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!