All images in this article are used with permission.
Street photographers experience harassment everywhere in the world for taking pictures and capturing a moment in public. However, everyone loves looking at the images and the art form is highly regarded and even mimicked in modern day advertising. Surely, it’s a great way to not only become a better photographer by shooting such a wide variety of subjects but it’s also great for just capturing beautiful moments as they occur in everyday life.
We’ve done some research and rounded up a list of the best cities in the world for street photography. This isn’t a definitive list by any means, nor is it in any particular order–but if you’re ever traveling to these cities, be sure to carry along your camera.
New York City
The city that never sleeps and the home base of Phoblographer’s headquarters is our top choice for a safe haven for street photography. Photographers are allowed to shoot whatever they want as long as they are in public. For a couple of years, photography in the subway was restricted but that has changed. They’ll only question you if you’re taking a lighting setup down there. In general though, a flash won’t be questioned.
When photographers talk about street photography, they’re usually referencing Manhattan. The outer boroughs, however, (the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island) are just as ripe for photographs. We encourage you to do some exploring.
In the US, there is also the concept of a public figure, typically celebrity or public official, who is always fair game to photograph for mostly any reason.
One of the coolest cities in the world is also great for photography. Creativity runs deeps in this city amongst many of the citizens–and the laws for shooting photos are pretty relaxed. People in Stockholm tend to be very friendly to tourists and range amongst the most friendly of all Europeans.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are two of the most bustling cities in the US and are also known to be great hotbeds of creativity for photographers. In fact, lots of photographers are relocating from NYC to LA for the more affordable living and creative freedom that it promises.
The streets of LA are totally free grounds for photographing folks in public. The rules for photography are very similar to NYC’s and you can pretty much take a photo of whatever you want. We recommend visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and anywhere South of Market in San Fran.
“Honestly I would say stick to Market Street or Chinatown if you don’t know the city. Don’t be afraid of The Mission or Tenderloin but be aware of your surroundings and that you’re a visitor,” says Joe Aguirre, a street photographer based in California. “These people live here. A little respect will get you a long way with street photography. Just because the law says it’s ok doesn’t give you license to be a dick with a camera. Be honest and shoot with your camera at eye level and you’ll be fine.”
Vancouver is up there with Toronto as an extremely photogenic and photography-friendly city in Canada. However, Vancouver is taking the spot because of the fact that basically all of Hollywood films up there and it generally seems to offer more street opportunities. It’s a beautiful city with very relaxed photography laws that allow the visiting tourist to essentially do as they please as long as they’re not blocking traffic.
Australia is known as a hot spot for many creatives, and photography is one of those creative outlets. In general, street photography is very common. According to the law, no one has a right to privacy in a public place.
Photographer Eric Kim shares a story about taking a photo in Melbourne where someone wasn’t so happy that he took their photo. The police and lawyers got involved, but ultimately found that Eric was well within his rights.
Despite the fact that Germany in general has been having heated debates over street photography, the country has long considered it an art form. In general as long as there are a bunch of people in your image, you don’t need to get permission to publish the images for commercial use. Photography of buildings is also allowed in public. People also generally seem to not be bothered very much if you take their image.
Here’s a video we shot with Cosyspeed while in Berlin a couple of years back.
Rome is a historic and very tourist-friendly city, so it’s only natural that it would be extremely friendly to shooting street photography. Under the Italian constitution, street photography is covered as an art form, business and self expression through freedom of speech. This makes it incredibly tough to kill it off. Basically, as long as the person being photographed isn’t in their home and is out in public, then you’ve got no problems. This just makes sense as absolutely no one has privacy in public areas.
Go right ahead and capture that beautiful couple sharing a tender kiss in this romantic city.
Istanbul is the home of many great moments in history and the melding of many cultures. The ancient city once known as Constantinople is great for photographing people going about their everyday lives as well as the many news occurrences that go on there but aren’t usually reported on in the American press. Istanbul has been known for riots, protests and much more that make for great photos providing you’re brave enough.
Photographers in London are going through a bit of controversy when it comes to taking photos in public–at least in the news they are. We’ve talked to lots of our photographer friends in London though, and they tell us that the problems are nowhere as big and sensational as the news makes them out to be.
“First, be clever and assess your surroundings. There is always a possibility you’ll get punched, I haven’t but I think it’s good to be street wise and think, ‘Is this person likely to punch or bite me?’,” says photographer Nicholas Goodden about getting over your fear of shooting on the streets.
While many photographers tend to visit the more rural and colorful parts of India, Mumbai is also great for street photography. The city has lots of economic disparity that makes for interesting situations for photographers to shoot in. Mumbai’s streets are jam packed, tight, and have equally jam packed streets. With street vendors, big businesses and lots of interesting things happening as far as social reforms go, you’re bound to find something to photograph on the streets of Mumbai.
Photographer Thomas Campbell told us that it reminds him a lot of Mexico City in that it has “some real opulence and some real slums.” He also told us that no one gave him a hard time about taking photos.
Of course, we always recommend that you respect the local customs.
Arguably the most romantic city in the world, Paris is also great for taking photos. It has a huge amount of creatives residing here and given the fact that it’s so darn touristy, the government is also pretty relaxed about taking photos.
“I have been shooting in Paris quite a bit since last year and I haven’t found it to be that difficult since. I don’t tend to do confrontational street photography.” says Vivienne Gucwa, a New York-based travel and street photographer. “Since I work directly with France (their main government tourism agency) I also haven’t run into any issues with access or being harassed for having a tripod.”
Spain tends to value free speech quite a bit, and so Barcelona is only an obvious choice here. Taking photos of police officers on the job is legal, but there is a bigger emphasis on the right to free speech. That means that you’ll have pretty much no issues taking photos in Barcelona, but individuals may surely vary on their personalities.
The birthplace of three of the world’s most popular religions is sure to have made this list. In general photography is allowed, though folks at the Western Wall may request that you don’t take their picture during Shabbos as it violates their religious beliefs. This makes sense. Since the city is such a big tourist hub, people simply expect others to take photos and as mobile phones have become more widespread, almost no one can be stopped from taking photos.
Though Jerusalem is wonderful for taking photos, photographer Simon Chetrit told us that Tel Aviv isn’t so friendly. “I was walking along the waterfront and there is a power plant there. The area is kind of run down. I was shooting and walking alone and minding my own business, when all of a sudden a military jeep rolls up and a dude jumps out, shoves an assault rifle in my face and starts yelling in Hebrew. I quickly put my hands up and explained to him that I was just taking pictures somewhat absent-mindedly, and am a nice Yeshiva boy there on vacation with my family.”
Though most of China can be very tough to photograph in, Hong Kong is pretty simple. Just look at the folks at Digital Rev! Kai shoots often in the streets and searches on Instagram, EyeEm and 500px will turn up lots of great things to photograph in the city.
“Not much to be aware about and I don’t believe there are any particular laws against photography in public places although a bit of common sense is required of course.” says photographer Raymond Hau. “There are many places to photograph but I prefer the more ‘local’ Kowloon side of Hong Kong as opposed to the Island. This gives a good mix for street photography as well as the neon lights of old HK cityscapes.”
Raymond otherwise suggest that there are lots of hiking trails in HK which provide a contrast between the built up city and the green and mountainous country parks.
“Then there’s obviously the ‘money shots’ of HK, the quintessential long exposures of HK harbour and the skyline from Victoria Peak.”