Photography in Myanmar
In 2012 the last significant sanctions were lifted from Myanmar opening the way for western tourists to visit this intriguing country, formerly known as Burma. Since then, numbers have increased steadily but are still small compared to other Asian destinations. Photographers find the lack of development an attraction as they are able to capture images with a more authentic feel though, of course, even this window of opportunity must pass.
Tourists are not completely free to roam with some areas requiring special permits and others just being difficult to reach because of a lack of infrastructure. The main destinations are therefore Yangon and Mandalay with some of the most iconic shots coming from Inle Lake and Bagan.
Most photographers planning a visit to Myanmar will have seen iconic shots of the fishermen who use one leg to row, keeping their hands free for their nets. Such shots can be arranged with the Intha locals living beside, or on, Inle Lake accessed from the airport at Hehoe. The uniqueness of this rowing technique adds to the impression caused by any image depicting it - but the best shots look to utilise the shapes and patterns of the conical nets as well as the best of the light, of course.
Another image that crops up repeatedly when searching for pictures of Myanmar is the bridge at Mandalay, usually at sunset with locals walking home silhouetted against the sky. This requires no prior arrangement, unless you are really keen and wish to hire a boat and be more able to change your perspective.
The major religion in Myanmar is Buddhism and there are impressive temples in Yangon and all around the country, many dating back centuries. It is tempting to photograph these and the associated monks as being representative of the country. If you enjoy such shots do take the time to ensure that you are doing so in a respectful way.
Myanmar stretches over a considerable distance from north to south and includes a wide range of landscapes, although its only snow-capped peaks are in the extreme north of Kachin State which is a troubled area and likely to stay out of the mainstream as a destination for some time.
Some of the most iconic landscape shots from Myanmar are taken around Bagan where the multitude of temples present an opportunity to reveal depth in a composition and where it is relatively easy to gain a vantage point for sunrise or sunset. Many photographers choose to visit over the winter months in the hope of getting a morning mist to add another feature to their images and, anyway, this is the recommended time to visit to avoid the worst of the wet and heat. In Bagan there are several outfits operating balloon rides. These can either give an extra-special vanatage point or add interest to your ground-level shots. Anyone thinking to take a balloon in Bagan should consider researching travel insurance that covers such activities.
Bagan is not the only landscape opportunity in the area. Popa Mountain has gained something of a reputation as a site of interest (there is a particularly special temple there) and as a great vantage point late in the afternoon if conditions are right.
The coastal areas offer their own landscape opportunities.
There are plenty of opportunities for impromptu shots at markets and in the streets of towns and villages generally. You are unlikely to offend but do respect any indications that a person does not want to be photographed.
There are only very limited opportunities for wildlife photography at this stage in the country's development. Reserves such as the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve exist but require a good deal of effort to visit, including a lengthy application process.
Those with an interest in birds and with a long lens will find that venues such as Inle Lake have some potential but it would be far wiser to arrange a private trip to somewhere like Moeyun Gyi wetland in order to capture a wider range of species with more appropriate facilities and services.
The obvious targets for architectural photographers will be the temples and palaces that abound in the capital and former capitals. Regular accommodation could also be a worthwhile subject as many locals still live in traditional housing. For instance, visitors to Inle Lake will find traditional stilt-houses around the water's edge, which can easily be incorporated into photographs depicting a way of life that has changed little.
In Yangon the most impressive temple site has to be the Shwedagon Pagoda. This looks great from a distance but also works well closer up, especially as the whole area bustles in the evenings adding colourful light and action to the scenes.
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