Bangkok is rife with opportunities for night photography, so we caught up with photographer Brian Boeck to learn more about how to capture the Thai capital after hours.
What makes Bangkok such an intriguing city to photograph at night?
Bangkok is a growing dynamic city, and the vast urban expansion creates an abundance of bright colors, unique shapes, and dynamic diversity by day. The city’s beauty is amplified when the night lights come on after sunset.
The creative potential is so diverse that you can go to the busy streets of Sukhumvit and then to the area around Hua-lampong train station and capture completely different architecture and atmospheres.
What are some of the best places to photograph around Bangkok after sunset?
One great spot is at Wat Benchamabophit near the King’s Palace, where the traditional architecture of Thailand’s past is lit up orange and white. I love taking a bottle of water with me to create a puddle so that I can shoot reflection shots.
As for hidden gems, head to the Chong Nonsi walkway and the nearby ITF Tower 2. The Chong Nonsi walkway provides ample opportunity for light-trail shots of the famous Bangkok traffic and also contains many buildings from which to shoot from — if you have permission. One building in that area, ITF 2, is accessible to the public and, if you have a long lens, the rooftop is a haven.
Do you have any go-to spots?
I love checking the vantage points of the walking overpass bridges in Bangkok because you can see the city in a different way. I set my camera up right at the center of the overpass bridge and take some visual light trails on my Nikon. There are nice bridges on Silom/Sukhumvit roads or around the Bangna intersection.
Of course, I also love to find more aesthetically pleasing locations such as spots near Wat Bang Na Phueng Nok, which can be accessed by river boat from Wat Bang Na Nok near the Bang Na BTS station. From here you can capture close up the wild lights of the Bang Jak oil refinery as it reflects in the Chao Phraya river.
What kinds of techniques do you keep in mind for photographing the city at night?
I have been taking night photos since I saw a friend post a picture on Instagram of the Bangkok streets from the 30th floor of his hospital room. I immediately fell in love with the colors and the shapes of the small buildings and cars below.
Therefore, I keep the dynamic colors of Bangkok in mind and try to find unique perspectives when I am creating my images. Over time I have developed my photos into composites or layered photography using a collection of my images (simple layering like adding birds or a plane for profound artistic effect).
When I’m on the rooftops, I love to look straight down and see what the street design looks like. On the other hand, if I’m on the streets myself I like to put my camera low to the ground and capture Bangkok life from a different perspective; especially if there are water puddles nearby.
I use a Nikon D810 which gives me the option to shoot my pictures in flat format — meaning that it saves all of the color information so I can edit later in Lightroom and Photoshop. Every picture I post has had its colors and overall tone adjusted.
What are some of the difficulties associated with night photography in Bangkok? (lighting, etc.) How do you tackle those difficulties?
Issues can arise with night photography in Bangkok like in most large cities.
The Bangkok streets are small and people are constantly on the move. I find that the magic zone for my camera settings at night is around F 8-11. Then, I adjust the time based on the light available. If I am street level or on a overpass, I capture 10-15 seconds exposure. But up high on the rooftops where lights are only small sparkles in the distance, I use exposures of 20-30 seconds. Then I like to fix the highlights and the white balance in post-editing to suit my distinctive style.
I absolutely love this photo from your feed! What did you have to do to produce this image?
This image was taken on Ratchada Road on the top floor parking lot of Esplanade Mall. From this vantage point, you can see the vast amount vendors selling food and clothes. The market comes to life Thursday to Saturday and anyone can reach this vantage point with a bit of exploration and persistence.
My advice would be to prepare an ultra-wide or fisheye (8mm-16mm) lens to cover the large area, but you could use a longer lens (24mm-85mm) and stitch the pictures together in post-processing. I took this shot in raw flat mode and accentuated the colors in Lightroom. Not much editing required because the sight was already beautiful.
When looking for subject matter, what are you searching for?
I want to capture an image that I have not seen and that makes me feel proud to show others. Anything that is symmetrical, angled wildly, or an accessible location with a height are all possibilities for my curiosity to be peaked.
For example, I once saw someone post a picture of the Wong Wian Yai circle, which is very rare and can only be accessed by a securely guarded condo. So, I decided to climb up the abandoned mall right in front of the Wong Wian Yai circle to capture the shot in wide angle. The guards did eventually ask us to leave, but my group got really unique shots.
What are some of the best places to photograph Bangkok’s skyline? What tips do you have for photographing it?
The most easily accessible spots are rooftop bars such as Red Sky or the Octave. You can also freely take an elevator up ITF tower 2 (in Silom) for some cityscape shots or, if you’re brave enough, climb up the IC tower near the Rama 9 subway station (negotiations with the guards are a prerequisite).
Other popular spots are on the BTS platforms, as they provide height and dynamic perspectives — but tripods are not allowed. Additionally, you could pay the front desks of Ratchprorop Tower Mansion and Juldis River Mansion to access their rooftops for some truly unique perspectives that will WOW you to your core. (Also as a side note, check out the park under Bhumibol bridge, and thank me later).
What advice do you have for those who are planning to take photos of Bangkok at night?
Most locations are photographer friendly. And usually, if you get caught on a rooftop or a location that restricts tripods, you’ll simply be asked to leave. But always keep your cool and your smile in these situations.
Also, as you noticed I mentioned bottles of water a few times. This is because, to me, urban reflections are truly a sight to see, and during the dry season the only way to make puddles are with bottles of water. Once you have a puddle, set your camera low to the edge of the water and capture the magic before you.
And my final advice: EXPLORE! I have captured so many unique pictures because I explored the many unique side streets and main streets, rooftops and riversides. Explore and you’ll get amazing images that are only possible in Bangkok.