How to photograph Kuala Lumpur in 48 hours
Is it possible to put together a portfolio of Kuala Lumpur photos that will bring a taut smile of jealous admiration to friends and families back home in only 48 hours?
It sure is. Here’s how to do it if you've only got a couple days to spare in KL.
Morning -- KLCC Park
KLCC Park behind the Petronas Towers at sunrise is the ideal first stop.
Make sure the camera lens isn’t fogged up. Leaving an air-conditioned room for the thick humidity of the streets makes this a common occurrence.
Frame the towers using palm fronds and use the whale sculpture in the park lake as foreground interest to add depth to the image.
Position the shot so the first rays of sunlight sparkle off the sheer glass of the syringe-shaped towers.
The impressive fountains (up to 42 meters high) on Lake Symphony ‘perform’ from 10 a.m. to midnight at weekends and public holidays and 12 noon to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays.
Early morning joggers and Tai Chi groups also make interesting subjects.
Getting there: Enter KLCC Park from Jalan Ampang where the taxis gather outside the front of the Petronas Towers.
Walk down the east side of the towers and the park and lakes are straight ahead.
Walk to the other side of the lakes to get the best shots with the fountain in the foreground.
Opening hours: Officially 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily.
Afternoon -- Chow Kit wet market
In the heavy heat of the afternoon the largest wet market in Kuala Lumpur offers welcome shade and intriguing subjects.
Chow Kit wet market trades daily at the northern end of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Colorful fruits and spices are hawked by equally colorful characters that delight in posing for photos.
A polarizing filter helps saturate the colors and prevents the reflective glare from water, ice and metal. A bit of flash can help fill in the shadows on people’s faces.
The key to good travel portraiture is to chat with the subject first -- it helps them relax and brings out their character.
Malays are a very easy-going bunch, but not surprisingly they don’t like a camera shoved half way up a nostril without permission.
Getting there: You’ll find the market where Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Chow Kit meet. By Monorail it’s about 100 meters south from the Chow Kit station.
Opening hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
Evening -- Jalan Bukit Bintang
At night KL blazes with lights that festoon every available tree and lamp post.
Jalan Bukit Bintang is perhaps the most colorful street of all and has earned the reputation as the Champs Elysses of Kuala Lumpur.
It’s particularly spectacular during one of the many Malaysian festivals.
Use a long shutter speed (at least four seconds) and position the camera to create red and yellow trails with the front and rear lights of the cars as they pass by.
A tripod is essential for a sharp image in the dim evening light.
Try to include people who aren’t moving too, as the blur of the traffic and people walking past them will create an engaging combination.
Getting there: Jalan Bukit Bintang lies in the center of Kuala Lumpur and has its own Monorail station. The most colorful part of Jalan Bukit Bintang is Bintang Walk -- the stretch between Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Gading.
Morning -- Masjid Jamek old mosque
Religion is central to the Malay culture, so no visit would be complete without shots of the mosques and temples that glue together the local communities.
Start at the Masjid Jamek, the oldest mosque in KL. It’s located in the very spot the city first took root -- the confluence of the rivers Klang and Gombak, on Jalan Tun Perak.
Shoot the minarets and domes as silhouettes against the dawn sky and use the geometric shapes to create abstract patterns.
Next head south to Chinatown where the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple on Jalan Tun H.S Lee has an intricately carved 22.9 meter tower for you to shoot. Try to get some close-ups of the many ornate idols that adorn the building.
But always respect the privacy of worshippers.
In religious buildings the best shots tend to show people being active within their surroundings, so there’s no need to get too close or be overly intrusive. Incongruous images can work well too: worshippers using mobile phones and ornately dressed people arriving on mopeds, for example.
Getting there: The Masjid Jamek mosque sits on the corner of Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Benteng and the Masjid Jamek LRT station is right next door. Sri Mahamariamman temple: 163 Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, (China Town), Kuala Lumpur.
Opening hours: Masjid Jamek -- Daily 8.30 a.m. - 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. - 6 p.m. Free admission. Sri Mahamariamman temple: Daily, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Free admission.
Afternoon -- KL Bird Park
Malaysia is renowned for its wildlife and going to the KL Bird Park is the easiest way to add something different to a mix of portraits and cityscapes.
There are around 200 species to shoot in this 21-acre free-flying walk-in aviary. The birds are much tamer than their wild cousins making it easy to get great shots.
Watch the shutter speed when moving between sunlit and shaded areas; it should never fall below the focal length when taking hand-held pictures. For example a focal length of 100mm would need a shutter speed of at least 1/125th of a second or faster.
Getting there: The Bird Park is part of the Lake Gardens area, five minutes from KL Central Station. Full address: 920 Jalan Cenderawasih, Taman Tasik Perdana, 50480, Kuala Lumpur.
Opening hours: Daily, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Admission RM42.00 (adults), RM32 (children 3 – 12 years old)
Evening -- Petaling Street
Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling lies in the stimulating bosom of Chinatown and is famous for its night market.
It seems to have half of the KL populace heaving through it at once, but that’s the attraction.
There’s so much to photograph: the pained expressions of disconsolate hagglers, relaxing locals slurping up noodles along the roadside, the epileptic dazzle of multi-colored lights.
Once again a tripod is needed in the low light.
A little blurring of people walking past can add interest to a shot, but you’ll need to play with the ISO setting to create the amount of ghosting you’re after.
Set the metering mode to auto as there will be incandescent and fluorescent lights that will confuse the camera.
As always, get talking to the locals -- the stall sellers will pose all night for you if you buy one of their ‘genuine’ Rolex watches.
Getting there: Petaling Street is in the center of China Town and it has a roof, so you can’t miss it.
Opening hours: Loosely 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Camera (ideally an SLR) -- Morning, day and night
- Tripod (if you’re up at dawn) -- Morning, night
- Neutral density graduated filter. This helps balance the bright sunrise and the darker landscape -- Morning
- Camera bag for protection and comfort -- Morning, day and night
- Lots of memory cards -- Morning, day and night
- Spare battery -- Morning, day and night
- Polarising filter to prevent the sun glaring off shiny surfaces -- Day
- A flash helps if you want to freeze movement -- Night
Sun block, hat, sunglasses, cotton shirt, water, good walking shoes.
Where to buy camera gear
The best place is Plaza Low Yat as there are lots of camera stores and stalls all centralized in one large camera complex: Plaza Low Yat, No. 7 Jalan, Bintang, Off Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang Central, 55100 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: +603 2148 3651
Getting there: Light Rail Transit (LRT) Mono-rail line. Stop at Bukit Bintang station and it’s behind the Bukit Bintang/Sungei Wang Plaza (adjoining shopping complex)