Why makes Bangkok so good for street photography?
Bangkok, being the capital of Thailand is great for street photography for multiple reasons: Street life is huge, there is a lot of contrast between the new and the old, and the city comes out at night. People are really nice too!
Street life is huge
Street life is really big in Bangkok. There's so many markets and interesting roads it's mind boggling. I once spent hours in a flea market and never went the same place twice. Unlike a place like New York City for example, where you can pretty much be dropped anywhere to shoot, Bangkok is more cluster-like. Lots of empty roads to walk and then finding interesting spots.
Contrast between new and old
If you search “Bangkok” on Google you'll find lots of images of modern bars, skylines, and trains. It's all true, but what makes it interesting is the contrast between the new and the old, right near the shiny new buildings you will find crummy old markets and shops. This is unlike Hanoi street photography where you mainly have the old style by itself.
If there was ever one city that you want to do night street photography, it's Bangkok. Why? Because the night life is huge, and I am not talking about the bar scene either. It's just that the city really comes alive when it's night, markets light up and everyone is in the streets.
Bow that we've seen why Bankok is recommeded for street photography, here are some street photography tips to make the most out of your Bangkok trip:
People are nice
People are REALLY nice in Thailand. Less so in Bangkok than in Chiang Mai, but still they are extremely nice. You can probably get a portrait if you simply ask, and I found that generally people are comfortable with your camera.
Best places to shoot street photography in Bangkok
It's better to plan where you are going to go before heading out with your camera. There's long stretches of road in Bangkok that have nothing to them, until you hit clusters of activity. My number one recommendation is Khao San Road. It's busting with activity and had a little Hong Kong vibe.
You will have to watch out for scams because this is one of Bankok's most famous roads, but it's really a picture haven. Other places to check out is Bangkok Chinatown, and around XXX Mall. These malls have interesting old style streets and shops all around them and the contrast is interesting.
Bangkok really comes alive at night, and there is a LOT of light all around, so even if you are not into night street photography, you will want to hang around when the light starts going down. There are lots of markets spread throughout Bangkok and they will provide for lots of street photography opportunities even if your camera doesn't do well in low light.
If you found an interesting location and Bankok and feel that there is something missing, chances are if you come back at night it will be full of life and interest. Things really come alive at night, so pack a fast lens and potentially a flash.
Adventurous? Go to this notorious street
As I jumped into my taxi driver's car, I felt uncomfortable. I could see him grinning and I had the distinct feeling that he was judging me. Why? Because my destination was Soy Cowboy, a.k.a the red light district. It was a long ride. But hey, you should see my wife's face when I asked here if I could go to a place known for strip clubs, prostitutes while she had to stay and watch the kids. Ah, things you do for photographs!
Anyway, this district is LITERALLY red, and filled with women in bikinis calling you to come inside their clubs where they can screw… your wallet. Thou shall the siren's songs, for thou art there for picture-making. It's less shady than you think it is, there's a lot of foreigners and couples just looking around and shooting pictures just like you so probably the shady stuff is *inside*, but I wouldn't know.
Your camera is of course, for a large part not welcome. So act friendly and touristy, and shoot. You'll probably get a girl or two that will try to get you in while you do so, but again be friendly and courteous, respect is universal. Personally I didn't want to have any identifiable person in the shot (but somehow still have people in my photograph) so I got the shot I wanted and went back home, it's really a small street and once you get the shot you want, there's not much around.
Head to the floating market
This is a heavily trafficked touristic area and a bit far from the main city. But the photo opportunities are plenty. Not only are the sellers are used to cameras, it's borderline expected. Plus the fact that everyone is a cramped space it makes for really interesting images. You'll have to pay attention to the light because where the area where the boats are is open, while the parts where people walk are is in the shades.
Use the overpasses
There's many large roads crisscrossing the city, and because of that there are abundant overpasses. This gives you three opportunities. During the day you can do some street shooting with a high vantage point and shoot down on subjects as they move in and out of your frame, and at night, or you can shoot the passerby by placing yourself on the side or shooting directly at them as they are walking.
Alternatively, you can do like I did and go for slow shutter speeds. I'm not usually a slow shutter speed photographer but many locations beg for the treatment and I was happy to oblige.
Incorpare Thai culture
The “danger” of doing street photography abroad is making images that could be done everywhere. Incorporate and shoot distinctively Thai elements in your images, specifically the architecture and Tuk-Tuks. Tuk-Tuks are closed bikes where you go in the back and ride.
Always ask for the price up front and bring your wide angle lens for some really interesting shots while being in the back.