The Thai city of Pattaya has a reputation for being a place to party. Despite being a coastal resort, nightlife proves the chief draw for many visitors. For photographers, that can make its streets a challenging yet rewarding place to wield a camera.
Pattaya grew rapidly in the 1960s when it became a popular destination among members of the US military on rest and recuperation breaks — commonly termed ‘R&R’ — during tours of duty to Vietnam.
Many of the men posted to the conflict sought solace in alcohol and the company of women. Supply grew to meet that demand. The resort developed a reputation as a sex industry hub that is still going strong today.
Bars and pubs
These days, many of Pattaya’s bars are open sided; hosts tend to greet by-passers and invite people in for a drink. Generally speaking, Pattaya has a laid-back vibe but, due to the sensitive nature of some of the transactions that occur, it makes sense to ensure that the people who appear in your photographs agree to being depicted.
One bar worker proved happy to pose for images during a quiet afternoon. She agreed to let me photograph her putting on makeup in a mirror and dancing by a pole. As it was fun to do the shoot and the images convey the relaxed vibe. I’m always keen that people are themselves while being photographed.
Many kathoeys, known to us as ladyboys, live and work in Pattaya. Tiffany’s Show, a popular live extravaganza, is held several times a day. Seek prior permission if you want to photograph during performances. In town you may well be approached by ladyboys who are not shy about batting their eyelashes and pulling a pose.
Make the most of the moment if you are approached by a group of strangers who are willing to be photographed. Don’t be shy about getting people to shift positions so the composition looks strong.
If you’re using flash because light levels are low, think about shooting two or three images in rapid succession. That way you minimise the chance of your subjects’ eyes being closed, or semi-closed, due to blinking.
Don’t forget that night photos of cities tend to look their best when there’s still a bit of blue in the sky. If you do go out with your tripod, scout out the best locations during daylight and be ready to photography when dusk is falling.
Out on the water
Of course, during the daytime Pattaya hosts a spectrum of water-based activities. If you do decide to take a camera out on the water, make sure you have waterproof housing to protect your equipment. Avoid changing lenses on the beach to minimise the risk of getting sand inside your kit.
In terms of lighting, many people return from beach holidays wondering why their photos are too dark. In simplistic terms it’s caused by under-exposure due to the metering system of cameras being confused by the amount of light reflecting off sand and water.
Don’t be afraid of deliberately overexposing your shots using the exposure override setting. Using flash on a sunny days can add detail to dark areas of shadow on photos of people.
If you’re photographing a person against a bright background, with lots of sunshine, that can help ensure you don’t simply snap silhouettes.
Getting to Pattaya
Pattaya lies around 100km south-east of Bangkok. From Kuala Lumpur, one of the cheapest ways of reaching Thailand’s capital is on Air Asia flights to Don Mueang International Airport.
Alternatively, Malaysia Airlines flies to the Suvarnabhumi Airport.