With the sun sinking over Rakhine State, Myanmar, travel and landscape pro, İlhan Eroğlu, trained his lens on the ancient temples that litter the jungle skyline around Mrauk-U. Layered in the mist and shooting with his FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens on an Alpha 7R IV, he picked out two red-robed child monks sitting on the steps below one of the temples. “It was magical,” he remembers, “like traveling in time. And worth all the difficulty, risk and stress during the trip.”
The balance of risk and reward, often so important in travel photography, saw İlhan head to the town with the aid of local guides, traversing rivers and watchful army patrols. Once the most powerful town in the region, Mrauk-U is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, but at the time İlhan was there as part of a broader trip to Myanmar, it was also closed to tourists. “I got in touch with some travel agencies,” he explains, “and they told me it was not safe to travel there because of the fighting between the government and the local Arakan army.”
Undeterred, he spoke to a hotel owner in Mrauk-U itself and arranged transportation on “the oldest, dirtiest ferry I have ever seen! The seats were almost under the water level and there was only one other foreigner on the ferry. She was working for the UN and was surprised we had braved the trip. We spent three nights there and could feel people’s anxiety. We heard bombs going off and it was forbidden to be outside after dark. Every time we passed the tired soldiers with their old rifles we’d hold our breath.”
Making the most of his opportunity and determined to produce his usual fantastic travel imagery, despite the tension, “even in this small and remote place, I found local photographers and got advice in finding the places I wanted to shoot,” İlhan says. “In general, I prefer finding an exact location at least one day before I shoot there, calculating what time I need to arrive and how long it’s going to take to get in position, so I won’t miss the shot. From then on, it’s down to a mix of using the right gear, working hard on my composition and hoping that the weather is on my side!”
One of İlhan’s images from his trip shows his grasp of fine-art composition and colour.
“We saw these little monks playing on the walls of a huge white temple at Hsinbyume Pagoda,” he explains. “Taken on the Alpha 7R III with an FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, the red clothes of the monks and totally white temple brought great contrast in this photo, and that’s something I often look for in my travel and landscape work. I’m inspired by many painters, and I take influence from them in the way I use light and shadow in my photos, too.”
In order to capture all the beauty of the places he travels to, İlhan relies on several key features of his Sony Alpha cameras. “I used both Alpha 7R III and Alpha 7R IV during this project,” he explains, “and these are models perfectly built for travel. As well as their high resolution, the sensors have incredible dynamic range, which lets me bring all the detail I want out of the highlights and shadows. They also give me brilliantly clean results in low light environments like shooting at night, or in temples and forests.”
Handling features also contribute to his success and İlhan has benefited from the Alpha 7R III and Alpha 7R IV’s increased battery life, letting him photography without recharging for days on end. “And the Alpha 7R IV in particular,” he adds, “is so well designed in its ergonomics, that I can comfortably handle it for hours on end.”
Alongside his Alpha bodies, İlhan mainly uses three Sony G Master lenses for his travel work, the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS. “I like using the FE 70-200mm because it lets me make layered compositions,” he explains, “emphasising separation in foreground and background. The FE 16-35mm is spectacular in tight environments like temple interiors, and the FE 24-70mm is just an exceptional all round lens for scenics as well as portraits.”
With his wanderlust as strong as ever, and the gear he needs to make his creative and art-inspired images, İlhan is looking forward to telling more travel stories in the months and years to come. Already planning trips to Japan, Tuscany, the Faroe Islands and Alaska, “I can’t say exactly what a great travel photo needs to show the viewer,” he concludes, “but I mostly take photos of places that really inspire and provoke strong emotions in me. If I could tell something to my younger self, it would definitely be that. Go to the places that you dream of far away and photograph whatever speaks to your heart.”
"The world is a huge canvas for me. In every country I visit, I paint my own pictures by taking photos"