Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Favorite Photos from a Trek Across Cambodia

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

I spent 10 days this past November documenting my friend, Sam McGoun, as he ran, cycled and swam more than 701km across Cambodia to raise money for the students of Sala Bai Hotel & Restaurant School in Siem Reap and to support the fight against human trafficking.

Sam pedals into the late afternoon sunset en route to Battambang

Over the course of the adventure, I made more than 7,600 photographs of what Sam, my crew and I experienced.  Simply editing that volume of files to a manageable few hundred images is a mammoth task.  And choosing just a few favorite pictures is nearly impossible.

However, when skimming through about 500 of my shortlisted selects from the shoot, a handful of photographs kept rising to the top.  And nearly all of them had one thing in common: flared sunlight in the background.  These few images of Sam in the late afternoon and early evening are some of my favorites.

Sam walks along a bridge wall on the edge of the tracks at the famous Battambang bamboo train

As any photographer will attest, the most critical ingredient in all great photographs is the lighting.  The best images always make interesting and powerful use of light.  Dramatic light can make even the most mundane subjects appear outstanding.

Shooting into the sun, and using backlight as a visual effect, is a compositional and lighting technique that I have been experimenting with for many years.  It goes against one of the most fundamental “rules” of photography – to always have the sun behind/beside the photographer; however, I love the softness of the subject created by the sun's flare.  It's this ethereal, nostalgic effect that moves me to keep experimenting with this photographic technique.

Sam ends his day strong as he rides into Chom Bok

To make these types of photographs, I position myself so my lens is pointing directly into the sun.  I focus on my subject, meter the frame and then overexpose the image by a full stop or more, depending on how harsh the sunlight is.  The angle of the sun significantly affects the warmth, contrast and texture of any photograph.  Additionally, overexposing the photograph blows out the highlights in background and ensures there will still be detail in foreground subject so he won’t be completely in silhouette.  I like to compose these types of images so that the sun just peaks into the frame from the edge or bursts out from behind my subject, creating a beautiful golden glow across my photograph.

Although I pride myself on making many different types of photography, I also recognize that I need to take my individual style and consistently sharpen and improve it, establishing a unique photographic voice for myself.  This is one of my ongoing goals, as my eye is always maturing and my inspirations are ever changing.  Creating a portfolio of images that uses backlight as a creative device is an attempt to develop a simple, yet memorable, personal photographic signature for myself.


For more information about Sam and Sala Bai, please visit http://www.touchsalabai.com.

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Scott A. Woodward

Scott A. Woodward's unique narrative photographic style captures real emotions and tells a story in a single frame.
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