Last month I was in New York for a conference (a very unique and interesting one which is basically summer camp for adults – if you're interested it's called Camp Good Life). I met up with my friend and dPS writer James Maher and we co-hosted a photo walk in New York City. He led and created the route as he's local to NYC and knows the city well.
We had just over 30 people join us. If you were among the group – it was great to see and meet you! But if you weren't able to make it, perhaps there will be another opportunity in the near future (invite me to come to your city!) as we plan to do it again next year. James also leads street photography and other workshops in NYC (more on that below if you're in the area and interested in attending).
New York is a fascinating and diverse city with so many things to see around every corner. It's a photographer's paradise. Many people filled their cards as James led us through alleyways, over the Manhattan Bridge, and through Chinatown. Here are some of the things I captured and what I look for as I shoot. Notice the categories and use them to help you when you are out and about in your city. Look for these things there too!
Each city has its own unique brand of architecture and buildings. Photograph them in an interesting way and look for details and textures.
Reflections can happen anywhere there is a shiny surface. Look for them in windows, puddles, monuments, glasses, etc. Make sure that what you capture in the reflection is also interesting in itself. Also, watch where you focus. Shooting glasses for example, if you focus on the glasses the thing reflected in them will not be sharp and vice versa. So make a decision as to which is more important – the reflection of the thing it's reflected in.
Other people on your walk
Whether you're on a photo walk with a group or just by yourself, capturing photos of what people are doing around you is important too. They set the scene and the tone of the photos for other people viewing your images. If you're photographing locals it gives people a sense of life in that city. I consider myself primarily a people photographer and when I travel I love to capture the essence of a place through its people.
By far and away the thing I look for the most when I photograph is light. If I find some good or interesting light I will look for a subject inside it. When I find an interesting subject with bad light – I either don't shoot it, or come back later after the light changes. Light is everything in photography if you focus on learning to see it your work will improve.
I cannot explain it but somehow I always end up in Chinatown in NYC. Perhaps I was Asian in a past life – I certainly tend to eat any type of Asian food as my preference (Japanese, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Malay, Korean, you name it). So I was glad James led us through a park where they play various games and some of us ended up having lunch in the neighborhood too.
If your city or the one you're visiting has an ethnic or cultural area – visit it and take it all in. How is it different than other parts of the city? What do you smell and hear as well as see? Try and capture that in your images.
Like landscapes, you can capture a larger view of the city in a cityscape. To do so you need to find the right vantage point. You can use apps like The Photographer's Ephemeris, PlanIt! (Apple OS only) or even Google maps to find the perfect location.
On our photo walk of NYC, James took us part way over the Manhattan Bridge and it gave us some great city skyline viewpoints along the way. Shoot the whole thing or just parts, your choice.
City at night
Last but not least, get out and photograph the city at night. Often places like New York (the city that doesn't sleep) and other big cities the really interesting stuff happens after the sun goes down and the city comes alive. Grab a tripod and a friend, and get out and do some night photography.
Keep in mind that if you want color in the sky get out right after sunset at blue hour!
Conclusion and action plan
I'll leave you with this photo I took of myself (by holding my camera upside down).
The biggest thing I'd like to see you doing is having fun! If you can't be a little silly and play what's the point?! Make sure not to take yourself too seriously and always have fun with your photography. There is no right or wrong only different.
Street photography workshop with James Maher in NYC
Now it's your turn! If you are in the New York area or want an excuse to visit the city, check out this workshop with James Maher next spring.
You can see more of James' photos and interviews with people from the East Village in NYC here.
James' workshop is April 29-30th, 2017 and if you register before October 10th, 2016 you will get the early-bird price. You also get two of his ebooks included with your workshop fee. Two full days covering all aspects of street photography and the best NYC guide you can ask for!
Get more info about the street photography workshop with James. Here are a few more of his images. You can see some past articles he's done here on Digital Photo Mentor as well: