Travel Update: My Experience Shooting Street Photography in Paris, Getting My Backpack Stolen, and Free Composition Ebook

I’m on a train to Aix en Provence, to the south of France and wanted to share my experiences shooting street photography in Paris.

If you read on the internet, apparently there are more strict regulations about image copyright and street photography in France. To my understanding, you can take a photograph of anybody in public, but there are restrictions on publishing a photo of a stranger.

I have a mantra in life: “It is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.” So generally speaking, I don’t worry much about image copyrights and street photography.

Shooting street photography has been an absolute pleasure in Paris. Despite the fact that a lot of people say that Parisians are mean and rude, I have found the opposite to be true. I know a tiny bit of French (Cindy is fluent), and whenever we went to restaurants and spoke French, they didn’t default to English (only at a few touristy food stalls near landmarks). People were friendly helping us find where to go, with food recommendations, and great service in general.

When taking photos of strangers, it was totally fine too. After shooting when I smiled and said “merci beaucoup”, most people smiled back and said no problem. I also asked a lot of people to take their portrait while here, and 90%+ of people said yes.

I had one experience when I was in a more “ghetto” part of Chatlet and took a photo of some rough looking kids after they asked me not to (my fault). The kid (around 16 years old) approached me and tried to take my camera for me and got a bit aggressive (he had his posse with him). He kept asking me in French to delete the shot, and I tried to explain I shot film. He didn’t understand and was quite angry and refused to let me leave.

Fortunately there was an onlooker who told the kids to back off in French (once again the friendly French). The kids finally relented, and one of the kids gave me a light backhand to the face and walked off.

Getting my backpack stolen


Another fun story: the other day I got my backpack stolen in Republique during the gay pride parade. I finished a super fun day of the workshop and was with my students at a cafe having a beer. We were all laughing, having a good time, and I had my backpack literally right next to my seat. But suddenly I turned away and it was gone. I guess somehow a thief took it while all of us were distracted. None of us saw the thief. We only saw that one of the pins I had on my backpack (a silver airplane pin my friend Jonathan gave me) was on the ground (with a wing bent).

What did I get stolen in my backpack? Fortunately I had my passport, film, and other valuable belongings back in my airbnb apartment. I lost my laptop (2012 macbook air 11 inch), 3 rolls of film I shot that day, my Leica sf20 flash, some batteries, and not much else.

Thank God my students jumped to my rescue. Emmanuel, one of the workshop students (who speaks French), took care of me and Cindy by taking us to 3 police stations to file a report, and paid for our uber taxi rides. Unfortunately that day (because of the terrorist bombing in Lyon) we couldn’t file a report. But the next day we did successfully.

Other good news? I have travel insurance (covered up to $10,000 with GEICO and only pay around $20 a month), and my stuff is covered.

Honestly I am surprised it took me this long to get my stuff stolen considering how careless I am about my stuff, and how much I travel. I’m just happy I didn’t lose my passport, wallet, and smartphone (I’m typing this out on my phone in Evernote).

What about my data in my laptop? 95% of my photos and video is backed up in dropbox (premium membership FTW), and 99% of my other data is backed up in the cloud (Gmail, Evernote). I lost some gopro pov films I shot in Paris, but the next day I was inspired to shot more footage (will upload soon). I also changed all my passwords and reset my laptop remotely via the apple “find my phone” application.

I hope the guy who stole my laptop uses my laptop, maybe learns how to code, and is able to stop his life of crime.

For a new laptop, I might buy the new MacBook 12” retina (90% of my laptop work is writing and blogging), and I don’t need much speed (I shoot mostly film). Also I think the gold color is pretty sexy haha. Plus the retina screen should be nice for photos. And the weight is super light (.5 pounds lighter than my 11 inch). So perhaps getting my laptop stolen was a blessing in disguise.

Morale of the story? If you’re traveling, keep your bag or backpack wrapped around your leg or under the table. Always have your important documents back at your hotel or apartment, always backup your files (both to an external hard drive and to the cloud). Also have an extra photo or photo copy of your passport (if it gets stolen, this makes it easier to get a new copy). Also be careful of scammers, and when your intuition says someone seems or looks fishy, follow your gut.

If you’re traveling, just assume sooner or later you’re going to have your importance stuff stolen. So be prepared in advance what to do if it happens.

If you shoot digital, buy lots of SD cards, an extra external hard drive, and keep your photos secure (you can always buy a new backpack, laptop, camera, but you can’t recover your photos).

Thank God I didn’t get my Leica stolen.

Places to shoot in Paris

If you’ve never been to Paris, the best places to shoot aren’t in the city center, but around the edges.

For my airbnb I stayed in both Place d’Italie and Bercy, both great places to shoot street photography (fewer tourists). In Bercy there is a cool Park (bercy Park with a skatepark inside), and the “bercy village.”)

Near the Gare de lyon train station is good and also inside the station (lots of interesting characters).

Favorite neighborhoods : the marrais (Jewish neighborhood with the best fallafel and trendy stores, go to las du fallafel), the canal saint martin (cute boutique and bookstores with a beautiful view of the canal, go to “chez prune” for food).

A bit outside of Paris, highly recommend going to “la defense”, where there are mostly businesspeople and an epic cube arch. Great for architecture street photography.

Also for architecture and composition, go to the French National Library (BNF).

For a lot of people, go near the Lafayette gallery, Chatelet, or near Opera.

My favorite photo gallery? The polka photo gallery (they have a Bruce Gilden exhibition going on, and a great bookstore).

Favorite meals in Paris (not expensive): Auberge Saint Roch, “cafe constant”, chez Lili et Marcel.

My shooting

For this trip in Paris, I shot some for my “Suits” project near la defense, but most of my shooting was on my film Leica on tri x pushed to 1600 with a yellow filter (from my friend Karl Edwards from

I don’t know why, but suddenly this trip I was inspired to shoot more gopro pov videos, hope you enjoyed them. I plan on doing more of them.

Most of the shots in black and white are just random photos of interesting things I saw for fun.

I’ve also been shooting a lot on my smartphone (Galaxy s6), and processing them in color (Vsco a6 preset). Actually really love the colors that come out, they look like portra!

Honestly, traveling with all this film is kind of a pain in the ass. When doing the gopro video with the Ricoh GR, I fell in love with that camera again. I thought how nice it would be if I did all my traveling with the Ricoh GR (and just leaving the Leica and film at home). Maybe next trip.

Books I’ve been reading

I’ve recently become a huge fan of Matthieu Ricard, French scientist turned into Buddhist monk. On my kindle, I’ve read his book “Happiness” (great book that taught me true happiness is serving others), and a new book “Altruism” (inspiring me to devote my life to help others as well).

Krishnamurti’s “The first and last freedom” was recommended to me by a friend, and his philosophy on creativity and the mind is fascinating.

Reading “the magic of thinking big” (for inspiration), and for health I read “brain maker” (learned the importance of a healthy stomach).

My life purpose

The biggest thing I’ve been meditating on this trip is how to live a meaningful life. My new favorite quote:

“To live is to be useful to others.” –  Seneca.

I am fortunate that now through my workshops I’m doing comfortably well financially. Of course I still stress out about money, my future family, security, etc, but I have faith that as long as I keep working hard, helping others, everything will be taken care of.

I don’t want to die the richest man in the grave. I want to continue to contribute to society, and devote my life to “be useful to others.”

“The Street Photography Compositional Manual”

I’ve finished a new ebook on street photography and composition that I was tempted to charge money for. My problem is that 95% of my income is dependent on traveling and teaching workshops, and I wanted to create a new income stream that could allow me to spend more time at home with Cindy, my loved ones, and my future children.

But then this goes against my philosophy of “open source”, and I need to practice what I preach.

So upon much deliberation, the book is going to be open source. A suggestion that someone gave me: “Why not make it a ‘pay what you want’ model or accept donations?” I think this is much better.

I personally feel information should be open, free, and used to empower people.

You can download the pdf for free below on Dropbox (you don’t need a Dropbox account to download it, just click the download icon from the top bar):

The Street Photography Composition Manual” (pdf direct download)

So read it, take a look, and you can pay what you think it is worth here via PayPal:

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Or you can use this fun form below to help support me and the blog!


I wrote the book all from scratch, and distilled all of the lessons from composition I learned. I had a ton of fun writing it on the Apple iBooks author platform, and I hope to write more books with it.

When you download the book, feel free to share it with anybody you think it will help. Also feel free to change it, remix it, translate it, or whatever you think will benefit others.

Upcoming travels and workshops

The week long workshop in Paris was awesome. I loved getting to know all the students personally, showing them to areas “off the beaten path”, all the good food, beer, wine and coffee, fun laughs, daily critique sessions, and their improvement! I like the more relaxed pace of a week long workshop, plan on doing more of them in the future.

So I’m heading down to aix en Provence with Cindy (she’s going to study at the archives there), then off to Lisbon with my mom and Cindy’s mom. In aix I hope to do more writing (doing a new book on the masters of street photography). Lisbon is to have fun with family (I’m excited, it’s my first time!)

Then off to Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, London, and Stockholm for more workshops!

There are still a few spots open, don’t miss out! Spots are quickly selling out, and I won’t do workshops in Europe for probably another 2 years (next year is focused on America and Asia).

You can see my upcoming street photography workshops.

Thank you

I’m forever grateful for your love, support, and continued dedication to this blog and the street photography community.

What else would you like me to work on to help out? Share some ideas thoughts, feedback in the comments below!