A Photographer's Guide To Singapore Part 1 - Landscapes

My Singapore adventure is unfortunately coming to an end... in two short months I'll be leaving and returning to the UK. It's for a very good reason - we're having a baby - and it has been a fantastic experience & I've enjoyed it immensely, not least because of the photography opportunities. Singapore sometimes gets a bad rep online for not being particularly appealing for photographers but after living here for two years I can confidently say that assessment is wrong. Flat out wrong.

Image courtesy of truphotos.com

Singapore has a HUGE amount of photographic appeal and while you may need to invest some time to get the best out of the city, in doing so you'll not only get some great photos but, if you're anything like me, you'll come to love & appreciate this tiny corner of South East Asia a whole lot more.

To commemorate my time here I wanted to share some of my own personal highlights & also produce a guide for other photographers. I've split it down into different chunks focusing on different genres.  Part 1 is all about landscapes. 

Shooting in the City

If you search for "Singapore" on Flickr then you could be forgiven for thinking that the downtown skyline & Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel are the only landscapes in the whole country! It's a very common scene, something of a local trope while still it's undeniably photogenic the challenge is to shoot it in a way that's unusual or eye-catching. There are no end of places to get a decent shot of the skyline but some of the best views are from across the Helix bridge, as shown here, from Gardens by the Bay East (letting you get MBS, the city & the Singapore Flyer too) or from any number of rooftop bars/restaurants. Shooting from across Marina Bay tends to not be so good, the flat expanse of water in front of you doesn't make for appealing foreground interest. MBS itself has a dedicated viewing deck, the Skypark, but it also has a great bar - it's about S$40 for either location but you get a nice cocktail for you money and if you go around sunset you get blue hour views for the same price as if you paid for the SkyPark. My advice is to shoot from the bar during sunset, enjoy a few more drinks, then when they kick the Skypark people out later at night you can then shoot right from the edge! Bars in the city that give similar drinks+photography options include Level 33 (great food too) and One-Altitude.

This was shot from the Skypark at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel but you can get the exact same view from their bar, CE LA VI. You also get a cocktail!

Again it's a bit cliched but the Merlion, Singapore's most recent national symbol, makes for a pretty scene when positioned beside the backdrop of the city. Like MBS photos it has been done to death but the dedicated viewing platform is the perfect location even when thronged with tourists.

Just remember that "to Merlion" is a collaquial term for vomiting...

Another classic spot that takes in MBS, the City & the Singapore Flyer in one sweep is from Gardens by the Bay East - across the river from the Supertrees and linked by a very convenient cycle path. Not only does it let you shoot a classic panorama taking the best of the "tourist" skyline but there are usually other photographers there with the same idea as you and always happy to have a chat!

GET OUT OF TOWN

If we move away from the downtown & bay areas but still focus on urban lanscapes there are countless opportunities to shoot busy city scenes. Make a point of looking out for conveniently placed HDB buildings - these government-built housing projects are publically accessible and you can get some very cool views of the landscape from the stairwells. In particular, there are a few dotted around the Chinatown area which give the best views of landmarks like the Buddha Tooth Temple or endless rows of tiled rooftops overshadowing the backalleys of Chinatown itself. Similarly, if you want to shoot the Singapore River as it snakes its way through the city, keep your eyes open for both HDB buildings and the emergency exits on the side of malls. 

Image courtesy of truphotos.com

Make sure you remember to explore further afield to find new & interesting angles of the city - this was shot from an HDB building less than 5 minutes walk from Tiong Bahru MRT station.

Normally when I'm out exploring the city on a photowalk I start at one end of an MRT line then work my way back, getting out at each stop and seeing what catches my attention. It was doing this when I first discovered the "Tetris Brick" building out near the University. It's actually a building owned by Singtel, one of the major telecoms firms in Singapore. Absolutely batshit crazy design, but it's definitely eye-catching. 

As well as using nearby HDB buildings as a handy vantage point, keep an look out for condos. While almost all are private property, if you explain what you're doing to the security teams and show them your work then maybe they'll give you permission to shoot... though don't get your hopes up, I can count on one hand the number of times I've been escorted to the roof of a condo :)  

It's not just using the condos as makeshift ladders to get some altitude though. There are plenty of examples of striking, unusual architecture out there that make for good landscapes and in some cases, interesting abstracts.

It may have a stupid name but it's a cool building - D'Leedon condo. Great photo! Image courtesy of Steiner J on Flickr

Ever wondered what one of your childhood Lego brick constructions would look like in the real world? Now you don't need to!

PARKS & RECREATION

Singapore identifies itself as a "city within a garden" and it's true. There are trees and greenery EVERYWHERE, even in built up areas. Aside from the large nature reserve-cum-reservoir smack in the centre of the island there are also loads of national parks dotted around the place.

East Coast Park is the largest of all the National Parks and although it's man-made you can watch the thousands of ships permanently moored at anchor in the Singapore Straits, especially at night. Though the park is usually better for BBQs and spotting birds, it's definitely worth an explore. Heading around the island anti-clockwise you'll end up at Changi Beach - not, as the name might suggest - at the beach nearest the airport but instead it's the north east corner of the island. The Changi Boardwalk is another well-trodden site and is especially pretty when it's all lit-up after dark

It may take a while but you can eventually find landscape photos that aren't an exercise in how to abuse HDR!  This is one of those rare gems, image courtesy of Michael de Guzman

There's no better spot for long exposure shots of waves than Punggol waves. Fans of the ND10 will never get tyred. Image courtesy of Wee Aik Chye

There's no better spot for long exposure shots of waves than Punggol waves. Fans of the ND10 will never get tyred. Image courtesy of Wee Aik Chye

Keep skirting your way around the top of the island and you'll run across more parks, such as Pasir Ris & Punggol. With Malaysia visible a stones throw over the water there are some lovely rocky beaches and the twinkling lights on the horizon come from all of the oil rigs - Singapore is one of the world's most prolific locations for building them. Another place for rocky beaches is Sentosa Island though you'll need to get away from the immaculate sand beach constructions to find them.

There are even some isolated spots where the skies can sometimes get dark enough to try your hand at astrophotography - be warned though, the light pollution is almost always pretty bad and it's rare conditions are good enough.

The famous "lone tree" is still up there in Punggol park but after a lightning strike a few years ago it's a shadow of its former self and there are rumours it's going to be torn down to stop it potentially collapsing and injuring people. ** update ** - it has already been taken down :(

Rounding out our lap of the coastline will take you via Kranji and the large expanses of currently undeveloped land. It can be tricky to get around and navigate in some places but if there are less-trodden paths in Singapore then this is where you'll find them. The Kranji Marshes are good for wildlife photography too. Kranji war memorial is another attractive location but is due to be closed & redeveloped soon.

 Image courtesy of Chit Min Maung - The reservoirs right in the centre of the island are definitely worth a visit, specifically Upper & Lower Seletar and MacRitchie.

 Image courtesy of Chit Min Maung - The reservoirs right in the centre of the island are definitely worth a visit, specifically Upper & Lower Seletar and MacRitchie.

Be sure to check out places like the Botanic Gardens and the Chinese & Japanese Gardens too, there are some classic spots within - personally I liked shooting the gardens from outside, picturing them as oases in the middle of a bustling city. And finally... no list of landscape photography locations in Singapore would be complete without mentioning Gardens by the Bay. Rising out of the jungle like something out of a science fiction movie, the best time to shoot it is around 8pm just as the daily light-show starts. While the Supertrees are the obvious draw, make sure you spend some time exploring the rest of the Gardens... there are surprises lurking in the bushes and floating above them!

TOP TIPS

  1. Get away from the centre of town. Hop on an MRT line and while riding to the end, make notes about what you see out of the window then work your way back in via the interesting places you saw.

  2. It's always good advice to shoot in the blue/golden hours but it's an even better idea in Singapore. There are almost always interesting skies and it beats shooting during the day when it's uncomfortably hot and the sky can be overwhelmingly bright, flat & boring.

  3. Pay attention to the weather for haze warnings in June/July or sometimes even as late as September. Slash & burn farming in neighbouring Indonesia can sometimes send acrid waves of smoke which not only put an end to decent photography opportunities but can occasionally be hazardous to health.
  4. Ditch the HDR, bring your best ND grad filters! This might even help with tip #2 :)

MORE INSPIRATION

Hopefully this has proven there's more to Singapore landscape photography than just tourist snaps of a concrete catfish or a hotel that looks like a snake draped across three deckchairs :)

If you have some great landscape locations or advice you want to share then get in touch, I'd love to showcase your work & your ideas! One thing I love about the Singapore photography community is they are always willing to share tips & locations.

Get out there and start using your imagination!

Raffles Marina Lighthouse, image courtesy of Steven Hee

Image courtesy of truphotos.com

Image courtesy of Jimmy Lim from JLim Pictures - This is the Rochor Centre, a local landmark set to be torn down and replaced in 2016. It shows how important photography can be in preserving the memory of a place & its community, especially somewhere that changes as rapidly as Singapore.

A great panorama of the Reflections condo, near Keppel Bay. The condo design always reminds me of the cover of a cheesy 80s novel!  Image courtesy of Steven Hee

Image credit to Francis Lim - The Henderson Wave Bridge near the southern peaks (not far from Vivo City) is another cool piece of architecture that also doubles as a great place to shoot from, giving views over Sentosa/the sea from one angle and the city from another.

Image credit to Francis Lim - The Henderson Wave Bridge near the southern peaks (not far from Vivo City) is another cool piece of architecture that also doubles as a great place to shoot from, giving views over Sentosa/the sea from one angle and the city from another.

Image courtesy of truphotos.com

One of my own photos, showing the impact the haze had on our photography. Although in the case I quite liked the unusual glow it created in the sky! Shot from CityLights condo

One of my own photos, showing the impact the haze had on our photography. Although in the case I quite liked the unusual glow it created in the sky! Shot from CityLights condo

It's hard to get the perfect perspective of the Jurong docks and it's strictly off limits to photographers but there's definitely potential. This was another case where I was allowed to shoot from a neighbouring condo.

I'm pretty sure everyone has this photo of Scott's Road but I've included it to highlight that there are loads of overpasses and vantage points to shoot some awesome light trail photos.