Two Day Trip to Kuala Lumpur the BIG CITY and Some Thoughts on Architectural Photography in Congested Urban Centers

Kuala Lumpur is exciting, busy, and VERY TALL

Kuala Lumpur is a city I always enjoy visiting, and I suppose that is because of my Urban Planning background: I have a Masters of Community and Regional Planning degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. My Masters thesis was actually about Urban Planning in areas with Limited Land Space. That, however, seems like ages ago, when I was in graduate school at UNL.

Kuala Lumpur is bustling and always growing. Construction is non-stop. And, every structure seems huge in Kuala Lumpur.

PETRONAS TWIN TOWERS — 451.9 meters, 88 floors, completed in 1996.

Copyright 2017 Nawfal Johnson

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The MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL — A 30 floors structure completed in 1998.

Copyright 2017 Nawfal Johnson

All Rights Reserved.

The FOUR SEASONS HOTEL — 343 metres tall, 65 floors plus 3 underground, and it was completed in 2018. Four Seasons Place Kuala Lumpur is a mixed commercial and residential building that comprises a hotel. It is currently the third tallest hotel in the world.

(Menara Maxis is the building with the digital clock).

Copyright 2017 Nawfal Johnson

All Rights Reserved.

Even the Digital TV hanging from the Center Dome of the Suria KLCC Shopping Complex, is huge — The monitor screen is approximately 4 floors tall, roughly 48 feet in height!

A Dior advertisement playing on the monitor screen, in the center of the central dome of Suria KLCC. The monitor revolves 360°.

Copyright 2018 Nawfal Johnson

All Rights Reserved.

The Visit

My visit to Kuala Lumpur was not for fun, really: It was business at the embassy. You cannot take any kind of electronics into the embassy, including any sort of wires, or anything with any metal, etc….for security reasons.

Because of this, I never take my camera gear if I am going to the embassy. The U S embassy guard station at the front gate is probably one very safe place to leave my camera gear bag if I had to, but I just don’t want to risk it. The security personnel are EXTREMELY nice and helpful! No doubt about that. Nevertheless, I just decided to use my Tab to take any pictures during this visit to Kuala Lumpur, and that is OK, but I still prefer the quality of a DSLR camera, even though it is less convenient than my Tab.

Before my appointment at the embassy, I did have some time to walk around, and I went to the KL Eco Park, located near the KL Tower. It was interesting, but the weather now, in KL, is EXTREMELY hot and humid during the days, and by mid to late afternoon, it pours down rain. So, prepare to sweat a lot, and, get soaked too, if you are outside during a tropical rainstorm without an umbrella. Thus…carry an umbrella at all times as the rain could come without much warning.

Traffic is non-stop too in Kuala Lumpur, that is, until 5 O’clock comes about (or a rainstorm hits), and then, as my GRAB driver told me, “If traffic is moving, it is not a jam.” But at 5 O’clock, he warned, a 20 minute trip with heavy traffic can take an hour and half in a jam (defined as car-filled roads that move a little, then stop, then move a little, then stop, repeat).

If you are going somewhere by car, plan accordingly.

Menara Olympia

34 Floors.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo Copyright 2018 Nawfal Johnson

All Rights Reserved.

※ Photographed from the suspension walkway system at the Eco Park.

By 2020 Two of the Tallest Buildings in the World will be in Kuala Lumpur

Architectural Photography in cities, like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is a huge challenge.

Problems with Architecture Photography from the Street.

There are skyscrapers stacked next to skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur. If you are photographing high rise structures from street level, you have to hope you can find a spot to stand far enough away, using a lens wide enough to get the entire building in the frame without it looking like the structure is deformed and falling over into other buildings.

To find such a great location from the street is nearly impossible. You cannot get back far enough with a lens that has little barrel distortion or pin-cushioning to get a good shot. There is always another skyscraper in the way, behind you, or, in front of you.

If you could find a good location from the street, consider yourself blessed!

Two of the Tallest Buildings in the World by 2025, will be in Kuala Lumpur.

The Tradewinds Square, Tower A, will be 775 meters tall, with 110 floors, and would be the tallest building in Southeast Asia. It is currently under construction. Another monster skyscraper in KL, will be KL118, which will have 118 floors, and will stand at 644 meters, and it is expected to be completed by 2020.

Possible Solutions for Achieving Good Architecture Photography in a Skyscraper Congested City:

● If you have a good location from the street to photograph a building, then the ideal lens to use, to get great-straight lines, is a Tilt-Shift lens. However, the distance between you and the building must still be suitable for the wide-angleness of the lens. The lens may be good and wide, but it still may not be good enough to get the entire building in the frame.

● If you can use a tilt-shift lens, or a sufficient wide-angle lens without too much distortion, perhaps you can go up halfway in a nearby building that gives you a clear view of your subject building. Gaining access could be problematic if it is a commercial or residential property. If you can find an observation deck, or some open space in an adjoining building, that could work to your benefit.

● You can photograph looking down on other buildings if you have a taller building with an observation deck , such as the KL Tower. If you want that kind of shot, it works great! Buildings with a high vantage points and observation decks are great places to setup your gear and photograph urban landscapes too. Tripods or Monopods may or may not be allowed — usually not, however.

☆ The difficulty of architectural photography from the street level is getting undistorted photographs of solitary buildings that are between 50 to 700 meters tall in congested urban settings. That is no easy task! There’s usually something always in the way. Nevertheless, if you want the shot bad enough, you will need to adapt and improvise where needed.

● If it were allowed, and a client wanted to send you up in a helicopter, that would be ideal, but very expensive, and perhaps a little dangerous. I am unaware if many cities allow helicopters to hover over urban central business districts (CBDs) — it may not be allowed in many cities.

If You Can’t get Distortion-Free Photographs from Your Location—What is the Solution?

One of the better solutions to correct perspective is using any of the Perspective-Correction Software. It is not ideal, but the technology is VERY Good now, and you can fix a lot of the distortion details caused by your lens angle, and lens defects — lens anomalies can often be fixed with software. In many cases, this is the only reasonable solution. There will be some clarity degradation, but if the software is excellent, then you should be in good shape. If I am using a computer to edit my photos, I have always preferred Paint Shop Pro; however, I think Lightroom has excellent Perspective Correction tools also. I am sure there are many of these types of software tools that I have not tried yet.

So, there you go.

I do like Architectural Photography; I just don’t get the opportunity to photograph buildings very often.