New York Street Photography

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My favourite definition of street photography (and there are many) is:

“Capturing the human element in the urban landscape”

By that definition, there are few places better to shoot street photography than New York City.  Millions of people, from all walks of life, can be found on the streets of this small island every day.   It is the place where famous street photographers like Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, Mary Ellen Mark and many others created some of their most famous photographs.  It is alive 24 hours per day and the photographic opportunities are endless.   Simply put, you cannot go to New York City and not shoot on the streets!  During my most recent trip I was out at every opportunity:  early morning, in the evening, and mid day between family travels.

This post is part three of a five part series featuring photography from New York City:

All images in this post were taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and a 35mm f/2 lens, and can be clicked to view large.  With that said, let’s look at life on the streets of New York City!

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I have always loved iconic transportation systems.  I love the cable cars in San Francisco, the Metro in Paris, and above all the subway system in New York.  It is a living, breathing part of the city that moves over 5 million people per day.

The photo above was taken while I was waiting to catch a train.  I love the framing lines, the backlight, and the lone person standing on the platform.  Here are a few more taken from the subway platforms:

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It is also interesting to watch life on the trains.  During busy times you are packed in, literally shoulder to shoulder, with other people.  Somehow though everyone manages to remain completely in their own world:

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The only downfall to taking the subway as a street photographer is that you don’t get to observe people on the streets of the city.  As awesome as shooting on the subway is, to really experience New York you need to be out on foot.  New York is a city of diverse communities all thrown together and each has it’s own flavour.  I only managed to spend a few hours in Chinatown this trip, but I love the feel of its streets:

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SoHo, which stands for “South of Houston Street”, is a community in lower Manhattan that is well known for its art galleries, shopping, and upscale dining.   Here are a few images from that area:

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Midtown New York, home to famous landmarks like The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, offers the street photographer a mix of demographics to photograph:

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And, finally for this blog post, there is Times Square and the Theater District.

Shooting street in Times Square can be more challenging than one would think:   It is very busy and packed full of people.   This makes it easy to find subjects, but also much harder to nail your composition.  If you are the type of candid street photographer who likes to find a great background, set your stage, and wait for the right person to walk through you will need to re-think your game a little bit here.  Wide lenses and putting yourself right in the centre of the action are the way to go in Times Square.  Just immerse yourself.  Shoot close and take it all in:

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People who haven’t seen Times Square at night may look at this next photo and think “hey, that girl is naked in Times Square”!  The truth is the you can find all types of crazy and awesome people in Times Square.  What I really loved about this scene was the Body Worlds poster pointing at the naked girl.  That is something you don’t see everyday!

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This final photo was taken very late at night in Times Square (or, more likely, very early morning).  New York doesn’t stop… it just keeps going!

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If you plan on shooting street in New York here are a few recommendations:

  1. Leave almost all of your gear at home.  You need one camera body and one lens.  You are going to be shooting very close to your subjects, so if possible use a mirrorless camera that can be silenced and bring a wide lens (23mm to 35mm is perfect).  Stick an extra battery and card in your pocket and call it done.
  2. Wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  New York is a city that needs to be walked to experience it properly.  You aren’t going to make many great street photos from the back seat of a cab!
  3. Give yourself time.  I cannot stress this enough, because there is something new around every corner.  Get lost in the city.  Wander.  Explore.  Get off the beaten tourist streets.  When you find a great spot hang out and enjoy it.  Watch life go by, and shoot what catches your eye.
  4. Finally, don’t forget to interact with the people.  New Yorkers are some of the nicest people you are going to meet.  Approaching and talking to strangers can be a bit of an art form, but when you make that connection with someone new it is a great thing.

I hope you enjoyed this quick look at the streets of New York.  In part four of this series we are going to take a look at a photo essay from The National September 11th Memorial and Museum.

Cheers,

Ian

11 thoughts on “New York Street Photography

  1. dlqdprn says:

    Great article Ian. I will have to catch up on all the parts soon. I agree, after one day with you and Valerie I consider myself somewhat of an expert, that one body, one lens and 2 batteries would be my working motto. Pop off the subway with nothing but the shirt on your back and the camera in your hand. I probably won’t carry a bag at all for street shooting again. . D.

  2. kyle says:

    I love that shot with the Chicago posters in the background! Such a fun interplay between the 2D posters and the 3D world.

    Regarding your fourth piece of advice, you mention that approaching strangers is a bit of an art form…do you have any tips for developing this skill? Is it as simple as “just go do it” or are there certain methods that you like to use? Any thoughts/links would be much appreciated, but don’t feel the need to respond if you’re too busy!

    Keep up the awesome work!

  3. David myres says:

    Great article! And some great images. I spent a week or so there in March and am still working my way through the product. Such is the life of an amateur. I appreciated your comments about Times Square – challenging lighting even at 430 in the morning! I’ll share as soon as they’re ready. Look forward to your next article!

    • Ian says:

      Times Square is great to shoot in, but you definitely do need to change your game a little bit. Looking forward to seeing your images!

      Cheers,

      Ian

  4. Denis Lincoln says:

    Some fun shots as usual, Ian. Thank you for sharing them. I took my daughter there last week for her first visit to NYC (not mine) and she and I both had a blast and covered a lot of ground.

    Times Square was wild and interesting, chaotic and humming with action as usual. Can’t wait to get some film back. The digital stuff I shot was much more interesting in the moment. I’ll sit on them for awhile. 🙂

    • Ian says:

      Sitting on photos is good.. you see them with more clarity and a more objective eye.

      Glad to hear you had a great trip!

      Cheers,

      Ian

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