How To Photograph The Floating Markets At Damnoem Saduak, Thailand

A woman selling her produce from a canoe at the Floating Markets near Bangkok in Thailand.

The Floating Markets in and around Bangkok have been a major tourist drawcard for many years. I finally made the decision to visit the largest one at Damnoem Saduak around 1 1/2 hours out of Bangkok. I made the trip on a Sunday on the advice that the lower levels of traffic in Bangkok over the weekend would shorten the trip by an hour or more. It did, but with less traffic in town came many more tourists at the Floating Market.

It was a busy day and movement, at each location on the tour, was somewhat restricted by the large numbers of tourists. Transport arrived at my hotel at 6:30am. However, by the time our minibus had picked up folks from other hotels it was 7:15am by the time we headed for Damnoem Saduak. We finally arrived at the floating markets at 8:45am by which time any hopes of beautiful, soft early morning light were gone.

A snake handler poses for photographs with a large, yellow python at the Floating Markets near Bangkok, Thailand.

Understanding How To Manage High Contrast Conditions

Fortunately the building lining the narrow waterways provided large areas of open shade, ideal for portrait photography. The problem was ensuring your subject matter and surrounding areas were all evenly lit. This was not always possible, particularly when photographing from one of the canoe-like boats that zip along the canal. Careful exposure, composition (to minimize high contrast within the frame) and image processing saved the day. However, due to the hard, high contrast lighting I chose not to photography certain scenes.

Damnoem Saduak | The Right Environment For Candid Photos

It's my view and practice to ask permission prior to photographing someone who has not commission me to do so. I love the interaction of working in close with folks with whom I would otherwise have no connection. But the floating market at Damnoem Saduak provided me no such luxury. It's a busy and fairly raucous environment, thanks to us tourists and the way some of the hawkers approach us.

In any case, due to the high quantity and frequency of tourists, the local folk are accustomed to photographers. With this thought in mind I had no trouble making candid-like pictures. That's not to say the subjects were not aware they were being photographed. When they were I felt they were happy to go about their business and let me go about my own. Whenever possible I would end such encounters with a thank you and a smile, which is likely to be appreciated and to bring an extra moment of happiness into the subjects life.

I’m all about making beautiful, life-affirming images. That fact gives me both motivation and courage to do more of the same, particularly when it comes to photographing strangers.

An elderly woman, displaying a trusting expression, at the Floating Markets near Bangkok, Thailand.

How To Successfully Photograph The Floating Markets 

I'd certainly recommend the Damnoem Saduak Floating Market for folks who love people-based, candid photography. Photographing active subjects, often from a moving platform, under high contrast lighting will make for a challenging photographic adventure. The fact that the tour only allowed us 1 1/2 hours at the location also made it tough. As well as arriving much earlier in the day I would have preferred twice that time.

The best option would be to find accommodation near the market and arrive very early in the morning. Enjoy the tranquility and the photo opportunities that come with the softer, more flattering light. If you’re up for it, stick around and experience the floating markets the way most tourists would. Either way the challenge is to make the best of the situation. With care, good technique, including composition, and the right camera kit you should be pleased with the images you make.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru