Written by Thomas Leuthard
As I’m in New York right now, I would like to give some tips on how to travel to a foreign city as a street photographer. There are several things you might think about and which you have to consider:
A new culture
Shooting in the streets is not accepted in the same way in all of the cultures of the World. The difficult thing is to find that out, as when you ask someone he would tell you “No, you cannot do that, people don’t like that.”. That’s what everyone would say. The only way to find out is to try it out. Maybe not jumping right into their faces with a 50mm, but slowly and steady. Here in New York, it’s like everywhere I have been so far. It’s not a problem at all. People will look at you strangely, but this is what all of them do.
Where to go?
I normally like the places where there are a lot of tourists or at least a lot of local people. Places where people are in a rush and don’t really care what is going on – like subway stations, sightseeing hot spots, shopping streets and so on. As I shoot all kind of people, I don’t care whether they are local or just tourists. In touristic places, you can use your camera without any problem and nobody really cares. In Time Square in New York, nearly everyone is taking a photo of something. In the Subway, people are doing their own thing and don’t really care about their surroundings. The only problem there is the light and the movement. But at every station you can take your shots- either in the Subway out of it. Just keep your eyes wide open.
Meeting other photographers
What I really like is meeting other photographers in a foreign city. First of all, I don’t want to go alone all the time, but secondly I would like to find the really interesting places and stories of a city. I’m not a person who likes talking to people as most of them perform small talk, but when it comes to photography, I’m the first one who wants to meet other photographers. Especially other street photographers I admire or just aspiring street photographers who want to learn something. It has been always fun to meet and shoot together.
The best place to get in contact with other photographers are the online communities like Flickr!, Facebook, etc. You just have to plan this upfront and keep your eyes open to find people from the city you travel to. You can also make entries in forums or discussion boards that you want to organize a photo walk. Don’t be shy, people like to go out with photographers from abroad. I do that always when I’m somewhere in this World and I have met wonderful people.
From big trips I always make a photobook with the best 100-120 shots just to keep this trip in my mind. It also really helps to shoot a lot of photos. I want to make a good book to show to people at home. Also, start uploading photos to Facebook and Flickr! while you are there. People at home want to see what you are doing and are interested in the photos you take. They are waiting for the results, so don’t disappoint them.
The best thing is to combine your passions. I love taking photos in big cities and I also like traveling to big cities to enjoy foreign food, going shopping, sightseeing and so on. Therefore Street Photography and traveling match perfectly. Maybe you have other passions you can combine with your photography.
Have a plan
It’s always good to have a plan, especially in a big, foreign city. There are so many impressions that you will be overwhelmed if you can’t focus on something. You could also try to do a series about a certain thing, like a special job (taxi drivers, subway drivers, cleaners, police officers, news sellers, dogs, etc.). There are many opportunities in a big city – you just have to see and capture them. A series of something always gives an interesting view to a city. Your special view is very important for finding your own style.
If you are taking photos of everything, you might be questioned sometimes. You can either tell them the truth and maybe be forced to delete a good photo. Or you just tell them a valid story and might be able to keep the shot. Tell them that you are a tourist and like to take photos of things that are going on. Or you are a photo student with a certain exercise you have to do. Or you are testing a new camera of a friend and randomly shoot things and of course you will format the card right at the end (who would shoot strangers in the streets…?).
There is no better thing for me than traveling to a big city I have never been to. There are so many things to do, there are so many photo opportunities to take and there are so many interesting memories you will get. But it’s often you who have to initiate certain things to make a city trip a success. But when you do the right things, a weekend trip feels often like a week of vacation. At least for me…
World Traveler & Street Photographer