Sometimes it can be really difficult to find inspiration for street photography. Or perhaps you’re a new street photographer just starting out on your street photography odyssey and you’re not sure where to begin. I thought I’d put together some tips in the form of a list of the best locations for street photography you can seek out in your local town or city. If you bring yourself, your camera, and a bit of patience to just a few of these locations I can guarantee you’ll find some interesting subjects for street photography! So read on for my list of the best street photography locations.
Warning: Most of the locations I’m suggesting are public places, so (depending on your local laws) you shouldn’t have any problems photographing at them. However a few of the locations will more than likely be privately owned, which means you need to use discretion when photographing at these locations.
Best locations for street photography
I always find markets really interesting for street photography because there is often a lot going on. People barter with stall-holders, and stall-holders themselves often make interesting subjects for street photography portraits, especially when you use their stalls as a backdrop, adding a nice element of context to a photo and giving an extra bit of background to the subject’s working life.
Old winding streets
If you happen to live in an old city you can often uncover some really great scenes of old winding streets. Narrow cobbled pathways make a great reflective surface for photos, while the imposing walls rising up to the heavens either side have a brilliant imposing look to them and can generate some really awesome and dramatic shadows. Old narrow streets often have a bit of an ‘off-the-beaten’ track feel to them, and you can find some real gems if you explore them. That’s certainly the case in my home city of Norwich, as I’ve mentioned in my guide to street photography in Norwich.
Is there an interesting billboard in your town or city? Perhaps something with a giant face, symbol, or a strange piece of text. Billboards make for a really interesting and surreal photo when combined with a human subject walking past them, and they make a great creative and inventive background.
Squares are probably the go-to location to practice street photography, as they represent a natural congregating point and so are more than likely to be busy with lots of people. Squares are sites where there’s a great amount of hustle and bustle as people go about their business, and offer a really nice mix of people relaxing, and those scurrying about to get to places. They’re a great representation of modern city life, as well as being nice wide open spaces where you can practice your photography without the need for a particularly wide lens.
Bridges are great spots to head to for street photography because they offer two unusual perspectives for looking at people. If you stand under a bridge you can get an interesting ‘rat’s eye’ view looking up at a person, combined with the dramatic sweeping lines of the bridge. If you stand on the bridge itself you can get a bird’s eye perspective on things, and this offers a totally different way of seeing the world. Remember stairs can offer a similar effect to bridges, so make sure you look out for those on your travels too.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to bridges are underpasses, and they’re a great location for street photography too. You can watch people come and go here, and there are great leading lines and vanishing point effects to be had by following the lines of walls. You can also play with light and silhouettes for the contrast effect between daylight outside and the gloomy subterranean world of the underpass.
Subways are fantastically evocative, and offer something really unique for street photography. They’re also a relatively confined space where lots of people gather which can present some nice photo opportunities. You only need to think of the unique style of some of the London Underground Tube stations to begin to imagine some of the great street photography shots you can make in these surroundings.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a city or town by the sea then you have a very unique and enviable location for street photography! In summer you can practice some Martin Parr-esque seaside shots of people enjoying the beach, and during the winter you can try for some really minimal graphical style photos of solitary people walking dogs using the horizon lines of the sea and shore. Spyros Papaspyropoulos shot a film beach street hunt last year in Rethymno, and we have another planned for the near future.
Bus stops are great spots to look for while you’re out taking photos, as they are places where people from all walks of life tend to congregate close together in a bunch, which can make for some great juxtaposition shots. People will often use buses to get home from cities, and you can see all manner of weird and wonderful objects that people have bought and are attempting to take on buses, and these make very surreal photography subjects. Bus stops with actual shelters can be even more interesting, especially those with glass walls or advertisements. You can get some really nice effects if it’s raining and you photograph people’s backs or faces through the glass.
Ports and harbours are another good street photography location if you’re in a seaside town or city. Ports are often a great hive of activity with lots of imposing industrial machinery, and offer a nice opportunity for juxtaposition shots of man and machine, especially the spectacular grandiose scale offered by mammoth rusting container ships. Harbours can be a great place to find some interesting fisherman characters, and to take action shots of fisherman unloading and preparing the day’s catch.
Warning: Ports can be privately owned, or operate their own security protocols independent of normal public areas, owing to the high value of goods in shipping containers and also the risk of smuggling. Be sure to behave sensibly and not aggressively if port security request you stop taking photos. Also obey all signs and fences that forbid public access for your own safety.
Carnivals are always good fun to inspire you for street photography. As you can see from our Tsiknopempti street hunt and carnival street hunt videos, we had an absolute blast during the craziness of the carnival, especially with the surreal and mad costumes on display. The carnival spirit tends to make people much more amenable to having their photos taken too, so it’s a great opportunity to experiment with more daring street photography techniques, like off-camera flash street photography.
If there happens to be a funfair in town, make sure you bring your camera! The amazing lights from the rides are perfect for lighting subjects, and also form a beautiful and evocative backdrop to images too. You only need to watch the opening scene of the 2012 movie The Place Beyond the Pines to see what a fertile creative canvas for photography funfairs offer.
Parks are great fun locations to head to for street photography as they get used in all sorts of different ways. In the summer people visit them to sunbathe, to eat picnics, and to play sports. Often interesting fairs and events are held in parks during the summer months too. In autumn and winter, parks take on a totally different character, and are much lonelier places with autumn leaves and the odd single jogger or walker, making them great places for minimalist shots.
Benches a great spot to look out for people in their unguarded moments as they catch a few minutes relaxing. Here you can often see people at their most natural, which can make for some great candid street photos. Like bus stops, benches will sometimes throw the most unlikely and disparate people together, which makes for some fantastically surreal and witty ‘contrast’ street photography.
Malls and shopping precincts are nice spots to head for street photography as they often offer the hustle and bustle of people moving about. Shopping malls also tend to sprawl out over several levels, which means you have the opportunity to mix things up with bird’s eye or rat’s eye perspective shots. Some malls are also interesting architecturally too and this can be an interesting feature to work into your shots.
Warning: Despite being a de-facto public ‘space’, shopping malls are mostly privately owned buildings, and as a result there is no legal right to photograph in them without permission. If asked to stop, you should obey. Likewise, if you publish photos taken inside the mall you could be asked to remove them by its owners, but I’m yet to hear any cases of this.
You can get a great peek into another ‘world’ if you use shop windows as a street photography location. Windows are a fantastic ‘frame’ for shots, and at night looking in on a lighted shop window can produce a very interesting fly-on-the-wall feel to your street photos. You can also use the window’s reflective glass to contrast people walking by outside on the street with the shop window dressing, which can produce some interesting effects. If the window display includes a mirror, then all the better!
Derelict Buildings/Empty Shops
Buildings that have fallen into disrepair can form a great addition to a street photo. Broken windows, graffiti, temporary fences and crumbling walls add an extra element of grit and grime to your street photography, and make a nice change from the usual ‘side’ of a city or town that is usually presented in photos, which can help your street photography to stand out from the crowd. The hulking rotting edifice of Michigan Central Station springs to mind as a building that has a dramatic character all of its own and would look fantastic as part of a street photo.
Warning: It’s unadvisable to enter abandoned buildings themselves for obvious reasons – safety and the fact you will be trespassing. Use your common sense when photographing in ‘less desirable’ parts of town too – bring a friend and remember your camera can be a target for thieves. Your safety is more important than photographs, so if an area of town is a no-go area, just don’t risk it.
Bars make a good location to focus your street photography as they’re places where people go to unwind, and you can see people here behaving in ways that they might not under normal circumstances! Bars provide an interesting insight into human interactions, as well as a great snapshot of modern society too.
Warning: Bars are private places, and if the owner or manager wants you to stop photographing they have every right to ask you to, or even make you leave. Also, remember some people don’t react well to having their photo taken, and if alcohol is involved they may be more aggressive than normal. Make sure you use your common sense and charm!
Corners are one of the most popular street photography locations, and it’s easy to see why. Not only do the walls of buildings or the lines of pavements offer fantastic leading lines, but also they offer street photographers the opportunity to set up the camera just right and then wait for the perfect subject to appear – you can snap a totally candid shot as soon as your subject appears in the frame. Another reason corners make a good street photography location is that they offer nice lighting opportunities – when rays of sunlight spill down narrow streets you can get some great high contrast shots when your subject rounds the corner and steps into the light.
Hopefully you’ve found my tips for the best street photography locations useful, and you’ll be willing to give some of them a try the next time you are out shooting. If you get some nice photos, then please share them with us in The StreetHunters.net reader’s community or the Streethunters Flickr group – we’d love to see your results. If you have any more suggestions for good street photography locations, drop us a comment below, or let us know via our Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!