85mm and the City: Street Photography in the Big Apple

"Maturity..." by Thomas Leuthard

"Maturity..." by Thomas Leuthard

This guest blog post is from Thomas Leuthard (85mm) who is one of my dear fellow street photographers from Switzerland. Not only are we good friends, but we have taught two street photography workshops together–one in Beirut, Lebanon and the other recently in Switzerland.

In this blog post Thomas talks about his recent trip to New York City and about his experience shooting there. If you are curious to read what he has to say, read more and also see his great shots!

The Plan

I went to New York City for one week in early June just to do street photography only. I didn’t care about sightseeing, not really about shopping (although the dollar is cheap nowadays) and not about anything else than street photography. My goal was to get as many good photos of people in the most interesting city of the World. I also wanted to meet other photographers to share knowledge and to shoot together.

The Gear

I took my Lumix GF1 (20mm), my Nikon D7000 (50mm) and my Ricoh GRIIID (28mm) with me. I took 95% of the photos with the Lumix, 4% with the Nikon and 1% with the Ricoh. I like to take candid portraits of people and this is the only reason I took my Nikon with me. For everything else the GF1 is more than enough and next time I will travel leaner, I guess.

The Experience

This was my 5th time in New York and the second time for street photography. I was sure what I wanted to achieve and I took a lot of photos (4500 in total). The interesting thing was that I took a lot of photos in the first days and at the end I was fed up. You got used to the City and their people. You stop shooting everything after some days as it will repeat itself.

I also experienced that some photos I had to do in color. Especially in New York City there are so many colors that you cannot just cut them out of a photo. Or have you ever looked at a yellow cab in B/W? Doesn’t work at all.

Another experience was that people didn’t really care that I was taking their photo. Just three people approached me during this week (and I was shooting a lot). One guy was telling my to delete, that I should ask first and that it is not right to do it (all in a friendly way). One old lady begging in the subway with a stick; After I took a shot walking by, she started to yell at me (in a very inappropriate way) and was following me pretty quickly. I had to run for a short distance to get rid of her. Probably she was not what she pretended to be.

The worst thing happened at the corner of Broadway and 28th Street (not a bad neighborhood) when I took a shot of an interesting afro american character while his friends started to shout: “He took a photo of you!”. Within seconds I was confronted by 4 men, who started yelling at me. I was telling them that I will delete the photo what I immediately did. Some of them were pretty aggressive and which made me a bit frightened. But after someone said: “He is just a tourist” everything was fine and I could walk away. What I have learned from it? I have learned that when shooting street photography, you can meet some aggressive people and you have to know how to act accordingly. You cannot prevent that at all. There is a huge array of people in New York City, some of them who don’t want to get photographed while others just don’t care. If someone asks you to delete a photo, immediately do so and play it safe when you are in a foreign environment.

The Meet-up’s

Always when I travel to big cities, I organize photo walks to get in touch with other photographers. This time I contacted people in a Flickr! group related to New York Street Photography and through the forum of the Digital-Photography-School. The forum entry on the DPS board was viewed by 1’300 people! I was not sure what to expect when I would come to the meeting point at the Flatiron building that Friday evening. But there were not 100, not 10, just 3 people coming, which was perfectly all right.

Through Flickr! I met two nice guys (Sjmgarnier & MrDaniil) who showed me the city from a street photography perspective. We were on a 7 hour photo walk which was just great. I also met Zipper Gooch who I also got in touch through Flickr! The highlight was that Calvin Hollywood (a German Photoshop artist) was also in the City for a workshop. I met him one year ago in Germany, so this was just a déja-vue. We also met 2 other photographers from Germany which I went to a walk the last day. So in total I was on 4 walks with 8 photographers. I wanted to meet some more people, but some people didn’t have time and the famous Orville Robertson couldn’t make it due to the heat. Yes, it was very hot at the end of my week in NYC (up to 95°F/35°C).

The Photos

I have not looked at all of them yet. Some of them I remember and processed already, some of them I just took and can’t remember. With 4500 shots on your computer you cannot remember all of them. I shot more often, closer and without any fear than last time. I was highly motivated and my GF1 did a great job. As you can see on my Flickr! set about New York:

The Conclusion

New York is worth a trip every time and I would go there more often, if there would not be so much time difference and also the distance would not be so big. I hate to fly so far and I can’t really handle the jet lag. But I love this city and will go there again next year I guess. There are tons of opportunities and you can shoot 24 hours as the City never sleeps. You should always try to meet local photographers because this will help you finding the right spots. I have made a lot of good contacts in the last 12 months and with some I’m still in contact.

After New York I can say that: “‎Street Photography is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – 85mm (inspired by Forrest Gump)

Thomas Leuthard
85mm Street Photography

P.S. My 85mm lens which gave me my name, stayed at home… :-)

Photos to add:

"Sightseeing..." - Thomas Leuthard

"Sightseeing..." - Thomas Leuthard

"Crossed..." - Thomas Leuthard

"Crossed..." - Thomas Leuthard

"Tattooed..." - Thomas Leuthard

"Tattooed..." - Thomas Leuthard

"What makes your legs turn to jelly?" - Thomas Leuthard

"What makes your legs turn to jelly?" - Thomas Leuthard


Make sure you follow Thomas on Flickr, Twitter, 500px, and his website as well!

If you have any questions about Thomas’ trip or his street photography, make sure to leave him a comment below!

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/truetruemagic Andre Kayser

    New York is a great city and most of the people there do not care about you taking pictures, which makes it very nice for street photography. Nice Report, hope you keep updating your Flickr Album.

  • Matthew

    “Within seconds I was in the middle of 4 yelling dark skinned men. I was telling them that I will delete the photo what I immediately did. Some of them were pretty aggressive and I was just a little bit frightened. But after someone said: “He is just a tourist” everything was fine and I could walk away. What I have learned from it? I have learned that the bad guys can be everywhere and that you just have to act correctly.”

    Does anyone else find this remark disturbing? Aggressive dark skinned men = bad guys?

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Matthew, I don’t think that Thomas meant to say that. Rather that you have to be careful of aggressive people, regardless of where you are

  • http://paulkatcher.tumblr.com/ Paul Katcher

    Agree with Matthew in the comment above. That was some poorly chosen wording. I jumped straight down to the comments after reading that paragraph, to see if anyone else was taken aback by the racial judgment.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Also note that Thomas’ first language isn’t English– so I think anybody could have accidentally made that mistake

      • Richard

        I’d be curious to know what part of his DESCRIPTION was inaccurate?
        Where was the “racial judgement’?
        Did he say ALL black people were aggressive ?
        Now THAT, IMHO, would be a “judgement”
        Please enlighten me.
        Thank you.
        And Eric, why was that a “mistake”…just because he used an ethnic description to be accurate in his
        reporting doesn’t mean he’s a racist or hates OLD people or New Yorkers et al.
        This PC madness has got to stop…

        • http://www.images.ifp3.com Guy Sabourin

          Because he said : « 4 yelling dark skinned men ». If they had been white, would he have say : « 4 yelling white skinned men » ?, or, simply : « 4 yelling men » ? There is the question, Richard.

  • http://www.facesoflondon.co.uk Marco Fiori

    Sounds like a great experience. I kind of approached Japan in May like this. Sightseeing in such a wonderful country did get in the way though…

    There wasn’t any sense of racist undertones there at all. People are so fricking PC nowadays its ridiculous.

  • Matthew

    Perhaps it was only worded badly. I don’t know the man and would not presume to know his beliefs. However, he went on to write : “You cannot prevent that at all. There are different people in the City and some are illegal there or do illegal stuff.” Why the assumption that people wish their photo deleted because they are doing something illegal? Some people simply do not wish to be photographed in Mr. Leuthard’s manner.

    @Marco Fiori
    With respect, the undertones are quite clearly written in the article. Making mention of it is not about being PC but rather being disturbed and somewhat offended. This blog is visited by all ethnicities including those of us who are of a more aggressive disposition and darker skin tone.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Thank you for your feedback and it is greatly appreciated Matthew. However knowing Thomas personally, I can attest to his high standards of respect for others and love.

  • http://www.mrkhan.co Barry Khan

    Sounds like a great experience, I’d love to go back, I have family but I’ve not been since i was a kid. It’s fair enough to mention the dark reference, i don’t think its PC gone mad, worth a mention, as if nobody does, then people go on thinking certain language is acceptable, however 85mm is probably not racist. If the 4 guys were shouting at him then they probably were bad guys, shame the use of language but it’s not his first language, and Switzerland isn’t quite as diverse as many other places so maybe it’s just a tad blinkered to think it wouldn’t offend.

    Photographers, especially street photographers like to look at the world in a different way, with empathy and with purpose. So I like to think most photographers can’t really be racists… a naive statement I know! but lets focus on the images!

  • http://www.85mm.ch Thomas Leuthard – 85mm

    Sorry, for the language used. English is not my first language and I really don’t know how I call it politically correct. I have travelled the World and have seen all kind of people and cultures. I would never judge someone on his look, color, culture or race.
    It was not my intention to give the impression that all bad guys are from a different culture.
    I hope Eric can help me find the right wording…

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Thank you for the clarification Thomas. I have updated the language in the post to more accurately convey what you intended :)

  • Richard

    Can you do “street” photography with a 70-200mm lens or a 100-300mm lens?

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      I’d advise against that ;) Street photography is all about getting close and intimate with your subjects

      • http://www.photo.net/photos/StephaneThemeze Stephane

        IMHO I think it all depends on how you do approach it with such a long range zoom, as you can get close and intimate shots, but you won’t be physically that close and intimate. It is somewhat compatible with a bit of that tip to try to become invisible, and distance is one efficient way to achieve that, even though you’ll get noticed with that much of a riffle in your hands. Quite intimidating indeed!…but if you act accordingly…
        As for the purpose of Street photography being about getting close and intimate with the subjects, I think dating will surely beat street photog and be more about what you said. We want to get close, and we want ,most of us, to perform at the level of some greats, wrongly put, in the face of the people but unseen, which for me is not being intimate but intrusive in a positive personal way.
        Through a lot of in-your-face photos SP has become or seems to become more of a shooting gallery performance nowadays IMHO. So why not add a long range tool if the results are good street rewards? And 70-200 is a good framer in my experience.
        Just some thoughts. Cheers and happy shooting.

  • Richard

    Thomas, in the USA we have become hyper sensitive about race, religion, height, weight, age, you name it and SOMEONE will be offended even if no offense was intended., I am surprised that we can identify someone as a “human being”.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/exi87 Jaap Barnhoorn

    I’m a bit amazed by the comments here. It’s almost like you WANT to read about racism.
    If you read the text as it is, there is absolutely no hate to African-American people in there and the undertone (as far as you cold speak about an undertone in a written text) isn’t about racism either.
    This text is completely fine with me and I’m sure my “dark skinned” friends aren’t offended by it either. Perhaps it’s because we look at it a little bit differently in Europe compared to the US.
    It’s very hard to be political correct in a language that isn’t your first language. You have to really think about what you write and also take in account the politics of a foreign country. Bare with us please!

    Anyway, I loved your article about New York and loved the photos. New York is a great city and I hope I’ll be able to travel there someday. Meeting up with local people is indeed a good way to get the best experience of the place. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Fabian

    Einige sehr interessante Aufnahmen in Deinem Flickr-New-York-Ordner, insbesondere auch das der tätowierten Lady beim Spurwechsel. Ziemlich genau die gleiche Aktion (1 W New York, kein klassisches Seightseein, reines Street Shooting) hatte bzw. habe ich auch in Planung. Wird voraussichtlich aber erst Anfang 2012 etwas daraus.

  • http://isoterica.tumblr.com/ Isoterica

    It is extremely important when participating in any group or forum to remember that many of the participants can hail from different countries and tolerance regarding communication should always be first and foremost. How do you think you might sound in their country? If you are uncertain about what someone means or the tone of their words.. ask them first. Most people will gladly clarify or even work with you so that you can help them to say what they want to in a manner that is true to their intent and better understood.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Well said Kristen

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/quarlo/ Todd

    28th and Broadway is not the best area for street. This is the wholesale district. Some folks might be illegal, others just paranoid due to the nature of their business. Best avoided.

  • http://www.simongarnier.org Simon Garnier

    I’ve been lucky enough to spend a full day with Thomas in NYC for very cool and rewarding 7 hours photo walk in Manhattan. Among the pictures I took this day, I have this one of him in action: http://www.simongarnier.org/street-photography-sandwich/

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Sweeeet–great to hear Simon! Hope to meet you in NYC soon too ;)

      • http://www.simongarnier.org Simon Garnier

        Just tell me when you come and I’ll make sure to be free. But be careful, don’t get into my field of view, my shots are fast and deadly :-)

  • http://www.zenowatson.com Zeno

    New York is perfect for Street Photography as it is so diverse.

    Even though the great photographers go on about 5th avenue, I found in my experience the less touristy, and rich in characters was 7th and 8th Avenue.

    As usual I enjoyed your photos very much Thomas, a great experience of an amazing city. You where fortunate to have such cool guides, such as Simon (sjmgarnier) who is a cool guy and great photographer. :)

    • http://www.simongarnier.org Simon Garnier

      Thanks Zeno! In Manhattan, I personally enjoy Union Square a lot, and I’ve got some good pictures around 2nd and 3rd avenue too. You’re right about 7th and 8th (and also 9th), they are good spots too. I really like Williamsburg in Brooklyn too.

  • http://www.bycostello.com bycostello

    love the old lady shot…

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