when I replied 'no', but at Angkor we would have been competing with thousands of other tourists to walk around and take photos whereas here it was just us and a few locals. It may not have been as grand as the temples at Angkor but it gave us a taste of what they are like and we were able to get shots we'd never get at Angkor.

On our final day we decided to visit a slum on the railway a place Gary has been before and suggested as a place to check out to get a real view of some of the poverty that exists here. When laying eyes on this place it hits you pretty quick how poor this place is, It's an old abandoned train yard with many old carriages just sitting there rotting and being used to dump trash and all sorts in.  Making matters worse this huge state of the art Cambodian government building can be seen right behind within 1km from this train yard. I was a little worried how people will react to us showing up there and taking photos, but everyone seemed really nice and friendly and it turned out to be a very interesting and humbling experience.

(The entrance to the railroad slum)

(The modern government buildings just a few hundred meters behind the slum...)

(Railroad families)

Hearing stories from the locals like the lady who was sewing making shirts and how she gets 2 cents for every shirt she makes and seeing the conditions that they lived in were really eye opening especially for myself who hasn't seen this sort of thing before, yet they all seemed happy and the kids were over the moon when Steve bought them all Ice blocks.

(Our team at Mekong Island (L to R: Steve, Gary (F8), Giles and myself) 

In conclusion I had an amazing time and it was a great experience. I was able to get some great photos which I'm very happy with. Phnom Penh was very much a culture shock for me, a lot of it I have touched on but the things that will really stick with me is how chaotic yet organised it is,  I was blown away by how friendly everyone is and there willingness to have there photo taken especially kids. Also just seeing people living in dire conditions yet seemed to be happy and got on with life. This especially hit me hard and really made me think about the way I live and work on certain ways to improve certain aspects of it.


(Me relaxing at our watering hole on the riverside)

 Lastly I'd like to thank Gary for organising the trip he got us a great hotel and took us to some great places, Steve & Giles it was a pleasure hanging out and shooting with you guys & Sammy and Kanja for taking us around and translating for us.

Final note from F8:

Gary, the Director of F8 has also written a blog post about his experience, that can be seen by clicking here.

Guest blog posts written by Steve who also came along can be seen here:

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.