Street Photography in New York [Inspiration + 10 tips]

Are your looking for Street Photography in New York City? Look no further here are a wealth of inspiration and tips for shooting in the big Apple. I now live a nomadic life with my kids, but I've lived and studied in New York, and let me tell you: There's something special about NYC for street photographers. It's the vibe of the city and also it's grit, so let's dig right in…

Street Photography In New York City: Inspiration and tips

1. Go to these streets

New York is the playground for photographers, everywhere is just full of life and opportunities for street photography! My favorite starting point in Pennsylvania station, one of the biggest stations is New York City. Simply go out and start shooting (and pass by B&H Photo while you are at it…). From there it's a small walk to Times Square where there are a LOT more opportunities. Roam around Times Square and go whatever direction you see your images might be waiting for you because part of street photography is being open to serendipity. If you have time, make sure to shoot the High line. It's an old train station turned into a park. You can do a lot of portraits with the unmistakable New York skyline there.

What's great is that New York is divided into smaller areas, all with their different “feel”. Soho has a cool hip vibe, 5th avenue an upscale vibe (great for streets shots with a fashion flair), Brooklyn has those houses, Chinatown has lots of Chinese symbols, etc. Some areas are pretty far to walk to, like from Times Square to Chinatown, so you will have to plan your trip. If you have limited time in New York City, the area around Penn station will provide plenty of great images.

2. Look for Street vendors

All around the city are magazine or hot dog vendors. Point your camera at their direction and make images. The window that many vendors are in provide a read-made frame within a frame so these types of shots are much easier to compose.

3. Never forget to look up

While it is tempting to keep shooting at eye level, from time to time, keep looking up. Either take a cue from my 28mm tutorial and shoot your subject from a lower vantage point, or simply shoot the buildings. Depending on the time, their character vary and some buildings might be great for reflections, others for interesting shadows and patterns. This is how I made the shot above, I reminded myself to look up from time to time. The images on this page have been processed with these presets designed for street photography.

4. Watch out for iffy areas

“Whatcha takin' pictures of?” said this guy as he approached me. I could smell the guy was a bit off. “The building” I replied truthfully. I was making a shot of the building in the back that was in the shadows. Why? I asked the guy. Then he candidly told me that he was selling fakes and wasn't too keen on getting photographed. I looked right and left, and I realized I made a street photography safety mistake: I was so engulfed with images that I wondered in an iffy part of town. The picture isn't even worth showing (the one above just seemed to fit the bill for this point), but the principle still stands: Watch out for iffy areas. That camera dangling around your neck might sound like someone's next paycheck… just trust your gut on this one, if you feel that the area feels “off” don't go there.

5. Photograph the murals

New York is rich in murals and graffiti. You can either wait and incorporate a subject as they walk by…or do like I like to do and make the mural itself the photograph. It can make for an interesting and bold photograph.

6. Look for animals

No, not rats, but keep your eyes peeled for cats and dogs. You'll find plenty in the city. Shooting animals is one of the best ways to do street photography without humans. Eliott Erwitt made a career just shooting dogs, so the theme is rich.

If you want something much harder to photograph (but that makes for oh-so-satisfying photographs) it's pigeons. You find them sprinkled mainly in the parks.

7. The NYC Trifecta

If you took all of my photographs and made me forget where they were shot, I would easily be able to pick the ones shot in NYC. Why? Because of the trifecta of Sun, Light and Buildings.

Go to areas that are covered with buildings, this provides with a lot of photo-opps for most of the day. Why? Because the buildings cast huge shadows. So when the sun is pretty well up, go where there are buildings and observe the shadows they cast or the sun they reflect. Be patient and you'll see plenty of shots.

You can also, just like the shot above wait for the sun to peak right around a building and take a shot. There's a LOT of photographs to be made just looking at the sun and working with it as it circles around the buildings.

8. Embrace the visual chaos

The city is bursting with life. And while there is a time and place to simplifying your frame, NYC is one of those places where it's better to embrace the chaos and integrate everything, the billboards, the cars, the text, etc. Billboards by themselves can make for excellent photographs. One of the best examples of this I have seen was in Inspired Eye magazine. The billboard was a huge eye in a snowy landscape and it made for a striking effect.

9. Go against the crowd

The secret of creative street photography IS going against the crowd, but in this case I mean literally. You want to have your camera up and go against the crowd, have everyone come at your direction. You can also do the opposite and go WITH the crowd and wait to shoot the odd person going against it.

10. Look for reflections

Just in case you didn't know…there's a LOT of buildings in the big apple. So look for reflections and storefronts. You can shoot the people as they are sitting down for a coffee, or like the shot above make a shot that reflects right and left. Reflections always make for an impressive graphical effect that is easy to do with so many buildings around.

Conclusion

There you have it, 10 tips and loads of inspiration to make the most of your street photography in New York City. It's one of the best places to photograph and deserves a place on every street photographer's bucket list. Since you are reading this, you are interested in street photography, right? Then check out my step-by-step street photography course, I've put everything I know about the craft in there. If you are only interested in inspiration, check out IE street photography magazine.

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