You can shoot street photography in almost every country, but the experience is seldom the same.
I’ve been lucky enough to shoot street photography all around the world. My passion has allowed me to enjoy a fruitful life, and I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences I’ve had. It’s not uncommon for street photographers to combine their lust for the candid frame with their love for travel. We love to experience different cultures, and our cameras make it possible for us to document the variants in human nature. Having traveled the world, I’ve shot street in some spectacular places – and some less desirable places. Let me share them with you, as we look at the best and worst countries to shoot street photography in.
Best Countries for Street Photography
First, let’s look at some of the best countries to shoot street photography. Regarding the criteria, I’m going to focus on things like architecture, culture, society’s attitude towards street photography, and safety. The same will also apply to the worst countries.
Street Photography in Thailand
I had a lot of fun shooting street photography in Thailand. I was lucky to land in Chiang Mai right at the beginning of Songkran (Thai New Year). Songkran is also the water festival – which means thousands of locals and tourists hit the streets for a massive water fight!
Thailand is full of beautiful architecture, and it’s especially different from what you would see in the western world. Temples like Wat Arun in Bangkok are lots of fun to shoot in. The grounds are huge, with plenty of people passing through to photograph.
The general attitude towards street photography in Thailand is passive. The people are used to tourists, so nobody really cares if you snap them with your camera. I had no altercations in the three months I spent in the country.
Shooting in the United States
Cliche? Possibly. But I had a fabulous time shooting street photography in the United States. My journey started in New York City – the epicenter of street. It’s the larger than life feel that the US gives you. It almost feels like a world away from the world you know, a fantasy land some may say.
I visited five cities during my time in the States. NYC, Philadelphia, Washington DC, LA, and Portland. All of them offered something different. From large skyscrapers to old towns rich with history, there was always something to direct my lens towards.
The US seems to receive street photographers pretty well, especially NYC and LA. There was a slight sketchy moment in Philly. “Who are you pointing your camera at?” But nothing more than that.
Mexico has a special place in my heart. I spent five months in this wonderful country, and I fell in love with everything about it. Mexico City is especially a location I’m very fond of. Areas such as Condesa and Roma Norte are full of so much life and pure Latino energy. Just walk around with your camera and shoot, and you’ll soon see the day quickly passes you by.
Away from the bustling city is the coast. Quintana Roo, home of hot locations like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum are amazing to shoot the candid frame. It’s a carefree lifestyle combined with beautiful sea and sand – mindblowing!
Mexican people are super friendly. I struggled to see them without a smile on their face. I had no trouble shooting street photography here, and honestly, I can’t wait to go back!
Worst Countries for Street Photography
Now let’s take a look at some of the worst countries I’ve shot street. It doesn’t mean they were completely terrible, but some factors made them far less desirable than the better experiences I’ve had.
I know I’m going to get shot down for this. And I do understand why. India is beautiful, and it’s a world so unique that any street photographer would want to shoot there. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy myself, but it was a challenge.
First, the pace of life is super fast. This is coming from someone who lived in London too. Everything is so chaotic that, at times, I struggled to focus on what was going on around me. Unable to channel my vision, it was difficult to really zone in and create my best work.
Also, being white, I couldn’t stand for more than two minutes without someone stopping me. Either just wanting to admire me or sell me something, India wasn’t a great country to go unnoticed – something that’s essential for street photography!
Poor timing, but I arrived in Nicaragua just as civil unrest was at its peak. The country’s people had had enough of their government and took to the streets to show their unhappiness. They didn’t march peacefully.
Buildings were destroyed, businesses blown to pieces. People walked the streets with knives, baseball bats, and any other weapon they could get their hands on. Certain gangs refused entry and exits of cities. A group of 50 people stopped my car, told us to turn around, and not try to leave again.
Thankfully nothing happened to me. But it certainly wasn’t the type of environment I wanted to be in with my camera for long periods.
In Malaysia, there was no danger or unwanted attention, but the problem I found was, well, it was boring. Kuala Lumpur is a city that’s trying to be western. The consequence of that is it lacks any real identity. It felt lifeless, void of any kind of soul.
I spent two weeks there and I didn’t feel overly inspired to go out and shoot. Of course, I pushed myself, but it felt more like a job I hated, rather than something I was doing out of pure passion.
And the people, they seemed rather cold. Maybe I’m being unfair there. But as someone who gravitates to warm, interpersonal cultures, being in Malaysia just felt too conservative for me.
Your Best And Worst Countries?
Don’t just count on me. Use the comments below to have your say. Where are your best and worst countries for shooting street photography? I would love to know and so would our readers!