San Francisco Chinatown Street Photography


My latest photographic journey took me from Vancouver, Canada to San Francisco where I spent five days shooting.  Each day I got up early to shoot the sunset, and stayed out late to shoot through blue hour.  When the light was not great mid day, however, I focused on street photography and constantly found myself drawn to San Francisco’s Chinatown.

All images in this post were shot with my constant travel companion, the Fuji X100s.


San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America, established in 1848.  Spend any significant amount of time there and you will realize that there are actually two Chinatowns:  the tourist one and the “real” one.   I highly recommend getting off the main drag……wander the alleys, go to the parks, go at night, etc.  It is truly an amazing place.

The main drag of Chinatown is full of tourist shops, street performers, people selling their wares and protesters:



If  you can’t see that clearly it says that the Chinese Communist Party is Satan.  She was very vocal about that.

Getting off the beaten path reveals a very different Chinatown.  The Tin How Temple is a perfect example.  You can walk by the door a dozen times and not see it if you aren’t looking for it.  The temple is small but beautiful… amazingly peaceful.  Photography is not allowed inside the temple (sadly), but you are allowed to go out onto the balcony and shoot this view across the Chinatown rooftops:

DSCF4340-2 Ross Alley is a popular tourist spot, perhaps because of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where you can watch the ladies who work there make the cookies.   It is one of the oldest parts of San Francisco’s Chinatown, originally known for its brothels and gambling houses.


I loved this doorway in the alley.  It seemed like every time I returned I captured a different person in it.


My favourite place to visit was definitely Portsmouth Square.  Every day, no matter what time I went, there were dozens of people (if not hundreds) playing games, gambling, talking, reading….. it was an amazing place to people watch and shoot.





And, as always with street photography, it was all about the random encounters with people:




I once read a comment from a photographer that talked about how an amazing photograph captures the right subject, at the right moment, in the right light, with the right background.  You always hope for that, but street photography is more like going fishing and not knowing what you are going to get. Do you find the great light and background and then hope that somebody walks through it? Do you find the great subject and hope they move into the right area? Do you stop them and ask to make a formal portrait?

It’s always exciting and fun, and I can’t think of a much better place to do it.

2 thoughts on “San Francisco Chinatown Street Photography

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