The faces, attitudes and cultures that make up New York City are every bit as photogenic as its landmarks. Your vacation photos of New York City should include the faces that made your trip memorable as well. Most people are hesitant about photographing strangers on the street. However, New York City is one of the best places in the world for photographing people and local culture. Why? Because New Yorkers make it so. NYC locals are generally very natural in front of a camera, barely giving it a thought. The photos I’ve captured on New York City streets most often show people that are true to the moment, rather than reacting to the camera.
Visiting New York City? If you are not photographing the faces of ‘The Big Apple’, then you are missing one of its most vibrant attractions!
I love to walk the neighborhoods of NYC capturing the flow of life with a backdrop of vivid color. I have discovered a few simple strategies that work best for street photography in this most urbane of cities. These tips have nothing to do with your camera or photographic style. Rather, they are ways to capture authentic moments and emotions as you shoot in “The Big Apple.” You may find them helpful in your photography when visiting New York City:
5 Top Tips for Photographing NYC People & Streets
1. Be neatly dressed.
New Yorkers respect style. How you dress plays a big part in how others respond to you in New York. Being presentable elicits a positive response and relaxes the person(s) you may be shooting at the moment. I have a standard outfit for street photography. It is usually well pressed khakis, a starched white shirt, a Panama hat, and comfortable shoes. That is my personal style. It is appropriate in any part of the city and gives me a respectable and modestly stylish look that is well received. People often assume that I am shooting for a newspaper or magazine, and some, noticing my camera, will even ask me to take their photograph!
2. Have a pleasant countenance and positive attitude.
You can, by your own presence, determine how people react to your camera. Greet people as circumstances allow. Smile, acknowledge the person you are shooting with a smile if you make eye contact. If the circumstance allows for it, have a brief, cheerful, conversation. If others are comfortable in your presence, it will show in your photos. You may find that meeting new people is a pleasant side effect of street photography.
3. Respect personal space.
Don’t get too close to someone with your camera without an invitation. Typically, I am no closer than 15-20 feet away from the persons I photograph. Get any closer without permission, and the discomfort in the face of your subject will make for a bad photo. If for any reason a person does not want to be photographed, simply apologize, respect their wishes and move on. No photo is worth a confrontation.
4. Use whatever camera that works for you.
Some street photographers recommend using the most unobtrusive camera possible. That advice is not nearly as important in NYC. New Yorkers are used to seeing everything from high end DSLR’s to disposable cameras on a daily basis. We live in the most photographed city in the world. It is more important that the camera be responsive to capture the great moments around you. I do recommend choosing a lens that will allow you to get the sort of shot you prefer without being too close to your subject. Typically, I like to use a sharp Canon 50mm F:1.8 lens on a Canon DSLR body. However, I use everything from lightweight “point and shoots” to DSLR cameras of all makes for street photography. Choose what’s comfortable for you.
5. Shoot confidently.
If you appear hesitant and uncomfortable when photographing strangers in the street, so will your subjects. Your confidence will relax people, whereas any trepidation will make them wonder what you are up to. Carry yourself like you know what you’re doing. If you do, your subjects will be less inclined to have that worried “deer in the headlights” look so often seen in impromptu photos captured on the street.
Finally, do your thing.
Shoot what you like. While I enjoy the gritty black and white images that are usually associated with street photography, that is not my style. I am drawn irresistibly to color and light. So that’s what you will often see in my street photography. Learn from the best but don’t try to copy them. Relax, be friendly and confident. Have fun shooting!