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Travel Photography Subjects: Downtown

Image: My Favorite Downtown: Seattle

My Favorite Downtown: Seattle

“The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown, no finer place for sure,
Downtown, everything’s waiting for you”

-Petula Clark

Yes, I really did start this post with a pop song from the 60’s because it is rings in my head every time I come to this Travel Photography Subject on my checklist.

It also demonstrates one person’s view of what downtown is about. Granted, the composer (Tony Hatch) had a certain city in mind when he wrote it, that being New York City. I’m guessing most of us who have visited NYC might have a different view and that’s the great thing about a city’s downtown area. There usually is a variety of action and characters weaving through the fabric that makes up downtown.

When visiting a downtown of any major city you will likely see some common themes. Crowds, shops, skyscrapers, garbage, commerce and a liveliness that sets the tone for the rest of the city. Or maybe the downtown area is depressed, abandoned, clean or well organized. No two cities will be the same, not even the Twin Cities.

If you’re just passing through, chances are great you will be staying in the tourist area of a downtown, if it has it. Hotels are often crowded together, usually close to a variety of restaurants or other popular attractions. What’s not so obvious for the casual tourist are the other areas of downtown that give it its lifeblood. International districts, financial districts, art districts, city parks, poor areas, rich areas; the list is large when breaking down a city into its elements. While taking in the typical sites, don’t forget to wander a little.

Some good ways to do this are with a taxi, rickshaw, bus or other local transport. Many tour companies can present a wide swath of the city in a small amount of time and impart valuable insight while on the road. A cabbie in a taxi can often do the same. Just agree to a price before getting in for a one hour tour around the less popular areas of town. Explain you want to stop often to take photos and be sure to tell the cabbie if you have any particular interests (art, history, architecture, etc…).

Even if you will only be in town for just a day, on your way to some other exotic region of the country you are visiting, try to spend an hour wandering the city’s downtown area to get a feel for ‘local life’. It may not be as grand as the tourist traps nearby, but it will let you in on a bit of the city’s secrets if you listen and watch.

Do you have a few downtown shots from your travels that you would like to share?  Post them in the comments section below!


Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion, Sports, Socializing, Icons, Rich, Poor, Transportation, Economy, Food, Food Preparation, Weather, Art and Modern Vs. Traditional.  These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and highlight thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the other four subjects as they are posted!

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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