One of the things I usually do before traveling as a photographer is to do some research on the location where I could get the ‘money shot’ for the place I’m visiting. In other words, I try to find out where other photographers before me took the photographs that capture the sense of place the best. Once I know the location and the recommended condition (e.g., time of the day) when to take the photos, I try to plan my itinerary to be able to hit that place and time just like the other photographers had done. Now you may think I would end up with a ‘copycat’ of what others had done, but typically even when you’re at the same place and time as other photographers, what you see through your eyes may be different and provide your own personal touch to the photos. Just like any other planning activities, however, you need to also consider that it may not work out as you planned since there are external factors beyond your control that may affect your activity, such as weather conditions, other travelers, logistics, etc. Sometimes you just have to improvise and make the best of situation.
When I was planning for the Southeast Asia trip, there were two such ‘money shots’ I was planning to take. The first one was the first sunrise of the year at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The second was a panoramic photo of Ha Long Bay at either sunrise or sunset time. I was able to capture the sunrise at Angkor Wat, but the Ha Long Bay one turned out to be different than what I expected. During our visit to Ha Long Bay, it was very cloudy most of the time. I don’t think we saw the sun rising or setting during the three days we were there.
I woke up pretty early on the morning of our second day at Ha Long Bay, hoping to catch the sunrise. Our boat was anchored at one of the lagoons in Ha Long Bay. It was pretty quiet and peaceful out there; I heard a little bit sound of the small waves in the waters surrounding our boat, and the wind blowing a little bit. It was quite cold out there — it must’ve been around high 30s or low 40s. As I waited for the sunrise to come, a couple other passengers also came out to do the same. One of them was Dave, Mrs. Hoa’s son, who seemed to be quite a serious photographer considering his backpack full of photography gears. The other person was one of the Malaysian/Australian, Stephanie, who had a DSLR and seemed to be into photography as well, though may not be as serious as Dave.
We ended up waiting for an opportunity to shoot sunrise at Ha Long Bay that never came. It remained very cloudy, and slowly light came out and we knew we wouldn’t get the sunrise shot we were hoping that morning. A little dissapointing, but I did manage to take some shots of the rock formations around our boat. One of the shots was the photo below, where I noticed a rock formation that resembled a sleeping dragon (you may have to use your imagination to see it). There was no dramatic sunrise photo as I was hoping for, but I think this particular photo still gives you the sense of place about Ha Long Bay — cloudy, cold, calm waters, and rock formation shaped by nature to resemble things that can be seen using one’s imagination.