Travel Photography in Myanmar: Using Soft Light for Landscapes and Portraits

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If you are considering a break in southeast Asia and enjoy photography then it’s likely you’ll get a lot out of a trip to Myanmar. Stuart Forster is an award-winning British photojournalist and shares his tips here.

The country that used to be known as Burma offers a wealth of subject matter for travel photographers, and direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city, take just two hours 45 minutes. Until recently Myanmar was widely regarded as off limits by many tourists, largely as a consequence of the military government’s human rights record. Attitudes have softened but it’s worth remembering that photographing members of the police and military is frowned upon.


Travellers who enjoy insights into heritage, visiting religious sites or people watching at markets and temples can easily fill their days. Visitor numbers are growing rapidly but heading to Myanmar now means you’ll still be able to record rural scenes and small towns before the country undergoes major modernisation or evolves into a mass tourism destination.

The closest thing you’ll experience to mass tourism is likely to be at Bagan. More than 3,000 temples and pagodas rise from the arid landscape around the town.

It’s one of those places where setting an alarm and rising before sunrise is a pleasure rather than a bleary-eyed chore. If the sky is golden you are likely to be able to photograph a gorgeous series of shots.

Planning is an essential aspect of creating an outstanding portfolio of travel photos. Make sure you have enough time to scout out a vantage point before attempting to shoot your sunrise photos.

Arrive to set up your kit well before daybreak, so that you are ready to shoot when the sky is golden or sun appears over the horizon.


Great photography is about much more than merely your choice of camera and lens. A tripod can prove indispensable for creating memorable pictures with long exposures in low light.

If necessary you can always increase your ISO or balance your camera on a wall or the ground, but using the right equipment helps optimise results.

Several companies offer hot air balloon flights over Bagan. In addition to being a memorable activity the baskets beneath the balloons offer outstanding perspectives of the ancient monuments. Even if you don’t take one of the flights, you may be able to work the balloons into your shots.

Why not approach local photographers for insights into the best locations when you travel? A quick Google search might be enough to put you in touch with professionals who offer tours or skilled amateur photographers who are passionate about where they live.

If you are into people photography you’re likely to return home from Myanmar with a wealth of memorable images. The soft, low sunlight of the early morning and evening is ideal for photographing portraits.

As tourism to Myanmar grows, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware that they might be able to earn a few kyat, or be rewarded with a crisp dollar bill or two, by posing for photos. Whether you acquiesce to their demands or choose to pay people is your choice.

There’s no need to surreptitiously grab shots of individuals. After all, the morality of photographing people when they don’t want to be in images is dubious. At marketplaces around Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay you’re likely to find more than enough people willing to be photographed.


If you practice street photography, then you’ll know how rewarding it can be to wander with a camera in your hand to document people going about their daily lives. Myanmar is as good a place as any to start if you haven’t already tried. You’re likely to feel self-conscious at first but approaching street photography as a mini-project, and aiming to return to your hotel room with 10 good shots of life on the streets, can be a way of overcoming your reservations.

Change looks likely in Myanmar. Now is as good a time as any to grab your photography kit to explore Yangon, Bagan and other destinations across Myanmar. See and for more information.

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