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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

#HelloFromBangkok: 3 Photogenic Districts to Explore from Day to Night

2022-10-12
7
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Planning a trip to Bangkok, Thailand and wondering where to go to shoot? We asked Bangkok native Don Amatayakul (IG: @donamtykl) about his favourite photography spots to capture the different faces of Bangkok, and here’s his answer! Whether it’s people and street culture, grand historical architecture, or futuristic urban vibes that fascinate you, you’ll want to spend the whole day in at least one of them, shooting, chilling, and soaking in the atmosphere! (Images by Don Amatayakul, as told to SNAPSHOT)

Fun fact: Each colour in the background represents a different day of the week according to Thai tradition!

In this article:

 

#1: Yaowarat

EOS RP + RF600mm f/11 IS STM @ f/11, 1/160 sec, ISO 250
This is the first thing you will see when you start walking from the corner of Yaowarat Road: the layers of colourful shop signs written in Chinese characters.

EOS R6 + RF100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM @100mm, f/5.6, 20 sec, ISO 200
Yaowarat glowing with colourful neon lights at night. Telephoto lenses were essential for capturing distortion-free close-ups of the signs in these two pictures.

 

A vibrant street full of stories waiting to be discovered

If you’re the kind of photographer who is fascinated by people, urban street life, and cultural diversity, you’ll love Yaowarat Road, which is the main street in Bangkok’s Chinatown. The trading centre for Thai-Chinese merchants for over 200 years, it is also one of the oldest districts in Bangkok: you see it in the many historical shophouses that have been preserved in their original condition.

What I like most about Yaowarat is how it is so full of stories waiting to be discovered, regardless of whether it’s in the day or at night. In the morning, it’s peaceful and warm, beckoning at you to wander and explore its alleys. At night, it is bursting with life, colour, and the smell of street food, stimulating your senses to the highest degree. There is a lot to see and capture—after all, it’s one of Bangkok’s most photogenic spots!

 

Peaceful in the day

EOS RP + EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM @ 200mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 200

A man pushes a cart of goods down Yaowarat Road early in the morning. The signs in the background make a very interesting backdrop for photos of people. To make the subject stand out better in this unposed street image, I shot with a telephoto lens, which inherently has a shallower depth of field. The telephoto compression also makes the signs look bigger.

Don shares more images of Thailand shot with super telephoto lenses in:
[Review] RF600mm f/11 IS STM & RF800mm f/11 IS STM in Urban Landscapes


Know this: A street filled with gold
Those who read Chinese characters may notice that many of the signs pictured in the images above belong to gold shops. Yaowarat Road is nicknamed “Golden Road” because it is filled with such shops—in fact, it supposedly has one of the highest concentrations of them in the world!

 

Lively at night

At night, the energy completely changes. Yaowarat Road is also the site of the famous Food Night Market, which is filled with good and cheap street food. Some food stalls even have Michelin stars! The street comes alive with people looking for a bite, and the air is filled with the scent of all sorts of snacks and dishes.

EOS R6 + RF24mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM @ f/1.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 400

A street vendor fries noodles in a flaming pan. Watching and photographing the vendors preparing food can be just as fascinating as the food itself! A wide-angle lens (in this case, the RF24mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM) allowed me to comfortably frame in the sights of the bustling night market despite the crowds and narrow walkways.


EOS R6 + RF24mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM @ f/1.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 400

Where there are crowds, there will be the colourful, iconic tuk-tuk (rickshaw taxi). You could even say that it’s an unofficial symbol of Thailand! You will see lots of them in Yaowarat at night.

 

Tips:

- Use different lenses for aesthetic variety
With different lenses, you frame and compose the scene differently. You’ll be surprised by how it can change a photo and make the same scene look even more interesting!
Learn more about different lenses and their effects in the Lens Basics series on SNAPSHOT.

- Don’t stand too close to the road
With the massive crowds, the narrow streets, and you being engrossed with shooting, it’s way too easy to end up on the busy road especially if you’re already at the edge of the pavement. Watch out for traffic, and as much as you can, keep a safe distance from the road.

 

#2: Phra Nakhon District: Rattanakosin

EOS RP + EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM @200mm, f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO 400

A man walks past the eight towers, or prang, of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which are in perfect alignment behind the walls. His orange jacket accentuates the golden details on the towers. Closely associated with Thailand’s kings, Wat Phra Kaew is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.

 

A historical city centre filled with classic Thai architecture

West of Yaowarat next to the Chao Phraya River is the Rattanakosin area of Phra Nakhon District, which is the historical centre of Bangkok. It was established in the 18th century when King Rama I, the first king of the current Chakri dynasty, relocated the capital here from Thonburi across the river. As such, it contains many palaces, temples, and other historically and culturally significant buildings built during that period.

EOS RP + RF50mm f/1.8 STM @ f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 400

Backlit by the evening light, a woman walks through an alley towards Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). The glittering gold and elaborate details in the style of the Rattanakosin era make the temples and buildings in this area very distinctive, even from a distance. Bring a zoom lens or a telephoto lens to access these details better!

 

Tip: Go in the early morning, or late afternoon up until sunset

EOS RP + RF50mm f/1.8 STM @ f/8, 1/200 sec, ISO 400

Wat Arun glows against the fiery sky at sunset, reflected in the Chao Phraya River. Have you ever had that feeling of being in the right place at the right time? That’s what it feels like when you visit the Phra Nakhon district in the early morning, or the late afternoon until the sunset. The angled sunlight reflecting off the golden roofs of the temples makes a magnificent sight! It may be hot, but you’ll have an amazing time wandering around the area, enjoying the scenery.

 

Try this: Shooting at night gives cool results, too!

The temples at Phra Nakhon district radiate with beauty at night too, in a way that creates a very different atmosphere from the daytime. If you have the time, walk around the area after sunset and experience it yourself!

EOS R6 + RF16mm f/2.8 STM @ f/11, 1/5 sec, ISO 100

I shot this long exposure shot from opposite Wat Phra Kaew. With the In-Body IS of a camera like the EOS R6, such images are possible handheld.

Light trails are a great way to accentuate night photos. For more tips on elevating your images with them, see:
Ultra Wide-angle Lens Technique: Light Trails from a New Perspective
5 Easy Steps to Merge Light Trails in Digital Photo Professional


Thinking of stepping into one of the temples for a visit? Don’t forget to wear the appropriate shoes and clothing and observe proper etiquette! See:
Do’s and Don’ts When Visiting a Thai Buddhist Temple in Thailand

 

#3. Siam Square area

EOS R6 + RF16mm f/2.8 STM @ f/5.6, 1/40 sec, ISO 400
Siam Discovery shopping mall and the distinctive lights on its façade. At the top of the image, the sky train rails (left) and roof of a bridge (right) create an interesting frame together. From this angle, their intersection coincides with the corner of the building, emphasising the lines and geometry in this image.

EOS R6 + RF16mm f/2.8 STM @ f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 200
This was shot from the 9th floor of the new SiamScape complex. With its huge open space, dark reflective floors, and neon lights, you feel like you’re walking in outer space! The interior décor of the entire building is full of futuristic “spaceship” vibes.

 

The hip, young city centre

In Yaowarat and Phra Nakhon, we saw the beauty of old Bangkok. But let’s not forget its trendy, modern side, which is best experienced (and photographed) in the area around Siam Square. This area just reopened in June 2022 after a revamp and is now full of cool modern buildings and photo-worthy places like SiamScape, one of the newest developments in the area.

EOS R6 + RF24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM @ 40mm, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 1600

Rainy vibes at night. The rain, neon lights, and reflections combine to create a beautiful, surreal atmosphere.


EOS R7 + RF-S18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM @ 18mm (28.8mm at 35mm full-frame equivalent), f/5.6, 1/50 sec, ISO 200

One of my favourite shooting spots is the sky garden on the 10th floor of SiamScape. I especially love facing the building, because it’s like facing a giant wall in another dimension! To show a sense of scale, get someone to stand in the middle of the frame. A bit of colour grading enhances the sci-fi aesthetic.

 

Tip: Bring an ultra-wide-angle lens to create dynamic images of interiors

EOS R6 + RF15-30mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM @ 15mm, f/5.6, 1/50 sec, ISO 200

The main entrance of SiamScape creates a nice symmetrical shot. While I’ve tried shooting interiors with other lenses, I always end up preferring ultra-wide-angle lenses. It’s easier to frame in details with them, and the perspective exaggeration effect makes images look more impressive.


EOS R6 + RF15-30mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM @ 15mm, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 1600

An open passage that connects Siam Square and SiamScape. Here, tilting the camera upward further enhances the 15mm ultra-wide-angle perspective, making the ceiling look impossibly high.


Know this: Using an ultra-wide-angle lens also allows more flexibility with shutter speed

Tripods are not allowed in some places, and that’s also when shooting with a shorter focal length comes in handy. You may have heard of the rule of thumb that says that if your focal length is X, you can use a shutter speed as slow as 1/X seconds and still get shake-free images handheld. This means at 15mm, for example, you can shoot as slow as 1/15 seconds, which is useful when you need to use a narrower f-stop or lower ISO speed. If your lens has Optical IS, or if you are using a camera with In-Body IS like the EOS R5, EOS R6, and EOS R7, you can go even slower!

About the Author

Don Amatayakul

A freelance photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand, Don Amayatakul first started photography in 2016 as a way to capture memorable moments and express his perspectives when he was frequently travelling abroad. Living in Bangkok, one of the most photogenic cities in the world, he naturally formed an interest in urban photography and cityscapes, and it grew on him so much that he considers it part of himself. Through his images, he hopes to make people notice the beauty in the city and change the way they see the things around themselves.

Instagram: @donamtykl

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