Siem Reap River, Cambodia

December 8, 2016


I thought that this photo, taken in Siem Reap, deserved a more in-depth explanation of how it was taken and edited. So, here goes!


First off, I found the spot earlier on in my visit to Siem Reap. However, when I arrived this evening, there were a group of Cambodians chilling out where I wanted to be. It wasn't ideal, but I had to situate myself in a patch of insect infested foliage a little further up the river. Fortunately, I could still set up a compelling composition that showed interesting subject matter all around the frame. Using a longer lens allowed me to punch in on the scene.


The sun was already setting when I started to set up my shot. In the patch of sky that you see in the top third of the photo, the clouds were orange, pink and a range of other fiery colours but, by the time I was actually taking my photos, I had missed most of the colour. Still, the blue tones worked really well against the warmer foreground.


The exposure of the sky was also too bright, but I couldn't use a graduated ND filter because of the uneven tree line. So, I took multiple shots with different exposures for different areas in the final photo. If you don't already know, this is known as HDR, or a high dynamic range photo. This was the hardest part of the editing process, as it was a real challenge matching up the exposures and aligning them (even though I was on a tripod). In the end, I even took different shots from the whole time frame. Specifically, I wanted to bring the street and christmas lights in to the final photo.



This brings me to what really made the final photo so special - the star bursts on the street lights. A company called Sleeklens got in touch and sent them to me so I could try them out. The pack of overlays I used, and many more that they have put together, can be found here:


The star burst effect can be created in camera by using a small aperture. I didn't want to use an aperture too small because my exposure time would've been too long and I would've had to wait for ages. Plus, an aperture too small can soften your images!


When I got to using the star burst overlays, I was surprised by how natural they can look. There was also a great variety of overlays I could've chosen from - some more subtle than others and even some that were coloured! My only suggestion to Sleeklens would be to add some simple written instructions into the PDF guide that they give away, which does give some great examples of how the individual overlays can be used. That said, written instructions can be found via the links above and below. They also have some fantastic video guides on their Youtube page and the overlays are super easy to use anyway - just open your image in Photoshop, place your chosen starburst on a new layer and change the blending mode to "screen" or "lighten". 


As is the case for any Photoshop effect, it's easy to go overboard. So, I would suggest that you air on a side of caution... Or, you know what? You can always get creative if you want! Because I wanted the photo to remain relatively realistic, I placed star bursts on every single street light and even in the reflection, so that one wasn't out of place. Another tip is to play with the opacity of the star burst layer until you get it to where you want it.


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Related Blog Posts:

Phnom Penh

Killing Fields & Prison S21

Siem Reap

Angkor Wat Temple Tour

Sunrise at Angkor Wat


Cambodia Image Gallery



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All content copyright Alex Stevenson (unless otherwise noted).

No content to be used without permission.