Where Travel + Street Meet. A personal and widespread look into the world of Street Photography. Learn about Street Photography and Travel the World through the eyes of Street Photography. Join me as I travel the world on different photography projects one city at a time.
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*A series of guides on shooting Street Photography in cities around the world. Find the best spots to shoot, things to capture, street walks, street tips, safety concerns, and more for cities around the world. I have personally researched, explored and shot Street Photography in every city that I create a guide for. So you can be...
*A series of guides on shooting Street Photography in cities around the world. Find the best spots to shoot, things to capture, street walks, street tips, safety concerns, and more for cities around the world. I have personally researched, explored and shot Street Photography in every city that I create a guide for. So you can be ready to capture the streets as soon as you step outside with your camera!
When it comes to big cities, not many can rival the size and number of places to explore that Seoul has to offer. It’s massive and spread out, but with an expansive and efficient metro system that makes it manageable. Still, with the variety of neighborhoods and life Seoul contains, this city could fill months to really get to know. No matter how much time you have, though, you’ll find a city full of old markets and modern shopping, old traditions and new trends, historic sites and modern industry, and the list goes on. Seoul has it all. It might get unwanted comparisons to Tokyo, but if you really want to experience Seoul, you’ll find a city and life all its own. From morning through night.
So here’s a Street Photography guide so you can be ready to capture all that Seoul has to offer before you even arrive…
Bonus: Seochon Village
In a city full of shopping destinations, Myeong-dong remains its most popular. The area is also a hub of commerce and banking in the center of the city, but is most known for its mix of retail stores, street stalls, restaurants, cafes, street food and people walking in every direction among the crowded pedestrian streets. It’s especially known for its clothing and Korean cosmetic shops. It’s not only popular with the locals, but also with the international crowd, as it can feel touristy. For some it might be too messy and crowded, but it does supply guaranteed activity at all times. With plenty of streets to explore, you can spend a good amount of time here too. While I’m not the biggest fan of crowded streets of people moving in all directions, it does have some areas where people hang out. And it provides a very much Seoul atmosphere with a good amount of K-pop character.
The Cheongyecheon Stream is over 10 kilometers long and runs right through downtown Seoul. The stream flows below street level with pathways along each side, making it a more serene walk below the city. The city spent $900 million back in 2005 to fix it up nice with small waterfalls, bridges and more. While the surrounding downtown streets are busy, it can be surprisingly quiet along the stream, as people come to relax and stroll. It has an interesting atmosphere within downtown. You’ll find business suits on their lunch break, couples enjoying some privacy, and others just going for a stroll. It likely won’t bring chaos and loads of interesting scenes, but it can bring some, while also providing a change of scene when you’re already downtown.
Insadong is nearby shopping street that brings plenty of life too. While a bit touristy, there’s always something going on here.
Gwanghwamun Gate is an icon of Seoul. While there are other gates surrounding the famous Gyeongbokgung Palace, this is the most popular and visually appealing of the four. You’ll always find tourists gathering to take photos in front of the guards before entering. While touristy, it does provide interest and the square inside is worth checking out too. There’s open light, nice backgrounds, characters and activity to see if you can make anything out of it.
In front of the gate, you’ll also find Gwanghwamun Square. More of a long rectangle, this pedestrian space fills 20,000 square meters, making it a decent walk. You’ll find museums, monuments, crafts vendors and more around this central square. Its location in the heart of the city between the Gwanghwamun Gate and Cheongyecheon Stream puts it right in the middle of it all for street photography and becomes the location for events and markets on certain days.
Dating back to 1414, Namdaemun Market is the oldest and largest traditional market in Korea with over 10,000 vendors covering multiple blocks. If it exists in Korea, you can probably find it for sale here. Fish, fruit, grains, flowers, clothing, jewelry, electronics (including photography equipment) and the list goes on and on. It’s also a popular spot to come for Korean street food. There’s probably not a market where you’ll find a better variety of traditional Korean goods.
In a city full of traditional markets, this is the most famous one so it does attract plenty of tourists, but it still keeps an authentic feeling. The only downside, like most of these traditional Korean markets, is it’s mostly inside with poor lighting. Still, for many, it will make for a good stop for photography. It’s also only a 10-minute walk from Seoul Station, the busiest metro station in Korea. So you can stop there for more active interest and use it to get to/from the rest of the city.
Hongdae is known for its young, trendy atmosphere. Near Hongik University, a popular art college, you’ll notice plenty of university aged and younger dressed in the most recent fashion trends, which is interesting enough on its own in Seoul. This hipster vibe has brought a creative scene with cafes, clubs, vintage shops, urban art, and a popular indie music scene. While prices have changed, past cheaper rents helped bring this musician and artist scene to life. Today, it makes for a great sensory overload to walk with your camera. Everywhere you look, you’ll see something unique and interesting, from the all the shops and style to the indie street musicians and chaos. And it only gets busier at night.
Sinchon is another neighborhood nearby that shares some of the same young appeal. With all the nearby universities, you’ll find that same young, trendy vibrance with a Korean signature. I’d recommend exploring both neighborhoods as it’s one of my favorite areas in the city for street photography.
Itaewon is a popular district in Seoul, especially with expats and foreigners. It’s gritty and contains one of the city’s popular red light districts, but it’s still safe and friendly. In addition to some of the grittier side, there’s plenty of nice restaurants, bars, clubs and shops. It’s a good area to explore with many pedestrian friendly streets and some of the better food in the city. There’s an international feeling here, including a nearby army base, and plenty of activity throughout the day, and night.
Itaewon is especially popular for its nightlife. I’ve even spent a whole night here shooting the streets and watching the drunken debauchery until sun up, and I’d recommend it if you’re up for it. There’s a lot going on here throughout the night and the streets are still busy up until the first metro ride in the morning. It definitely contains interest, especially during those last couple hours when people are done with the bars and are just stumbling together out on the street. That first metro ride can contain some interest too. I wouldn’t do it every night, but it’s worth a night to see the neon lights and a completely different scene in Seoul.
Mixed into the sprawling urban metropolis, Seoul contains small, older villages still mixed in. Some are built on the mountain side, giving them even more character and views. Ihwa Mural Village is one of those villages, which takes you along a nice little wallside hike up Seoul’s Mt. Naksan to get there. In an effort to revitalize this old village, artists painted murals along its steep, winding streets. This also ended up bringing crowds of tourists after being featured in a movie. Some of the murals have been painted over, as not all the residents love the tourism, but it’s still an interesting place to check out for a change of scene in the city. Personally, I don’t really care about the murals as much as the old Korean village atmosphere and city views.
Another village I’d recommend isn’t on a mountain, but it’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seoul. Seochon Village is near Gyeongbokgung Palace so you’ll probably be in the area at some point, anyway. There’s a lot of Korean charm here and plenty of alleys and streets to explore. If you really enjoy this part of Seoul, you’ll find more villages by just continuing on toward Mt. Inwang. Seoul couldn’t be further from a village, but it’s nice to have the option to experience that atmosphere with your camera, while staying in the city.
Gangnam has become famous around the world over for the billion-times viewed song Gangnam Style. Outside of the metro station you’ll even find a tribute to the song, but there’s more reason to visit this district than the song. Gangnam translates to ‘South of the River’ so if you’re staying anywhere around the center, it’s a decently long metro ride away, but in a city size of Seoul, it comes with territory. The Gangnam Subway Station is a popular meeting point for locals, as it’s right by a collection of department stores and malls. Gangnam is known as the richest district in Korea so the types of designers you’ll find here reflect that. Here, you’ll find that rich atmosphere, but you’ll also find a younger atmosphere mixed in as it’s become a top spot for nightlife. If you want a different scene and a look at the elite in Seoul, Gangnam makes for a good stop. I wouldn’t put it above the areas above for street photography as it can feel spread out once you venture a ways from the station, but with Seoul’s great metro you should give it a look with your camera.
For a full day of Street Photography, covering some of the best spots, you can follow this sample street walk for Seoul:
Seoul is full of markets. Even for a city its size, markets are found everywhere. Some are street markets along alleys and along sidewalks, while many are large, covered inside markets. I’m not a big fan of the covered market style that is extremely popular here due to the bad/dark lighting, but many will love the endless number of them to explore. Finding the outside street markets is more my style for exploring with my camera. Luckily in Seoul, there are so many different markets, you won’t have trouble finding one you like.
It would take pages to list all of Seoul’s markets, but here’s a few of the popular ones (and ones I found interesting):
When it comes to population, Seoul has over 10 million people, but when it comes to size, it feels even bigger. By some measurements, Seoul is considered the second largest city area in the world at over 230 square miles. This means you’re never going to see it all, but it also means it can be a little daunting even trying to see a variety of it. I try to explore and photograph as many interesting areas as I can, but it takes some planning here. You can’t just step outside and walk around everywhere. Since multiple spots are likely to be far apart, you should decide on only one or two areas to give your time a day. Luckily, Seoul’s metro system is great so it helps as much as possible. I use it more here than just about any other city. Still, it can only do so much when many places are 40+ minutes apart. So, prepare for the travel and distance when planning out your day of street photography.
It takes time to really experience and capture much of what Seoul has to offer, but the positive of that is how many places it does provide for street photography. Below are just some of the areas spread around Seoul that are worth giving some time with your camera:
This comparison can bring some heated debate. Many locals take offense to it and feel they aren’t anything alike at all. One local even told me that they lose all respect for anyone that makes the comparison (but this might also have something to do with the two countries’ touchy past). Still, there’s no city I’ve been to where more people compare it to another city when talking about Seoul. So, being someone who has Tokyo in my top 5 favorite cities in the world, do I feel the comparison is warranted or not?
Well, they are still very different cities, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel some strong similarities in atmosphere and things I see. I do understand why many people compare them at first impression. The colors, tones and character can give a similar feeling at times. And a lot of the culture shock people get from Tokyo can be experienced and seen here too, but to a lesser degree, in my opinion.
They both have large hi-tech industries. They both have an endless variety of neighborhoods. They both have interesting and very unique young fashion scenes. They both have impressively extensive metro systems, which provide much more interest for street photography than most cities. They both have streets buzzing with life, an interesting food scene and a strong nightlife. And they both have things you probably won’t see anywhere else. Seoul just feels slightly muted compared to Tokyo, like any city would be in comparison. Walking around, the colors of the buildings and signs, along with the streets and greenery, can give a Tokyo feeling.
Still, I’d say the cities are much more similar in how they look than how they act. The people and culture are very different. While friendly enough, it’s not to the degree of politeness and hospitality you feel in Tokyo (which is on a different level from most cities, anyway). So for street photography, while I’d never compare the cultures, I might compare the look and interest.
*As always, no place is completely safe! So when I talk about safety, I’m speaking in general comparison to other places. Always take precaution, be smart, observe your surroundings and trust your instincts anywhere you go!
Both in feeling and statistics, Seoul is one of the safest big cities in the world. While not wanting to always compare these two cities, Tokyo is the only giant metropolis I’ve explored that feels as safe as Seoul. Walking day or night, you should rarely feel unsafe.
When it comes to reactions to public photography, it doesn’t get better than Asia, and Seoul is no exception. It’s a big, busy city where cameras are everywhere. People don’t pay attention to photographers and if they do, they rarely mind photos. Slight self-consciousness or embarrassment is the worst reaction you’re likely to receive in Seoul. Exceptions are always possible anywhere, though, so you might get a few “no’s,” mostly around market workers.
Seoul has one of the most expansive, efficient and convenient metro systems I’ve used. That’s a good thing because Seoul needs it. This is as far from a compact, walkable city. It’s gigantic and spread out, but with the help of the great metro, you can get close to many areas that are walkable for hours of street photography, before hopping on to the next spot. I’d recommend downloading the Seoul Metro app. With 21 lines providing transport for billions of riders a year, it can also make a good spot for some street photography.
With your daily street photography plans, that is. While the metro system is great, transportation still takes time in this huge city. And with how spread out things can be, you should really just choose a couple of areas per day to focus on so you’re not in a rush and in transit much of the day. They’ll provide plenty of hours each of street photography alone, almost like mini-cities, anyway.
Eat it. Especially around Hongdae. Tastes great and will help your street photography too.
I’ve gone over these already, but if you’re here for street photography, make sure you do these things while you’re here.
I hope this guide can help you go experience Seoul… So grab your camera and capture all that Seoul has to offer for Street Photography!
If you still have any questions about shooting in Seoul, feel free to comment below or email me!
(I want to make these guides as valuable as possible for all of you so add any ideas on improvements, including addition requests, in the comment section!)
This year brings more shake-up to the list than last year, with three new major cities pushing there way into the top. Regarding my project and this blog, the number one question I’m asked is “What’s your favorite city for Street Photography?” From friends and family to strangers and emails. The truth is I can’t deal in...
This year brings more shake-up to the list than last year, with three new major cities pushing there way into the top.
Regarding my project and this blog, the number one question I’m asked is “What’s your favorite city for Street Photography?” From friends and family to strangers and emails. The truth is I can’t deal in absolutes or favorites with most anything, especially when it comes to answering that one. There are things I like about most cities that make them memorable in their own way, and there are too many dependents for me to pick just one above all for street photography. But I can pick some that personally stand out a little more and tell you why.
So, now that I’m four years in and almost at my project goal of photographing over 100 major cities, it’s time for a 2019 installment of my Annually Updated Top 10 Cities for Street Photography. Heading into its 5th and final year, only cities I’ve photographed during my 100 city project are eligible, which finished off 2018 at 97 major cities across all major regions of the world. Check the list here to see all the major cities I’ve covered on the project so far.
2018 brought the most major cities covered in one year at 31, while also including a few of the most popular and well-known cities on their respective continent. These infamous major cities are also a few of the most known when it comes to street photography so they probably won’t shock many people seeing them now included in this year’s updated list. Still, after covering 97 major cities, it’s extremely hard to replace cities already on the list in order to narrow it down to a top 10. You can see which cities were edged out from last year’s list here, though.
Istanbul holds a special place in my heart so I might be a little biased here. It was the first of my 100 major cities project, and the jumping off point for this blog and mix of plans and goals I’d set for myself. I lived here much of 2015, so I got to know it better than most cities too, but personal bias aside, I can’t imagine Istanbul not being towards the top of any street photography city list. Istanbul truly has it all.
Being the capital of three empires helps cram the city with so much to offer a photographer that other cities can’t compare. Culture, history, religion, politics, people, diversity, character, conflict, architecture, sea, sunlight, color, old world, new world, and the list goes on. It’s many worlds of atmosphere packed into one city. It’s no surprise it needs two continents to contain it.
You could live here for years and only touch the surface. The energy and atmosphere of Istanbul is what I miss the most, though. It feels more alive than other cities, with a raw beauty that I haven’t found anywhere else.
If you imagined the perfect city for street photography in your head, Havana might be what you’d picture. It’s extremely walkable, full of character, color and life around every corner, as photo friendly as it gets, almost too easy to shoot in, and all with an atmosphere frozen in time. The opportunities for photography are endless here. You can just walk in any direction and explore away.
Havana is also a city that invites you in with the people like not many, so it’s a complete experience for photography. The amount of times I get invited for a drink or even into someone’s home in Havana is something that you don’t experience elsewhere, especially in a large city.
Still, while Havana is no secret among photographers, people question me about it as much as any. “It seems too hyped, over photographed, packed with clichés, every photographer’s destination,…” and so on. And while the old car type clichés of Cuba do deserve caution when here photographing, it’s mostly a bunch of nonsense. You won’t find many photographers that have been here that regret it. Most fall in love just like everyone else. And believe it or not, there’s still plenty to photograph here. So my advice is to just ignore the clichés and get over here as soon as you can.
New York City is arguably the most famous city in the street photography genre today, so it’s not really a surprise to include it this list. Still, hype can create disappointment, but that’s not really something that should happen in New York City, especially with your camera. The place is just too special, unique and full of life and a variety of neighborhoods to explore. There’s only a few cities in the world that can compare, in my opinion. A good photographer can find interest anywhere, but if we’re being honest, photographers living in New York City might have a bit of an easier time finding it. It surrounds you around every corner. It’s not a coincidence that this city has supplied so many great photographs and photographers.
There’s really no excuse to ever get bored with photography in New York City, as there are so many different places to explore, all with their own character and life. It’s a world’s supply of human interest packed into one city and five boroughs. There’s a grittiness to its streets and life too. You’ll see and feel things you won’t anywhere else in the world. A melting pot of people and interest.
Saint-Petersburg is probably the least hyped and talked about city on my list, so why is it up at #3? Because people just don’t know how good it is. Now, the time of year does makes a big difference, but if you go in the summer, it doesn’t get much better for street photography. The winter can be beautiful in its own way too, you just won’t have many hours of light.
The summer in Saint-Petersburg might be my favorite place to be for street photography, though. The sunlight is out 20+ hours a day and the beautiful city is full of life just as long. More than that, though, there’s just something magical about the city. The canals, pastel colors, architecture, bridges, islands, hundreds of parks, and more give it this surreal atmosphere that has to be experienced. The life and people are full of character too. Many people go about their life without any care of what others think, so it’s not uncommon to see older women and men sunbathing in their underwear. At the same time, you have many people who care a lot, so you see a variety of fashion and looks. It’s a big, magical city with a mix of so many things.
Tokyo is another hyped big city on the street photography scene that doesn’t disappoint. A great thing about Tokyo is how great it is for street photography, while bringing so many unique differences to the table. While feeling big with endless life and places to explore, it contains an atmosphere and character that feels completely different than other cities near its size. Tokyo has this very unique tranquility somehow mixed into the most populated city in the world (by metro area). You’ll, of course, find chaos and crowds, especially at places like the famous Shibuya crossing, but as a whole, it’s a relaxing experience shooting here in a city that is so big and full of life. I can’t think of another city that blends these usually contradicting feelings so well.
Another aspect I really enjoy about Tokyo, and Japan in general, is its uniqueness. The rich culture here supplies so much unique authenticity, that for anyone not from here, it’s a feast for the senses. It’s full of quirks and character. Tokyo is also an extremely easy city to shoot in due to safety and the friendliness of the people. The latter should be taken with the disclaimer that part of the photo friendliness comes from the culture and people being as polite as it gets. Even if they might not want to be photographed, they won’t be aggressive or vocal about it, which many might want to consider when out shooting, as to not take advantage of. Tokyo mixes so much uniqueness into such a big city, that for many, it won’t get any better than here for street photography.
London is as well-known as any city in the world, and as famous for street photography as it gets, but sometimes cities don’t live up to their fame. London isn’t one of them.
One of my favorite aspects of London are all the different neighborhoods, each with their own character. It’s like different villages grew until they combined into one large city over time. It isn’t like New York or Tokyo, where skyscrapers dominate over you. London doesn’t feel overwhelming for a city its size. You can spend your days exploring parts of London on foot and get completely different atmospheres when it comes to photography. Some areas are chaotic and crazy, while others are quiet and relaxing. There’s something around every crooked, winding street, and you never know what it will be.
The biggest knock on London is the weather, which I can’t say is undeserved, but if you get some sun, the light here is special and it’s really hard to beat this city. It’s as dynamic and fun to shoot in as it is famous.
Mumbai was here on last year’s list, but I honestly expected Kolkata to knock it off this year’s list. Having already been to both cities in the past, Kolkata had originally left the best memories for street photography. But after returning to Mumbai in 2016 and Kolkata in 2017, while photographing them more in-depth, Mumbai closed the gap in my mind. It’s difficult to choose between them, as they each bring different pluses and appeal. India is so packed with cities for street photography that I’m just going to include both cities under one, while explaining their different appeals.
Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. If you go by population, Mumbai is the largest city in the world’s second largest country. If you go by money, it’s the wealthiest city in India, but with some of its most extreme poverty. Mumbai is also India’s most diverse, cosmopolitan and westernised city. Basically, Mumbai is everything and more.
Bazaars and temples, colonial architecture and skyscrapers, bay promenades and fishing villages, Asia’s biggest slums and Bollywood stars’ most expensive homes. Mumbai is filled with a variety of scenery and life that rivals any city in the world. It’s filled with an urban energy that consumes you and endless interest that keeps you wanting more. All of this adds up to one of the top cities in the world for street photography.
While not quite as big as Mumbai, Kolkata is still one of India’s biggest cities. Yet, it has a noticeably different, more easy-going and welcoming atmosphere compared to the others. It’s a city made for walking and street photography. While India’s other large cities are more spread out, Kolkata feels like you can walk everywhere. It has a special, old world feeling mixed into a big, urban city. It feels authentic, filled with culture and a chaotic, yet friendly vibe. The colonial-era architecture contrasting with urban slums, it’s also gained a reputation as the most friendly of India’s metropolises. While it might not be as known with the general traveler, it is known among the photography community. It’s made for bringing your camera and exploring away.
If I really had to choose between the two, I’d say Kolkata is easier and more enjoyable for a shorter visit, while Mumbai provides more variety and interest the more time you have. They’re both as good as gets for street photography, though.
I have to include a city from Ukraine, one of my favorite countries in the world for street photography. Kiev and Lviv both get high recommendations too, but if I had to choose one, it would be Odessa. I included it in last year’s list, but actually returned again since, which only cemented its place as a personal favorite.
I went to Ukraine for the first time in 2015 and fell in love. So much so that I’ve returned both years since. I like places that feel authentic, are full of character and mood, while being a little rough around the edges. Ukraine is all this more than any place I’ve been. There’s nothing fake about the atmosphere and it doesn’t feel over photographed. It’s more untouched, while still being a large country with plenty going on. And the markets are the best you’ll find anywhere. Odessa’s Privoz Market is no exception.
Odessa provides this atmosphere that I love, but adds the Black Sea and more. It’s become the country’s top vacation getaway with beaches that fill up during the summer. The city is filled with history and character, while being extremely walkable. You can enjoy the pedestrian streets, old courtyards, parks, and markets in the city, and then take a walk to the beaches to enjoy the very unique character, and characters, that fill it. They aren’t the typical tourist beaches you might be used to, either, which provides even more interest for street photography.
Sao Paulo is another city where there really shouldn’t be much of a surprise it made the list, but it might not be on everyone’s radar as much as a New York City or Tokyo. In South America, though, São Paulo is not only the largest city on the continent, but also its center on the street photography scene. Brazil as a whole, contains the most photographers, but no city on the continent contains a passion for street photography like Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo is also another city that contains a wide variety of neighborhoods to explore for photography, each containing its own unique character. Walking Paulista or exploring Bixiga and Liberdade, the city’s Italian and Japanese neighborhoods, are just a few of my favorite spots for photography. And while Brazil, and South America in general, doesn’t have the best reputation for safety, Sao Paulo feels like it has more safe areas to explore for photography compared to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia, when it comes to the major Brazilian cities I covered on the project. A lot of the main streets and neighborhoods for a photography walk are kept fairly safe, especially for a big city in Latin America. South America has a special feeling for street photography that you won’t find elsewhere, so it can be a shame that perceived dangers can deter many. For me, though, Sao Paulo is definitely a city I’d recommend and like to return to for photography.
Marrakech is probably the most challenging street photography city on the list, but it more than makes up for it in photo opportunities and atmosphere. It’s one of the more interesting cities for street photography that I’ve been to, not only for the rich variety of life and scenes to capture, but also for this challenge that it brings. While comparatively, not a photography friendly city, it is one of the most photogenic cities you’ll find. Many photographers come here for that reason, but leave frustrated if they’re not prepared for the challenge. You have to be on your game if you want to get close, candid shots.
If you’re ready, though, you’ll be rewarded with all the life, colors, chaos, atmosphere, unique charm, and more that Marrakech has to offer. It’s chaotic, full of touristic hassling and haggling, and comes with some challenge, but as far as non-stop photo opportunities, it ranks as one of the best cities I’ve been too. There’s so much happening everywhere, so many characters and interesting people, so much color and beautiful scenery, and it’s all mixed in with a unique look that is all Marrakech. And that beautiful sun is always above making sure you have no excuse not to go out and capture some that.
(See prior yearly list to read about these cities that narrowly missed my final list this year)
For 2019, I have plans to photograph to finish the final few major cities of the project, concluding at a total of around 103. With 97 major cities across all major regions already covered, every one of these cities on the list comes highly recommended and are sure to provide an amazing experience for street photography, and more. (To see what cities I have tentatively planned for this year, check here.)
2018 was year #4 on my Major City project, and my busiest year yet with 31 new major cities, as I really try to wrap things up. It was another non-stop year on the road without any breaks, which does takes its toll, especially living by the means I do and how much I put...
2018 was year #4 on my Major City project, and my busiest year yet with 31 new major cities, as I really try to wrap things up. It was another non-stop year on the road without any breaks, which does takes its toll, especially living by the means I do and how much I put into the project every day. But we’re now at 97 major cities covered, so we’re finally closing in on my project goal of at least 100 major cities.
I started the year in Major City #66 Santiago, Chile and finished in #97 Yangon, Myanmar. So, with all those new cities explored and captured, which ones stood out more than others this year?
To give you a sneak peek of some of what’s coming here on Shooter Files (and in the future books), I’ll go over some highlight cities that stood out in 2018, including my top 5 for street photography from the year. Will any of these cities knock their way into my annually updated 10 favorite cities for street photography list? We’ll see next week, but for now let’s start with the past year’s city highlights.
Starting with a focus on street photography…
(in no particular order)
2018 included a couple of the largest and most popular cities in the street photography genre so it’s not really a surprise they’re sitting atop this list. Still, hype can create disappointment, but that’s not really something that should happen in New York City with your camera. The place is just too special, unique and full of life and variety of neighborhoods to explore. There’s only a few cities in the world that can compare, in my opinion. A good photographer can find interest anywhere, but if we’re being honest, photographers living in New York City might have a bit of an easier time finding it. It surrounds you around every corner. It’s not a coincidence that this city has supplied so many great photographs and photographers.
There’s really no excuse to ever get bored with photography in New York City, as there are so many different places to explore, all with their own character and life. It’s a world’s supply of human interest packed into one city and five boroughs.
Tokyo is another hyped big city on the street photography scene that doesn’t disappoint. A great thing about the two cities sitting atop this list is how great they both are for street photography, while bringing so many differences to the table. While both feel huge with endless places to explore and plenty of life, they contain very different atmospheres and character. Tokyo has this very unique tranquility somehow mixed into the most populated city in the world by metro area. Places like the famous Shibuya crossing, of course, are packed with chaos, but as a whole, it’s a relaxing experience shooting here in a city that is so big and full of life. I can’t think of another city that blends these usually contradicting feelings so well.
Another aspect I really enjoy about Tokyo, and Japan in general, is its uniqueness. The rich culture here supplies so much unique authenticity, that for anyone not from here, it’s a feast for the senses. It’s full of quirks and character. Tokyo is also an extremely easy city to shoot in due to safety and the friendliness of the people. The latter should be taken with the disclaimer that part of the photo friendliness comes from the culture and people being as polite as it gets. Even if they might not want to be photographed, they won’t be aggressive or vocal about it, which many might want to consider when out shooting, as to not take advantage of.
I also covered Osaka this year and while it’s hard to compare to Tokyo, it’s a great city for street photography as well. I enjoyed it quite a bit and it has some solid areas for exploring that bring a lot of what Tokyo brings, but with its own vibe and atmosphere mixed in. Osaka is a big city, but not like Tokyo, so it has its own charm that comes from that. It’s a little more gritty and less polished too, which brings its own appeal. Both have great nightlife for street photography too and many find that people in Osaka are a little less distant and reserved. Tokyo feels more modern, while Osaka feels a little more colorful, in my opinion.
This is another city where there really should be no surprise it made the list from the year, but it might not be on everyone’s radar as much as New York City or Tokyo. When you think about it, though, São Paulo is not only the largest city in South America, but also its center on the street photography scene. Brazil as a whole, contains the most photographers, but no city on the continent contains a passion for street photography like Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo is also another city that contains a wide variety of neighborhoods to explore for photography, each containing its own unique character. Walking Paulista or exploring Bixiga and Liberdade, the city’s Italian and Japanese neighborhoods, were a few of my favorite spots and memories for photography. And while Brazil doesn’t have the best reputation for safety, Sao Paulo felt like it had more safe areas to explore for photography compared to Rio and Salvador when it comes to the major Brazilian cities I covered on the project. It’s definitely a city I’d like to return to for photography.
Lima may have been my best surprise among cities I already had high hopes for, meaning I knew Lima would be good, but it ended up probably being my second favorite city in South America for street photography. This could be partly due to my personal love for cities with life by the beach. Rio de Janeiro has the most famous big city beach life in South America, but Lima brings its own abundance of beach life with more of a local feeling and a bit more variety of character, in my opinion. For most, Rio’s beaches would probably get the edge because of their beauty, but I would put Lima right up there with it when it comes to street photography. It also has a long park above along the coastline for added street photography, and the downtown of Lima contains arguably more street photography opportunities in a safer package.
The mix of beach life, parks, urban city, grittiness and a variety of latin character in South America made Lima really enjoyable for street photography. It also is much more budget friendly after spending time in Brazil and more southern countries like Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
While China obviously isn’t a city, I covered three of its major cities this year and decided to include it as a package deal sitting at #5 since it’s difficult to pick just one. If I had to choose just one city, though, I’d probably give Shanghai the edge, especially if you have time, because it gave the most variety and new places to explore for photography. Shanghai was a place that got better and better the more I explored with my camera.
Beijing and Chengdu both brought plenty of interest and unique character too, though. China has so much to offer street photographers with its abundance of interest and how its life is rarely boring, especially photographically. You’ll see a lot of things here that you won’t see anywhere else.
I spent some of 2018 finishing off my major African cities for the project, in cities where photographers don’t go as often. I’m primarily not including them in the above list due to their difficulties and dangers that won’t be for most, but I personally found them as highlights of the year for shooting. I’ll admit part of my enjoyment is the challenge and because other photographers steer clear from these big, important cities, leaving them less photographed, especially for day-to-day life. When it comes to photos and memorable experiences, they were the most challenging, but also the most rewarding.
In Accra, I had to battle power hungry security guards, and sometimes police, almost every day. I was attacked once and aggressively surrounded multiple times. It was exhausting and takes a ton of confidence, persistence and know-how to handle these situations, especially day after day. It can depend where you go, though, and I really did go everywhere, including places outsiders don’t go, especially alone.
While this brings bad experiences, overall it actually brought a lot more positive ones, as the locals usually react with wonder and respect seeing a foreigner alone in their neighborhood. It was more smiles and fist bumps than anything. In Accra, this was especially clear, as most speak English so we could talk about it. They’d ask me what I’m doing there alone and I was told almost every day how they’d never seen a foreigner in their neighborhood alone, and some places never at all.
One thing I really loved about Nairobi was the people’s style. No where in Africa have I seen such an attractive mix of urban cosmopolitan style meets business meets Africa. You’ll see suits here more than anywhere in Africa, but they don’t just keep it boring black and white, they like color. And so do I.
Montevideo, Uruguay was another one of my best surprises of the year, as it’s not the biggest city and gets labeled as a smaller Buenos Aires by many, but ended up packing plenty of unique interest into a smaller package perfect for walking. It was also the safest feeling major city in South America and I especially enjoyed walking La Rambla, the oceanside promenade, for photography. And who can not love their obsession with sipping mate all over the city.
San Salvador and Guatemala City were another couple happy surprises. They’re known as two of the more dangerous cities in the world, which scares most people away, but I found them doable, while packing in a ton of authentic interest for street photography. There’s a grittiness and character to their streets and while you do have to be street smart and observant, I actually found them safer and friendlier during the day for photography compared to some other cities I’ve been.
While I already mentioned New York City, 2018 was my first time on the project extensively covering a few major cities in my home country. I covered and taught a workshop in Las Vegas, covered San Francisco while guest speaking and judging at the StreetFoto Festival, and stopped to cover Los Angeles in between. Not being a foreigner in these cities ended up not making much of a difference for me when it came to photography, which was nice. I was able to shoot the same way without finding it any less interesting or more difficult than most cities elsewhere. Maybe it’s seeing so many different places now, but the exotic isn’t as impactful as it once was and while sometimes I miss that feeling of culture shock, for street photography I do think it’s helpful seeing past that where you see the basic life around you, not the flash veneer that travel magazines try to highlight.
Finishing off the year were a couple personal highlights. One, covering Taipei where I was graciously shown around by local photographer TC Lin and Chenbl Chen, and where I also gave a talk to their photography class. And in my last major city of the year, Sydney, I not only covered the city, but also co-lead a workshop with local photographer Sam Ferris for Aussie Street, which was a great experience.
I could honestly keep going and end up talking about things I liked about photographing all 31 major cities of 2018, but I’ve already gone on more than long enough. There’s always something special and unique about each city if you explore it enough your camera.
All of these cities, and more, from 2018 will bring posts, photography and guides in 2018 on the blog so stay tuned for that. And if you have a chance to visit any of them before I post guides, feel free to message me for some recommendations (you can always find an updated list of cities here).
Now, it’s time for 2019 where I hope to finish up on this 5 year major cities project. 97 major cities down, only 3+ to go, and possibly a few returns to earlier cities covered…
* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one. Profile: Susan Meiselas...
* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one.
Susan Meiselas (1948-Present)
American photographer known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and documentation of human rights issues in Latin America, among other subjects.
Born: June 21, 1948 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Susan received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MA in visual education from Harvard University. While teaching photography in New York public schools, her first major photographic project involved documenting the lives of striptease performers at New England country fairs over the course of three summers. In 1976, this work was published as a book titled Carnival Strippers. Since then, it has been reprinted by Steidl Verlag and installed at the Whitney Museum of Art. This series led to her joining the prestigious Magnum Photos agency in 1976, where she became a freelance photographer. Shortly after Carnival Strippers, she also worked on a project titled Prince Street Girls which covered female youth and femininity in a Manhattan neighborhood known as ‘Little Italy,” where she had recently moved.
Starting in 1978, she covered the insurrection in Nicaragua and in 1981 published her second monograph, Nicaragua, June 1978–July 1979. Her documentation of the Nicaragua insurrection and other human rights issues in Latin America have become some of the work she is best known for today, including her famous photo below, titled Molotov Man.
Following Nicaragua, she worked extensively in El Salvador and Chile, documenting their political struggles. She also worked in Kurdistan, where she later curated the book entitled Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, which included work of her own. Susan has since worked on documentary projects ranging from the Dani, the indigenous people of the highlands of Papua in Indonesia, to New York S&M clubs. Her work has been exhibited around the world and some of her awards include the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “outstanding courage and reporting” and the Leica Award for Excellence. In 1992, she was named a MacArthur Fellow. She continues her photography work today, with a current traveling exhibition titled Mediations, a retrospective of her work from the 1970s to today that covers her personal approach to making photos.
While there’s not much information available on gear when it comes to Susan, she was known to use a Leica M4 with a Summicron-M 35mm earlier in her career. She started with Leica due to their unobtrusive size during her Carnival Strippers project. Later, she switched completely to digital and shoots with the Canon 5D Mark line of cameras.
“Finding a photograph is often like picking up a piece from a jigsaw-puzzle box with the cover missing. There’s no sense of the whole. Each image is a mysterious part of something not yet revealed.”
“For a long time I’ve lived with the inadequacy of that frame to tell everything I knew, and I think a lot about what is outside of the frame…”
“I see myself in [the] tradition of encounter and witness—a “witness” that sees the photograph as evidence.”
“You look at photographs that freeze time, but then time moves.”
“If Instagram had been available when I was working in Nicaragua in 1978, I’m sure I would have wanted to use it as a way of reporting directly from the streets during the insurrection. “
“We know photographers make frames, but we deeply believe they can also create frameworks. “
“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”
“Dig in, follow your instincts and trust your curiosity.”
“What worries me is that we want to close down our relationship to the world at large. In other words, people’s instincts are overwhelmed by the amount of images, or they can’t distinguish anymore between Rwanda or Bosnia or Somalia.”
“It’s a strange experience… the photograph is like an object frozen in time, and people’s lives go on.”
“Looking at contact sheets, it’s a great set of footprints. Either you got it or you didn’t. You could have gotten it, you should’ve moved. I think you’re plagued with that and then suddenly you find a frame and it just seems to be there, it just seems to know itself and sort of reveal itself. That’s the harmony.”
“I think photography has a huge potential to expand a circle of knowledge. There’s a reality that we are all the more linked globally and we have to know about each other. Photography gives us that opportunity.”
Time for the New Year’s tradition here and share some photos from the old year to bring in the new While 2017 had been my busiest, non-stop year on the Major City project, I was able to somehow beat it in 2018 by covering 31 major cities (33 cities in all). Once again, I clocked in...
Time for the New Year’s tradition here and share some photos from the old year to bring in the new
While 2017 had been my busiest, non-stop year on the Major City project, I was able to somehow beat it in 2018 by covering 31 major cities (33 cities in all). Once again, I clocked in just under 5,000 miles (7,500 km) on foot, while hitting major cities in 22 countries, from the Americas to Africa and Asia. I started in city #67 Santiago, Chile and finished in #97 Yangon, Myanmar, closing in on the 100+ major cities project goal. In 2019, I will work on wrapping up the photography part of the project while starting on the editing of the first book, which I hope to be ready for publishing by the end of the year.
While I really didn’t have any breaks from the project in 2018, I did guest speak and judge at the StreetFoto Festival while covering San Francisco and fit in teaching a few workshops, including Las Vegas and Sydney (with Sam Ferris). In 2019, I plan on making more time for workshops and will announce the schedule here very soon. All in all, it was an extremely busy, challenging year and while this project and obsessive focus is really taking its toll on me, it was my most satisfying year for photography. I covered some of the more dangerous regions, like Central America and Africa, but didn’t change a thing about my approach of going everywhere alone on foot, including many places that even locals don’t go, let alone photographers or non-locals. But while some negative situations did occur, which I’ll share here later, overall it was my most rewarding year when it comes to challenges. As for the blog, I will be able to focus on it more this year and make some changes, making it less travel focused and more project, story and community focused (the guides won’t stop, though).
Even more than last year, I’m holding back many of my favorite photos to prepare for the editing on future publications, as I want the future books to be at least a third never seen work. Still, with such a busy year of photography, walking an average of 15 miles/22km per day year-round, I have plenty to share now too. So, here’s a photo a city from the year to take you through all 33 cities I photographed in 2018. It’s not a favorite photo from each city, but some selections to share for now in bringing on 2019. And as always, all candid and unposed.
Happy New Year to all and Cheers to 2019!
– Forrest Walker
(in order of capture date)
Great Wall of China :
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”
— T.S. Eliot
3-Day Street Photography Workshop in Ho Chi Minh City FEBRUARY 9TH-11TH : HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM ADVANCED STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP WITH FORREST WALKER I’m excited to announce a 3-Day workshop I’ll be leading this February 9th-11th in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Read on for more details and how to sign up… This intensive three-day...
I’m excited to announce a 3-Day workshop I’ll be leading this February 9th-11th in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Read on for more details and how to sign up…
This intensive three-day workshop will focus on finding yourself in your photography and seeing the photos you want to make through lessons covering a variety of work, reviews of your own work, editing, activities and plenty of shooting throughout the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Led by international photographer Forrest Walker, this workshop will be an immersive and educational experience.
Places are strictly limited, sign up early to avoid disappointment
*We will break for lunch daily and all are invited to dinner and drinks afterwards for more interaction
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as many locals still call it, is not only one of my favorite cities in the world, but also one that I’ve lived in and know well. That especially goes for street photography. For more info on this amazing city, you can look through the Street Photography Guide I created for Ho Chi Minh City.
The workshop will include a mixture of daily photo walks, photo and editing critiques, portfolio reviews and interactive lectures. This is an intensive workshop with an emphasis on helping you fully immerse yourself in the city and find yourself through street photography, so you can learn, while also having a great time experiencing Ho Chi Minh City.
Good walking shoes, camera(s), lens – between 50mm and 21mm equivalents preferred, sunscreen, water bottle, cool and comfortable clothing, laptop with appropriate processing software installed (Lightroom, Capture One or Photoshop), spare batteries and memory cards, notepad, pen, and mobile/ smart phone.
Places are strictly limited, sign up early to avoid disappointment
Terms and Cancellation Policy:
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