Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Business is Blossoming

A monk walks down the street after collecting alms in the Bangkok flower market.  

Bangkok's flower market is an astonishing place. City block after city block of small shops and market stalls selling fresh cut flowers, flowered garlands and flora related items. 

If flowers aren't your thing, don't despair. There's also a booming fresh fruit and produce market next to the flower market. In front of the market, there are food stalls, selling everything from fresh cut fruit to fried chicken to satay (originally a Malay dish of grilled chicken served with peanut sauce, made Thai with the grilling of pork) to curries and coffee stands. 

I passed on the food. I haven't adjusted to eating grilled chicken or curry at 5:30 AM, but there's no such thing as too much coffee at that hour. 

I went down to the market this morning and wandered around for about four hours. It's a riot of color and smells. The floral and food smells block out Bangkok's other smells, specifically diesel exhaust.

The market is open 24 hours a day, which is a little unusual since most markets are morning affairs. But the best time to see the flower market is early. Very early. 

I've been told it's best to get to the Flower Market at 0 Dark 30

I thought getting there at 5:30 AM would be early enough but some of the vendors were already shutting down for the day. It wasn't, lesson learned. The next time I go to the market, I plan to get there about 4:00 AM.

One of the things I love about photographing on the street at that hour is the quality of light. There isn't much light to work with, but what light there is, is really nice. Very warm and soft. It's the perfect time to haul out the super fast lenses, like the 24mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.2 and use them at their widest f-stops. The out of focus bokeh from these lenses is beautiful. 

Conversely, one of the problems photographing in the market at that hour is that the interior is lit with some of the most awful fluorescent lights known to man (not to be sexist - I mean that in a gender neutral way). 

They change color balance as they cycle so two photos taken in sequence* will have a completely different color balance. It's pointless to try to color balance your pictures while you're shooting (what I normally prefer to do) and doesn't do much good to shoot a white card because the next frame will have a different color balance. I found I had to tweak each frame individually to get an approximation of the correct color balance. 

* NOTE: It gets even worse if you use a high shutter speed, say much above 1/250th of a second, sometimes as low as 1/125th of second. Then the color balance will shift during the exposure and result in bands of different colors in the photo. It's nearly impossible to correct for this and a real problem if you're trying to use a 50mm f1.2 at f1.2 - I ended up shooting at ISO 100 to keep the shutter speed below 1/250th of a second.