Street Photography Abroad
Travelling is important for your street photography. It is not the be all and end all, and a great many street photographers consistently produce great bodies of work shooting in one location or home city. But for a great many other street photographers, travelling is an amazing way for them to get inspired, and if they travel specifically for their street photography, often gives them the time and opportunity to focus on their street photography that they wouldn’t normally have which is also very important. And all these factors are increased dramatically if your travelling for street photography extends to a foreign country. Everything becomes just that little bit more exciting and a little bit more exotic. At Streethunters.net we’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed several opportunities to visit foreign countries for street photography, so we wanted to take the opportunity to share what we’ve learned along the way with you, so read on for our top tips for planning a street photography trip to a foreign country.
Choosing a Destination for your Street Photography Trip
Which country you choose to visit for your street photography will be influenced by a lot of factors. These will include: your budget (the cost of living in the country you have chosen may be more expensive or cheaper than home, equally somewhere further away may cost a lot to fly to), the amount of time you have available for your stay (again, the further away somewhere is or the harder it is to get to the more of your holiday time is taken up by travelling), the language or culture of your destination (perhaps you will want to visit somewhere where you can communicate easily, or perhaps not), and the culture (you may wish to experience a new culture, or could be apprehensive about appearing as an outsider, drawing attention to yourself, or offending someone). Only you can really decide where you really want to go! Our advice would be to pick somewhere that interests you and that you think will be rewarding. Remember that if the goal of your trip is to shoot street photography you need to pick a destination that will give you plenty of opportunities to practice. This will probably mean heading to a big city as opposed to say a tourist resort, as it will give you more of a variety of things and people to shoot. In a dedicated tourist resort your subjects will be mainly spending their time on the beaches, in tourist shops, cafes or bars so you’re going to be a little more restricted. A city with a life of its own the whole year round is more likely to yield subjects for your street photography than a tourist trap. That said, it’s your choice, and maybe you want to shoot a project focused on beach street photography or summer holidays!
Booking Flights Abroad for a Street Photography Holiday
Once you’ve picked your destination you will need to find a way of getting there and sort out your accommodation. There is no quick fast route or get out of jail free card here – you will need to invest some time in it in order to get the best deal that suits you. Cheap airfares and low cost budget airlines are a lifesaver though! In fact, you may even find yourself choosing your destination based on a cheap plane ticket offer you’ve found! There’s a wide amount of budget airlines to explore in Europe and further afield. Your research will uncover all sorts, but a couple of favourites include Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2, FlyBE, Volotea and WOW air (who are currently offering low cost transatlantic flights from the UK to US with a stopover). Spend some time exploring the websites of the various airlines to find the best deal – and make sure you check out Skyscanner and Airtickets too. These sites can often be a good place to start to work out which airlines fly to your chosen destination and what the airports are.
There are several things you should bear in mind when booking your flights. The first is the times of your flights. In terms of maximising your holiday time it can obviously be better to book a flight earlier in the day than later, so you have the rest of the day to get settled in and start exploring your chosen city. But you also have to balance with getting to the airport at an antisocial time, especially if you are reliant on public transport. A seemingly cheap flight can become very expensive if you have to shell out a fortune in taxi fares! The same is true for your return journey too. The second thing you need to consider is the airport you are flying from and to. As with your flight times, you need to examine how close this airport is to both your home and your holiday accommodation, so make sure you do your research. No one expects an airport to be in a city centre, but some can be surprisingly far away from the city they are named after. London Stansted (although well served by public transport) is over 30 miles (48km) from the centre of London for instance! You may be able to rely on public transport to transfer you to your accommodation and back again, but again make sure you research this before you book and bear in mind times. I know someone who paid more in taxi transfer fares to their accommodation than they did on their plane tickets because they didn’t realise how far away their airport was from where they were staying. The final thing you should always consider when flying is connections and layovers. On occasion you will need to get a connecting flight in order to get where you want to go. This can sometimes be cheaper too. You need to think about the time allowed between your connecting flights though. If there is a short layover and your first flight is late you risk missing your second, equally if you have a really long layover it’s very boring waiting around for hours at an airport, plus you waste your precious time! As with everything, you have to research and prioritise what is best for you.
Accommodation at Your Foreign Street Photography Destination
Accommodation is always costly, but there are ways to save money. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or relative living in the street photography destination you’ve chosen you may be able to stay with them for free (or by making a contribution to the grocery shopping or whatever). It may even make sense to choose your destination on the basis of where you have friends, acquaintances or family who can offer you a place to stay. If you are going to be paying for accommodation, as always it pays to research. Airbnb and HomeAway are often well worth a look, as you can aim to book low cost apartments close to the centre of the city you are visiting. Hostels can also be a good way of saving money, as can smaller guesthouses and rental rooms. You may even be able to find good value hotel rooms using sites like Trivago, Laterooms, etc, or via low cost hotel and motel brands like Travelodge and Premier Inn. The closer your accommodation is to the place where you want to do the bulk of your street shooting the better, as this way you can maximise the amount of time you can spend taking photos rather than travelling back and forth each day. Obviously you’ll need to balance this against cheaper accommodation costs on the outskirts. Security could be another factor depending on your accommodation type – you should aim to travel light (more on that later) and you are probably going to have one of your most valuable possessions (your camera) with you at all times because you’re a street photographer! But it may make sense to consider the security of your accommodation and research it.
Streethunters Local Guides
One of the most important things which can make your street photography trip in a foreign country really amazing is a local guide! Having someone who can plan routes for you, help you out with public transport, advise you on local customs and laws, and point out the best hot spots for street photography in their city. If that local guide has a real passion for street photography then you’ve hit the jackpot! That’s why we at Streethunters.net have set up the Streethunters Local Guides network, a one-stop-shop where you can find street photographers who are ready and willing to help you make the most of your visit to a new city. We suggest you may want to have a read of our explainer of how the Streethunters Local Guides concept works and then explore our local guides directory page. You may find that your street photography destination choice is swayed by a certain volunteer being based in a certain city! From a personal perspective, it was through Streethunters.net that Spyros Papaspyropoulos and I were able to enjoy an incredible time in Rome, Italy thanks to the kindness and incredible hospitality of Marcello Perino which we are both immensely grateful for. We really got to see what Rome had to offer, practiced some new street photography techniques, ate and drank in great restaurants and bars, and make a fantastic new friend too! Recently, as part of the 3rd Annual Streethunters Meeting Spyros was also able to get to know Cambridge thanks to the generosity of John Hughes, and I myself have spent several awesome days shooting in Athens guided by Spyros and staying with his family. So, make sure you make the most of our local guides directory – it is there for street photographers to network, get to know each other, and have a great time!
Travel light – Focus on the Essentials
Just as when you practice street photography in your home town, it is really important to travel light when you visit abroad. This cannot be emphasised enough. If the focus of your trip is to shoot street photography, you really don’t need to take all that much stuff. The aim should be to try and use everything you bring, although you may want to bring certain things or spares in case of emergencies. If you are flying with a low cost airline you may well be travelling with only hand (aka cabin) luggage. Check the rules for the airline you are flying with, and use (or buy) a bag that fits their restrictions. I have a Ryanair cabin bag sized rucksack that I bought on eBay and it allows me to keep both hands free when walking around the airport and on public transport which is perfect. Make sure you stick to the cabin bag restrictions on the airline website too. It can be annoying how restrictive they are, but you really don’t need all that stuff for a street photography trip, especially if it’s a mini or weekend break. Many people complain about budget airlines, but if you read and stick to their rules you should be fine. Their staff are not out to ‘get’ you, and are merely doing a job like anyone else. If you try and use a bag the size of a small house as cabin baggage then you will have problems! Try to think minimally, and consider what you really need again and again. For instance most airlines now let you have an e-ticket on your smartphone which saves you having to worry about losing a piece of paper with a physical ticket. It’s one less thing to carry too! It can be useful to have a laptop and hard drives for backing up your photos, but they may not be essential on a short trip, so think about if they are really necessary. If you are packing them, remember that airport security will probably want to take a look at them, so make sure they’re easily accessible in your bag – nothing worse than having to take everything out just to show a security guard your laptop. And use your common sense. My three external hard drives laced together with rubber bands looked a lot like suspicious packages filled with metal and wire on an airport x-ray machine, which resulted in an uncomfortable few minutes for me explaining that I was carrying hard drives filled with photos and not something more dangerous. As with airline staff, security people are only doing their job, so be helpful! With packing, the golden rule is, if you don’t think you’ll use something, don’t bring it! You’ll have less things to worry about when you get to your destination, less weight to lug around, and more time to spend doing what you came to do – take street photos. Just remember to pack your passport, wallet, camera, memory cards, spare batteries and charger!
Street Photography in tourist hotspots
One of my favourite things about a street photography trip in a foreign country is that I can act like a tourist. I find this makes street photography so much easier, and I can get more of the kind of shots I want. One of my top bits of advice if you are the sort of photographer who gets nervous when shooting or fears an awkward situation in street photography is to focus a lot of your shooting in tourist hotspots. Almost everyone here will have a camera and most people will be too distracted with taking photos or the tourist attraction to pay much attention to you as a street photographer. In Athens for instance, I was able to take loads of off-camera flash street photos of people from the top of the giant Pnyx rock next to the Acropolis because everyone else was too busy looking at the Parthenon or the sunset to be bothered by me. The more touristy the city, the more likely it is people will not notice you taking street photos, or will chalk up you pointing a camera at them to the eccentricities of the weird tourist making shots of everything, so make sure you play up to it!
Maps & Street Photography Routes
Getting lost is never fun. With Google Maps or Maps.Me you can download maps offline to your smartphone so you can still use them even if you’ve switched off your mobile data to avoid roaming charges which is really useful. If you make a habit of checking maps you can also plan routes out for yourself to use your time in the city efficiently. Think about the best locations for street photography in a city, aiming for interesting spots where there’s a lot of hustle and bustle or great backgrounds, and making sure you walk in loops and have a clear destination in mind to avoid having to go back on yourself too much which can be very frustrating.
Security – Check laws and customs. Be sensible
Street photography by its very nature can be divisive, so make sure you are sensitive to the locals. You are a visitor to their city and home after all. On a basic level, you should at least try to familiarise yourself with the laws surrounding street photography in your chosen destination before you choose it (and certainly before you go). Wikipedia can be a good start for this, though make sure you cross reference. If you’ve found a local guide, you can ask them for advice. Wherever you’re visiting, it’s never fun to upset the police. If you’re going off the beaten track make sure you do your research first. You may well get a different experience in popular tourist attractions than you do in more alternative parts of a city or in the outskirts. Be sensible about security. Would you shoot photos alone in a darkened part of a dodgy area if it was in your home town? And if you would, is that because you know the place and know you can get yourself out of trouble, or explain to someone what you’re doing or talk yourself out of trouble if challenged? That may not be so easy in a strange place. Within reason, you shouldn’t need to go overboard on security (no one wants to appear the crazed xenophobic tourist) but you do need to take responsibility for yourself, exercise caution, and use your common sense. Street photography is not a get-the-shot-at-all-costs exercise, it’s supposed to be about having fun!
Study Other Street Photographers Who Worked in Your Travel Destination
Finally we reach the most exciting part of planning a street photography trip to a foreign country – thinking about the kind of street photos you can take when you get there! If you’ve got in touch with a local guide, perhaps you might like to check out some of their street photos to get an idea of what you can expect when you get there. Or it might be that you’ve actually chosen your destination based on the work you’ve admired by a street photographer who shoots there a lot. Perhaps you’ve fallen in love with Garry Winogrand’s take on New York, or Alex Webb’s appreciation of Mexico’s glorious colours. Forrest Walker, a good friend of Streethunters.net and a very hard working street photographer who has travelled all over the world. He has put together a superb travel street photography blog full of cracking photos, advice, anecdotes and city street photography guides which I strongly urge you to check out. You may have even been inspired by some of great work of the photographers featured on the Streethunters.net Flickr Photostream or Facebook Group. Whatever the case, studying the work of street photographers you admire who’ve shot in your chosen location can teach you a lot about what to expect before you get there, the kind of scenes you can put together, the power and intensity of the light, and perhaps even the people too. It’s a great way to get inspired and help you get the most out of your trip!
Do you have any tips for Streethunters readers planning a trip?
I’ve done my best to offer a broad spread of advice on planning your street photography trip abroad, but there’s bound to be some things I’ve missed out. If you’re a globetrotting street photographer who’s picked up some tips and tricks along the way please feel free to drop us some of your pearls of wisdom in the comments below! And most importantly, while the advice in this blog post is designed to help you, your trip should mostly be about you enjoying yourself and making your own discoveries. The goal should be not just making beautiful street photos, but personal enrichment, and creating great memories you can look back on fondly over the years.