Sitting on the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok certainly isn’t new on the tourist map. But this is a city that has been captivating visitors for years. Yes, it’s hot, yes, it’s busy and yes, there are usually people that try to rip off unsuspecting tourists, but few capital cities in the world offer the diversity for photography that Bangkok offers. Here are some simple tips on photographing Bangkok.
Often the big danger with a place like Bangkok is to try and cram too much into your trip. Bangkok is deceivingly big and unless you are planning on spending a considerable amount of time there you won’t be able to cover too much. Factor in the heat and you will often find that you are short of time to be able to capture everything. So instead of trying to, focus on a few of the key points below.
No first time visit to Bangkok will be complete without a visit to the Grand Palace. Once the residence of the Thai monarchy, it now sees thousands of visitors pass through it’s gates on a daily basis, but it is still one of the most beautiful tourist sites in the world. The big draw here is Wat Phra Kaew commonly known in English as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (the official name is Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram). This is the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand and as a result there is a strict dress code. Make sure you fully know this before you turn up as you will not be allowed in.
The first thing that you need to accept is that there is no way to get the place to yourself. You will be in a confined space with lots of other tourists, so you need to think creatively on how to capture good photos that don’t have lots of other people in them.
Arrive at opening time (8.30 am at the time of writing), and you will already see masses of tourists descending on the gates. Don’t be put off by this as the crowd moves quickly. Once inside, quickly head to the ticket office with the correct entrance fee (500 baht per person at the time of writing) and get your ticket. Most of the tour groups at this stage are posing for group photos on the main lawn so if move quickly you can get inside and have a few valuable minutes where the main sites are still relatively quiet.
Do you research before you go so you know exactly what photos you want to take so that you can head straight to those locations and capture the photos you want. Once the crowd gets inside unfortunately there will be no quiet period. From this point onwards you need to rely on patience (in the flow of traffic) and also carefully framing your photos to eliminate people behind columns or buildings. If you are willing to be patient you will still be able to capture some great photos even once the tourists are inside. Don’t forget about close ups of the temples and statues that will often look great and can avoid tourists being in your shot.
There are no shortage of other temples in Bangkok. The biggest highlight of the rest is Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha which sits beside the Grand Palace and is another busy tourist site. But unlike the Grand Palace, if you can arrive at opening time (currently 8 am) you will get around 45 minutes where the grounds are almost empty. Start by capturing photos of the grounds first and then head over to see the reclining Buddha at 8.30 am when it opens. There will usually only be a few visitors here at this point. From around 8.45 am onwards the grounds will begin to get busier, so as per the Grand Palace you will need to be creative in how to frame your shots.
There are lots more temples in Bangkok other than the big two above and most others will see less tourists than the two above.
Here are a few of the other temples you can photograph:
- Wat Arun
- Wat Saket
- Wat Traimit
- Wat Suthat
- Wat Benjamabhopit
Roof Top Bars
There can’t be many cities in the world with more roof top bars than Bangkok. There is everything from places that sell cheap drinks with great views, right the way through to amazing skyscrapers where you’ll see glitz and glamour. If you want to capture photographs that show off Bangkok, views from rooftop bars have to be high on your list.
Arguably the most famous view is from the Skybar at Lebua Hotel made famous by the Hangover 2 movie. Currently the bar opens at 6 pm and there are no tripods allowed which means you have to shoot everything handheld. You can rest your camera on the narrow steel ledge of the bar but don’t expect to be able to capture anything at slow shutter speeds. The only way is to bump up your ISO and hold the camera as steady as you can. Be warned that there is a strict dress policy and drinks are expensive by Bangkok standards. But then again you are partly paying for the experience and the view.
If that doesn’t seem the right place for you, thankfully there are plenty of other options. The view from the SO Sofitel bar is one of the best in the city and Baiyoke Tower II is the second tallest building in Bangkok and offers an observation deck. Away from the big skyscrapers, the selection of hotels on the opposite bank to Wat Arun on the Chao Phraya River offer fantastic views at sunset and are a lot cheaper and more relaxed than the big skyscrapers.
One of the most vibrant areas of Bangkok, Chinatown is a wonderful place to just wander around. During the day you’ll see locals going about their day, small markets in every side street and alleyway and an abundance of street food and restaurants. Come here at night and the whole area is a hive activity all lit up by the huge lights on Yaowarat Road. You could easy walk around for hours and capture numerous wonderful shots.
To photograph the lights on the main road the best way is to find a slight curve in the road and position yourself so you that you can see all the way down. Needless to say, that for any low light photography you will need a tripod. The area really is a paradise for photographers and should be a must on any shot list.
Whether you are after one of the biggest markets in Thailand, a night market or a small local market, you’ll be hard pushed not to at least stumble onto a road with a market. But markets are such a vital part of culture in this part of the world that you should spend time visiting and capture some of them. Most of the markets will be in covered areas which means you’ll be fighting against low light conditions. There are also often narrow walkways between them which can feel claustrophobic and doesn’t give you much room to move around.
Capturing photos in markets can be challenging so try to concentrate on focusing correctly and keeping your shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake. Try to capture a mix of subject like locals interacting with the market vendor, the products on sale and even portraits. You will most likely need to set your ISO pretty hight to be able to capture sharp photos so make sure you check your camera’s capabilities before hand so you know the acceptable level of noise it can handle.
But above all of the sites and rooftop bars, arguably the best thing to do in Bangkok is just to walk around. You’ll be harassed by tuk tuk drivers asking you where you are going but if you can ignore them and just walk around you’ll often by rewarded with places and photos that you didn’t expect. One minute you’ll see a someone making something in their shop and the next you’ll see monks walking around in a market. Walking in Bangkok is arguably the best thing to do as a tourist and photographer and will give ample opportunities for photos. Just set yourself an A to B point and walk between them. Then set another and so on.
Bangkok is truly one of the most photogenic places in the world. From vertigo inducing views, to charming and friendly locals, from mouth-watering street food to authentic shots of locals going about their daily life, Bangkok has it all. Follow these simple tips for photographing Bangkok and you’ll be coming back with some outstanding photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.