Angkor Photo Workshop 2014 Notes


(A.g.’s note/Disclaimer:

The following are the notes I have jotted down during the Angkor Photo Festival last Nov. 28-Dec. 6, 2014. I have organized my thoughts and the lessons so that it would be easy to comprehend for others.

The notes I have is most likely different from the other participants since we had different experiences based on the mentors we had, the skills we wanted to develop, and things we encountered while photographing. These notes are not a substitute for the entire experience during the workshop. I’m sharing it here since you may be in the same situation that I am in or perhaps see something different with regard to the work you are doing. I also share in Eric’s philosophy that information should be open.

With that said, I will say that the time, effort, and everything I put in working through the workshop/festival, meeting other photographers, and just overall looking and doing work made me mature and more confident about what I do. All thanks to the festival organizers, my mentors Kosuke Okahara and Ian Teh, the photographers I met who gave me tips and a few pints of beer, and my batch mates who as I type are already making great leaps in their photography.

Other notes: All in brackets [ ] are my personal opinions and notes on the things that were said or what I think is related to the lesson.)

For more info on the Angkor Photo Festival and workshops, click here.

Angkor Photo Festival Workshop

  •  1 Photo story, 5 days long, any topic with mentor’s approval. Slideshow during the festival’s closing night.

Day 0

  • On tackling the workshop. You can go two ways, either try to perfect what you already know or it is a great place and avenue to try something new
  • It is not a competition despite the existence of “photo prize”. [For this year’s workshop, it is a grant exclusive to the workshop participants] The teachers, panelists, and organizers know that you can only do so much in 5 days. You can’t be a genius overnight.
  • Becoming is a long, arduous, and continuous development. You will change, experiment, try, fail, and understand until you get to a point where you know you are on a different level already.

Some thoughts on portfolio reviews

  • Editors and curators will look for something specific to the audiences they are catering to.
  • Your work may not match theirs or what their organization, magazine, or gallery, is looking for.
  • Respect you viewers opinions from and try to see how they relate to your work. From there, try to show the work you want.
  • It is still what you want and what you do at the end of the day.

On Camera formats and equipment

  • The camera formats and lenses you use can change how you see things.
    • Smaller formats can bring you closer and tighter.
    • Larger formats are massive and contemplative. The details also is a great plus.
    • Wider lenses show the space and width
    • Normal to tele lenses show details and closing down to the essentials of your subject.

Thoughts on choosing and making a project:

Ian Teh

  • What emotion do you want the people to walk away with when you show the work?
    • Do that by giving the audience a feeling
    • Do that by finding ways on how to properly communicate the work

Here’s a simple process:

IDEA → Shooting → Selection → See the where the work will take you [Rinse Repeat]

  • If you like it, continue if not, try to change things a little bit but ALWAYS arm yourself with information about what you are shooting.
  • EDITING is an expression of your mental process.
  • On failed projects: It is still important because it is an evidence of a what you did. You may try to improve on it later, revisit, or avoid altogether. Important thing is that it teaches you.

Kosuke Okahara

  • People fall into a trap of just shooting evidence. What is in front of them instead of what is going on in a deeper sense.


  • Don’t focus on one thing. Make yourself grow because you should always be on the lookout on how you can improve your ways of seeing. 

Ex. Lisa Sarfati’s work on California teenagaers.

  • It is about the people but the thoughts of the photographs are very quiet.


  • You have to able to talk about the work and the idea
    • The work will get a different meaning when people get to know it.


3 things you have to be able to answer and talk about regarding the work you are doing:

  • What’s the project?
  • Why do you want to do it?
  • How are you going to do it?


  • “I find it interesting” isn’t enough of a motivation
  • If you are attached, you will wake up easier and do the work.
  • Sometimes, they “Why” comes later
    • This is why the mastery of the process is important for a [Documentary] photographer
  • “It is the “Why” that makes things easier”


  • People like vacation photos because they are a part of it. The challenge for a photographer is to make your audience care. [Make them be part of the story]
    • The work [or image] has to work w/o any context.
      • Make sure you there is something that will make the audience “I want to know more”.
      • THIS is the hardest challenge.
    • “It is not the picture taking that is difficult, it is the seeing”.


  • Your images have to drag people to your pictures
  • Photography only tells a partial truth [You have to make it tell the absolute truth]

There are two ways to approach personal stories [Photo stories based on your life]

  1. Show and photograph your own story
  2. Create a fiction


On Editing and sequencing


  • You can change the rhythm in your images. Ex: Soft image, Soft images, then a hard image.
  • Rhythm [in a sequence] is hard to pull off.
  • There are always ideas and images in people’s minds already
    • Be aware of your audiences knowledge of the image.
    • BUT stereotypes of direct images lose their impact.
      • The struggle is how to show your story w/o falling into a stereotype.
  • Do you want to go kaboom on the first image right off the bat or set the mood first?
  • Learn when to stay stop. [If the story is only 12 images, then it is only 12 images]


  • You have to try to keep things interesting from start to end
  • You also have to protect the people you photograph [In how you photograph them, how they reflect in the images, and how they end up in the sequence].



  • What we say here is not law
  • It is difficult to change what you already know but focusing on what you really want to do will keep you on track.


  • Photographing is like exercise
    • Always add intensity and weights in your work
    • Always have a good rhythm
  • Sometimes, try to Change the way you work!
    • When you lose the idea = let go of it!
    • “Keep trying and find that what keeps you doing.”
    • Use the mistakes to find the right answers


  • Photography is sometimes capturing moments that is why don’t forget that there are non-moments as well.
  • Thing is, whatever type it is, moments never come back.
  • Using film makes you feel the pain!
    • Click $5! Clcick $10!, Click $15! Painfully expensive!
    • [Kidding aside] It makes you look [and touch] at the images over and over.
    • That said, find your own way of shooting and the thing that will work for you.
  • Calm Down, Take Pictures, Introspect.


  • Always dig deeper: History, Cultures, Context.
  • Background information on the topic is always important


  • When people already expect the result of your images upon describing your project, then why do you need to take pictures?


  • [Before shooting] Build a strategy
  • When something [or the image] seems very obvious, find something a little bit extra to make it special [Try including other elements in the frame, find other things that will add to the subject, remix your sequence, etc.]
  • But remember: There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Always give time to widen your photography.
  • Ask what would draw people to your images?


  • Photography is not always about evidence. Maybe try to give something fresh. Strong pictures don’t tend to be shocking.
  • Access is REALLY key
  • Color is descriptive
    • When you are doing descriptive work, it should properly show everything.


  • When describing things using your images, always stick to the direction you want.
  • It is never enough to be just there [Photographing]
    • Direct your story by leaving things out [that are not needed], focus [on the story], and lock down on that.


  • Always know why you are shooting
    • Without the why, the “how” becomes off [and you get lost.]


  • It is O.k. to be reactionary in your shooting but always keep things related on the “why”
    • You don’t know what you are going to see when you get to your location anyway but with constant shooting and awareness, it will eventually come.

On making a personal project [or A story about yourself]



  • Care about yourself and the outcome of your work
  • Make sure you don’t lose the motivation
  • Never throw away the images [The images that failed to make the edit]
  • You have 5 days, it is o.k. to fail!


  • Have an honest awareness of your feelings and images
  • Be a hard judge on yourself
  • Art is making the people appreciate the language [The visual language]
    • Develop the skill in finding your own language
  • Feel in yourself what should be felt by the audience
  • Objectivity can cloud your judgement

[At this point, I pitched with some photos of the initial idea for the project I wanted to do during the workshop. It was gunned down since they detected I wasn’t 100% in love with it.]

General Notes:

  • Connect the images to your emotion
  • Narrow it down and show what makes it special.
  • Make them give a shit
    • Show in the images why you like the work
    • What questions you want to raise
    • What is it that you want to see?
  • Be aware of what you want and don’t do it for the sake of doing.
  • Make sure you control people’s eyes in the images
  • Add layers of meaning to the photograph. [Not “layering” per se but to borrow the expression, the photo should be able to be worth a thousand words.]


  • All the images has to go to that one point, find that one point [The point is the entire basis of your story]


  • How are you going to translate that one point visually?
    • The way you shoot?
    • Your Subject or what you choose to shoot?
    • Or how it will be put together?
  • Think laterally about the process. Everything you do and everything in the image should be related. Ex. The shapes, the tones, the content. [Other things: The design of the book, the arrangement of the exhibition, the sequence and sound accompaniment of a slideshow, and etc.].
  • [On Editing] Find in the images that will make all of them function and bind together.
  • Continue to refine the idea until you boil it down to the essential.

General Notes on the new project I have pitched:

  • Shooting is a reflection of your ideas. Develop your project deeper until you get to that one point.
  • Never put something artificial on the page. [Put something that is at least well thought out. Nothing brainless, nothing random]
  • All the images should have flow. Flow is something that was shot in the same manner. [Things should feel the same but not look the same]
  • If you are very honest, your pictures wouldn’t need to lie for you. 

Final Thoughts and Favorite quotes I will keep with me:

  • It is ok to change and challenge yourself but it is a must to be honest.
  • Going through the photographic process, there are times that you will hit a wall. You can either be better and climb that wall, destroy that wall, or find another way. Just don’t ever stop in that wall.
  • When learning a new visual language, you are not just there to learn that language, you have to make poetry out of that visual language.
  • The words on the shirt Kosuke Okahara is wearing:



Favorite works/slideshows/exhibits/books from the festival:

Minzayar Oo – Punk Like Me

Mitsu Maeda – My recollections

Ruben Salgado – Solar Portraits

Jiehao Su – Borderland

Nguan – How Loneliness Goes

Fan Ho – Hong Kong Yesterday

Gabriel Croppi – Metaphysics of the Urban Landscape

Birte Kaufmann – The Travellers

Tomasz Lazar – Theatre of Life

Sean Lee – Shauna

Sohrab Hura – Life is elsewhere

Kosuke Okahara – Ibasyo

Ian Teh – Confluence


– A.g.

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