Every city has many faces and many stories. Alas, we usually see only the most famous ones, where flocks of people have trod and taken multitude of photos. There’s nothing wrong with taking a good shot of a classic piece of architecture or urban landscape, but it pays to step off the beaten path and explore the city how it should be done – on foot. This is the best way that I have found to get introduced to a new location and find the nooks and crannies that escape the tourists, and even locals sometime. When I first came to Paris several years ago, I went out every day for a week, simply walking around various neighborhoods, getting a feel for what they’re like, discovering buildings I’d never heard of before, stepping into small patisseries to get a bite of delectable pastries, watching the Parisiens go about their business – and taking photos, of course.
Amsterdam, with its rings of canals and plenty of bridges is another city that’s made for walking, and I enjoyed exploring it immensely, armed with a shiny new Nikon D70. It was fun to start on a busy avenue and wander around until I’d find a sleepy area that seemed straight out of 18th century – an impression that was helped by the unique architecture of the old city center. The narrow buildings there are constructed in such a way that the top extends over the bottom, providing clearance for lifting heavy furniture to the top floors via the pulley attached to the gable, which was, and probably still is, the only way to do it. This construction also makes it seem like the buildings are tilted forward at various angles, ready to fall. I was lucky that a lone biker appeared as I was lining up the shot and livened up the scene a bit.
My own home city of San Francisco has no shortage of iconic buildings and locales either (the Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most photographed bridge in the world.) As much fun as it is to shoot these places, I also try to explore the dozens of microhoods that San Francisco is composed of. It’s amazing what you can find on these photowalks, but sometimes even the most mundane settings and objects can speak to you. During one such walk in the formerly industrial Potrero Hill area I saw this old door lying next to the red wall of a warehouse, and couldn’t stop from taking a shot of it. Why was this door left here? What did it guard before? No answers there, but I really liked the simple composition and strong colors.
So my piece of advice, if I’m allowed one, is this: invest in comfortable walking shoes and keep a camera handy – any camera. You never know what stories a city will tell you if you turn around a new corner and follow your instinct.