Stephen Studd Photography

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Behind the photo: Portrait of Khmer woman, Cambodia

South East Asia Cambodia Siem Reap Angkor Wat temple complex UNESCO World Heritage site portrait of Cambodian Khmer old woman with traditional headscarf digital photography holidays holiday vacations tour tours workshop workshops to Myanmar Burma Cambodia Angkor Wat Venice marrakech Paris Morocco Prague hosted by Stephen Studd

Cambodia is one of my favourite places for travel photography. On a recent trip there I wanted to photograph the sugar palm village which is on the way to Banteay Srei temple, part of the Angkor Wat temple complex.

The sugar palm tree (Borassus flabellifer) is the national tree of Cambodia and has over 800 uses. The root of the tree is used in traditional herbal medicine, the hard heavy wood is used for house building and for furniture making, the palm fronds are used for thatching roofs, making mats, baskets, hats and fans and also weaved to make the walls in traditional Cambodian homes and the fruit is used to make, palm water, syrup and sugar., which has a very low glycemic index.

The sugar palm village is always a hive of activity with bubbling vats of palm sugar steaming away. I was wandering around the village greeting people in the Khmer language, when I came across this lady. She spoke back to me in Khmer and I replied back, much to her amusement. She called out all her family and got me to speak to them. They all found it funny that I even bothered to speak their language, they spoke no English. I was invited to their house to drink the sugar palm water with them, which is highly prized. It had a lovely sweet and very earthy taste.

I was just about to ask if I could take some photos, when the lady had already pointed at my camera and stood up, I always find it amazing that thought always seems to have no language barriers. I took some photos of her and when she looked at them on the back of the camera gave me the seal of approval.

It is these chance encounters that really make me buzz when I am on a travel photography assignment as I love meeting the people of the country. Over many years of travelling to Cambodia I have learned some words and phrases and they always break the ice when meeting people, this is the same when travelling to any country.

I was pleased with the portrait and decided to convert the photograph to black & white in Lightroom and then split toned the image, which is a favoured technique of mine for black & white photography. I used my favourite Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens, at 70mm – aperture f6.8 – shutter speed 1/80th sec at ISO 500 as the light level was quite low.

I host small group travel photography holidays and tours to Cambodia, Burma, Marrakech and Venice, further details can be found on my website: