Advice for the Globetrotting Street Photographer


With summer around the corner, you may find yourself preparing for a trip abroad. After booking your flight, you’ll find that packing is almost always your primary concern, and your gear factors into that. The amount of gear you bring will be determined by, among other things, the length of your trip and how much time you’ll have to photograph. Once you get there, what will you photograph?

Pack Accordingly

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Weight is a perennial concern every time you pack for a trip, and a big kit stands a good chance of adding too much weight to your baggage. If you know what you’re going to photograph before you fly, pack the gear you know you’re going to use. If you’re not sure of what you’ll photograph, pack a variety of lenses, but be mindful how much weight you’re putting on your back. It’s worth mentioning that you should always put your camera(s) and lenses in your carryon. In a perfect world, you’d be able to trust that security personnel will handle your baggage properly without a prying eye. Unfortunately, luggage theft is a very real concern, so don’t give anyone an expensive reason to rifle through your bags.

Don’t Ignore Your Flight

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By that, we mean look out your window from time to time. A height of 30,000 feet can provide some stunning vistas. Of course, this is affected by where you’re traveling and the time at which you’re traveling. If you’re flying a red eye into the night, chances are you won’t be able to see much, but if you’ll have light during the flight, keep the window blind at least partially open.

Shoot wide. Unless you’re in first class, the coach window seat will be cramped, so you won’t have that much room to work with. A telephoto lens won’t necessarily be your first option. Besides, if you have the good fortune to see a mountain range below, you might want to shoot wide. Just be mindful of the fact that you’ll be shooting through two panes of glass, and water can crystallize on the outside window. If there are imperfections in your images, it probably isn’t your camera, and if the light’s better on the other side of the plane, get out of your seat. The emergency exit door will most likely have a window, and while you’ll have less leeway, you’ll have a better view.

Know the Laws Governing Photography

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The places you visit will have laws governing photography. Some are relatively free and easy with what you can shoot, where as others take a hardline stance against street photography. Hungary recently made it illegal to take photographs on the street without acquiring the permission of everyone in the frame. The last thing you want is to be brought in for questioning or have your gear taken away. Always check your destination’s legal code, so that you can avoid any undesirable situation. Cultural attitudes towards photography are tied up in this, too, and if you can get a working knowledge of this, you’ll have a smoother time when you’re there.

Take a Day to Observe Your Environment

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A new location can be visually overwhelming. Your images might suffer if you start photographing immediately without taking some time to observe the place you’re visiting. Vacations can be teachable moments if you approach them correctly. Understanding how the environment works visually before placing the camera in front of your eye will help you take better photographs. Look at the architecture. Watch how people move in any given space, whether it’s café, a park or a train station. Take a look at the big sites, but get out on the street, too. If you have time, spend it with the people who keep the place moving on a daily basis.

Pay Attention to the Animals As Well As the People

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There’s a chance you may come across a wealth of stray animals. Whether it’s monkeys in Thailand or cats in Istanbul, observe how they move through the environment, and more importantly, how the people there interact with them. You’ll find that there are plenty of moments to photograph both of stray animals and their interactions with the local folks.

Take Every Method of Transportation

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Explore the transportation options available to you beyond the rental car you booked. Public transportation, in particular, will offer slices of life that can make for compelling photographs. If the place runs on buses, trains and ferries, use all of them. You might be surprised by how people interact in transit relative to how folks do in your home town. Shoot medium to wide in these instances. It’s likely that your transit options will be cramped, so anything longer than 50mm will hurt more than it will help.

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