One of the things many visitors to India hate most is the hectic, bustling and sometimes overwhelming experience of India’s big cities.
And it’s fair to say there are a lot of these! Like traveling to most destinations, when you travel in India you come to realise that spending at least some time in a big city is unavoidable – being transport hubs you arrive at and depart from them, and travel through them on your way to somewhere else.
It’s not exaggerating to say that Indian cities are generally hot, loud and smelly. Relentless traffic, the sound of horns and wafts of pollution are common city experiences.
But as photographers we’ve got everything to gain by embracing exactly this. India’s streets are full of life, and rich in colour and characters just begging to be photographed.
Don’t get overwhelmed
Slow down and don’t let India overwhelm you.
This simple concept is important and will help you enjoy India more. When you are somewhere that seems hectic and crazy, try to relax. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by what’s going on all around you.
The more familiar with and settled in India you become, the better you’ll be able to filter out the negative aspects of Indian cities. This will enhance your ability to identify the fantastic photographic opportunities that surround you.
When you’re out and about, take your time. Try not to get caught up in the pace of events around you. Examine and explore the scene you’re in, look at its and what they’re doing.
Because roaming the hectic streets of Indian cities can be tiring, be sure to book the best hotel or guesthouse you can afford. Do plenty of research beforehand and make sure it’s located in or near a decent area for photography. You want to minimise the amount of travel you have to do and be as comfortable as possible after a day on the streets.
If you like to sleep in, don’t.
As a photographer you probably want to be up for the best light anyway, but Indian cities are also completely different places before the hustle and bustle of the day commences.
This is important to remember, because – being India – later on the streets will be thronging with people. Get there early to see the character and architecture of individual areas more clearly.
It will also be less hot, and you can observe the morning routines going on all around you.
Sure, it’s going to be more tiring, but getting up early for street photography in India is really worth it.
That’s not to say that shooting later on won’t be great too – you can find plenty of shady spots to shoot, even in the middle of the day.
Indian people are friendly and definitely not camera shy, most of the time. Don’t be afraid to talk to people; ask to take their photos and the chances are they’ll be happy to oblige. In fact, half the time they’ll be asking you!
One thing that makes India so good for street photography is that so much of life actually happens outside, in full view, right on the street.
I’ve encountered people seeing the dentist, having a haircut, lifting weights, cooking food, meditating, selling goods, cleaning shoes, charming snakes and much, much more.
You’ll have many enjoyable encounters with people you meet on the street, and you’ll likely get a lot of friendly interest in what you’re up to, especially when people see you wielding your camera.
Sometimes it’s going to get a bit annoying, but relax, be patient and it’s all good.
It’s a great way to meet the locals and learn something of the culture, if you’re willing to. It also means you’ll already be talking to lots of people who might be happy to have their photo taken. I really love taking portraits of people I meet in this way, and I’ve got lots of ‘keepers’ from my encounters on Indian streets.
It has often struck me just how relaxed and natural Indians are while having a portrait taken, and of course this is very helpful too.
Doing street photography in India is really rewarding. There are so many interesting people to meet and photograph, and all sorts of fascinating things can be found on the streets of India.
I’m not gonna lie though – sometimes it is completely exhausting. There are many things that can run you down – heat, noise, pollution, hustle and bustle, dodgy food and dehydration (not to mention all the vehicles!).
Whether a photographer or not, I’ve always said that everyone should visit India at least once.
It’s one of those places where life is at its most intense and alive. It’s as challenging as it is beautiful, and it’s oh so photogenic.