I started my street photography journey from Delhi. Specifically, streets of old Delhi, Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid. Staying in Gurgaon (Delhi NCR) has this distinct advantage that led me to explore street photography in Delhi multiple time in the year based on seasons, festivals, and public events.
What’s so attractive about Delhi streets?
Delhi has subsumed modernity and raw streets so well which provides you a wide array of people, subjects, and structures to photograph. At one hand, there’s Chandni Chowk where you’ll find people aboding in the streets and have maintained the heritage of old Delhi. On the other hand, you’ll spot latest fashion trends in Select City walk, South Extension.
Alright, If I have sold you enough with the glimpse of what you can expect in Delhi, let me also help you understand how will you reach the city, what’s few things that you need to stay cognizant of while you’re in Delhi, and tips for making your photography trip successful.
Travel to Delhi
Delhi is connected well globally. So, you won’t have problem in finding a right carrier from the country you live in. It’s a national capital so connectivity isn’t an issue. While you’re in India you’ve plenty of options available to reach Delhi: flights, train, and road.
If you’re a budget traveler and enjoy the journey alongside the destination — I’ll recommend train travels. As a street photographer, I find it more enriching for my experience. Plus, you get to engage with stranger if you like it.
Many people prefer road trips to Delhi. You can hire a cab service, rent a car, convince friend to ride, or pick your own vehicle for road trips to Delhi. The advantage of such road trips is that you get to see beautiful landscapes from whichever way you enter the national capital.
For people, who hate travel times and sharply focused on the activities at the destination, flights are handy options. There’s no dearth of airlines options in India to travel from any city to New Delhi airport. The sooner you book, the ticker would be cheaper.
Staying in Delhi
Delhi has range of hotel and lodging options depending on your budget. For people who’re new to the city should not take chances with the quality of stay. Be conservative and look for the ratings on websites like TripAdvisor. There are luxury hotels like Hyatt, Taj etc (more than Rs 7,000 per night) at one hand and then there are decent Airbnb budget options (nearly Rs 1,500).
Stay close to the locations where you want to travel. Although the whole city is worth seeing. But it really depends on what’s there in your bucket list. Locations are far away in Delhi even if it would look close in Delhi. So, you’d not like to kill your time in traffic and roads.
Commute in Delhi
There are all sorts of commute options available in Delhi: Metro trains, Delhi transport buses, private cabs, auto rikshaw, and obviously you can walk if that’s what you prefer.
If you need to cover major distances on budget, you can opt for metro trains. It has good connectivity throughout the city. Avoid it during the peak office commuter’s hours in the morning 8 am to 10 am and the evening 6pm to 8 pm. Metro trains are jam packed during those peak hours. If you prefer comfortable ride, go for private taxi services like Uber and Ola. There are plenty of vehicles available. So hardly 5-10 min of waiting once you book these cabs from any location in Delhi.
Auto rikshaw is also a good option and faster if you want to beat the crowded traffic. But if you’re allergic to pollution, avoid it. Because it’s open from both the sides and there’s exposure to dust and smoke. As last mile connectivity, there are options like e-rikshaw (electric rikshaw) or walking. Well, pedestrian pathways are not wheelchair friendly everywhere — so opt this mode if you’ve no such challenge.
Net-net, I’d suggest you stick to private cabs, metro trains, on few occasions auto rikshaw.
Delhi street food
Delhi foods on street can be very spicy, if you’re not used to Indian masala and curries. If you’ve a guide or a tour leader, as the person for famous Delhi street foods which is safe to consume. Street foods like gol-gappa, pav-bhaji, kachaudi, jalebi, and chhole-bhature are very famous in Delhi. I’d recommend rejoice while you’re here. But as I said, not every food joint would be safe to consume. Haldirams, Bikanerwala etc are few of popular chains who offer quality local food.
If you want to try-out authentic old Delhi street food, then visit parathe wali galli. Ask your guide or the tour leader to help you with the exact outlet.
Is Delhi safe for tourists
Well, once your travel, stay, and food issues are sorted out — safety concern comes next, right? I’ve seen this question asked many times on Web: Is Delhi safe to travel?
There have not been any major safety concerns recently. Once pandemic is over, and international flights are allowed, don’t mind exploring the city. It’s advised not to walk alone late night. Don’t entertain strangers much or get lured with any offers they make. Beware of pickpockets and scams.
You see! These are typical watchouts for any foreign locations we travel. Even secured nations have some blind spots where it’s advised to stay careful.
Street photography tips for Delhi streets
It’s my job, through this post, to help you understand travel and stay in Delhi. But won’t drain these details in the street photography post. We want to know more about how to best approach street photography in Delhi.
1. Look for Delhi weather before booking tickets
Delhi has extreme winter and extreme cold weathers. Peak summer (May-Jul) and peak winters (Dec-Jan) should be avoided. Best time to visit Delhi is Feb-Mar and Sep-Nov months of the year — weather is friendly and you can step-out for long hours during the day to explore the city streets.
2. Best time in the day for Delhi street photography
You can visit old Delhi, India Gate, Connaught Place etc any time of the day. Go to Yamuna Ghat before sunrise. If you go to Chandni Chowk early morning, you’ll get good morning moods and opportunity to play with lights and shadow of the streets.
3. Best places in Delhi for street photography
There are many. But the ones you shouldn’t miss at all are old Delhi area. These locations are in a diameter of 2-3 km. So, you can get down at one of the old Delhi metro stations and cover the whole area in a day.
What’s so attractive about old Delhi for street photographers?
Heritage sites, monuments, and local people enjoying their life in streets. People here are friendly for photos. They’ve special liking for foreigners. Being local here and speaking the same language, I get to engage well with these guys for close portraits. But they don’t mind posing for a sincere looking foreigner also. Women may be a little conservative in showing-up for photos. So, make them more comfortable and seek permission for photographs.
Beyond old Delhi, you can go to Yamuna bank (Nigambodh Ghat) in the early morning. India Gate is also a great place for people to hangout. You’ll see many street vendors selling toys and other stuffs. Even if you don’t like to buy or haggle with them, you can try making their portraits. They’re, mostly, dressed in traditional attire. Their photos make an authentic Indian portrait without going deep into Indian cities.
If want to explore the city more, go to Hauz Khas Village, Connaught Place, Hazrat Nizamuddin, and New Delhi Railway Station.
4. Best subjects for street photography in Delhi
Subjects that attract street photographers most in Delhi are hustle of the old Delhi, portrait of local people, historic locations, monuments, structures, and street food. It’s very difficult to isolate a person for street portrait. So, you may need to displace the person a little bit where you get cleaner background and good quality light.
Shoot candid street photos of people busy with their actions in the streets. At times, you may need to seek permission, other times people won’t like to get disturbed — but you won’t face major contention or concern if people are part of the pictures. If the place banned for photography for security or privacy, don’t shoot those location. Overall, you’ll get nice contrast of modernity and rustic look in the city. Apply your creativity to blend it based on your own choice of subjects.
5. Plan before hitting the streets
There are plenty of YouTube videos available of the locations where you want to visit. I’d typically go through most of them to not get surprised when I hit the street. If you plan to stay longer than couple of hours, take your water bottle and snacks with you. Even if you need to buy water, look for branded bottled mineral waters. Wear comfortable cloths. For females, put on something which is not too revealing and shouldn’t get unnecessary attention of eve teasers.
Include transportation, extra battery, memory card and what gears to carry in your plan (more in next section). You won’t like to carry lots of stuff while walking! Keep minimal cash with you so that pickpocketing doesn’t hurt. You’ll get ATMs everywhere so no need to fill your purse with cash. Most of the shops accept digital payment so dependency on cash is less.
6. What camera and lens are required for Delhi street photos
In my honest view, camera won’t matter in your street photography as much as your understanding of composition and lights — you can make use of your smartphone which is most handy camera you have got. I use both the mobile camera and DSLR for documenting candid streets.
I started my street photography with Nikon D3200 camera and 50mm f1.8 prime lens. The pictures are sharp. Portraits are amazing. f1.8 lens helps you get nice separation from the background with the help of wide aperture. Even if Nikon D3200 is beginner’s DSLR, I’ve never complained about it for street photography.
I upgraded my camera to Nikon D750 and lens to 70-200mm f2.8. Well, it’s not recommended that you use telephoto lenses for street photography. But there’s no harm in experimenting. I never picked telephoto lens to distance myself from people. On rare occasions when I use this lens, people in the street know that I’m making their portraits or shooting candid street pictures.
The advantage of upgrading your camera are majorly low light performance and improved sharpness. In low light conditions or night street photography, images get noise, grains and lack sharpness. A prime lens of f1.8 aperture can rescue in such conditions, even if you don’t have advance DSLRs.
7. Editing Delhi street photos
Always, shoot in raw — you’d get wide range of choices of colors and contrasts to play with.
Like any other street photo editing tips, I don’t recommend retouch your street photos heavily. I’d play only with exposure, highlights, shadows, and temperature in 90% of my street photos — the way I saw the scene. If there’s a close portrait, then I may enhance the eyes for sharpness and catchlight — the portrait looks good. I won’t retouch skins because it’s not a commercial photograph and I’d like the person to look exactly the she or he was looking in the natural abode.
If you find background distracting or any element not contributing to the storytelling or the colors are boring, try converting your photograph in black and white. Compare both versions, you may end-up like black and white because of its color neutralization and timelessness of the photograph.
8. Seek permission for close portraits
It’s within your rights to include people in your picture at public places. Most of the nations would allow it. But beyond legalities, I also value privacy of the person. If the person is not identifiable, I won’t seek permission. But if I’m looking for a close portrait, I’d ask the person first. If she or he is busy in activities, I won’t disturb, but would make it obvious that I’m making their portraits and ensure that their body language is not negative.
9. De-escalate in case someone raises objections during street photography in Delhi
Despite all precaution and boldness, you shouldn’t get into arguments with strangers in Delhi streets. You won’t know whether they’re armed. Even if they’re not armed, it will waste your time, you’ll unnecessarily draw attention towards yourself and there would be a huge crowd gathering to witness the verbal spat.
10. Don’t stay at one location for long
Compose a photo, shoot, and keep walking. Don’t stay at one location for long. Well, if you’re engaging with a stranger and finding it comfortable, you can stay. Behave like a tourist. Don’t become attraction yourself.
11. People may want to pose for photos and ask you their portraits
Every time I go to Delhi for street photos. I return with dozens of requests to send their pictures. It becomes very difficult who wanted what. So, I typically ask them to WhatsApp me their selfie so that I know who’s who. This is waste of time, but I don’t mind because they’ve obliged me with stunning portrait, and I should return the favor.
12. Keep a mask and scarf handy to protect from dust and pollution
The pandemic has taught us keeping masks and scarfs handy to avoid any infections spread. You need to stay careful in Delhi because the quality of air has deteriorated in last few years. More so during October and November months. Although local authorities have taken plenty of precautions. But it’s always suggested to keep your protection from dust, smoke, and pollution.
13. Look for public events and festivals
Plan your travel to Delhi during public events like Republic Day, Surajkund Mela, Dussehra, Holi etc. During these days the vibrance of festivals provides you more opportunities of capturing culture and arts of India. For example, Surajkund International Crafts Fair is organized during first two weeks of February. It witnesses handicrafts, dance, songs, and artists from all states in India, plus artists from many International locations.
Even though you’re not able to match your time with festivals, look on Web (Facebook events etc) for any event worth visiting. City is so dynamic that something goes on throughout the year.
14. Hire a guide to explore Delhi streets
If you’re not familiar with the city and traveling solo, hiring a guide is good option. You’ll get a company, feel secured because the guy would know right spots, saves time. A decent English-speaking guide will cost you nearly Rs 2,000 for 4-5 hrs. Tell the guide the purpose of your visit. Whether you’re interested in people, monuments, or street foods. The person will help you navigate accordingly.
Even though I stay in Gurgaon, which in the Delhi National Capital Region, I hired a guide because I didn’t want to waste my time in look for right spots. I had told him explicitly; monuments won’t excite me as much as the candid street photography of Delhi. This way I guided him to guide me!
Done with Delhi streets? Look for tourist spots near Delhi
Neighborhood of Delhi offers plenty of touring and photography options. So enticing that people land in Delhi and plan for nearby tourist attractions immediately. Places like Agra (Taj Mahal, how can you miss it!), Jaipur, Leh, Ladakh, Mathura, and Vrindavan are few of the locations worth spending some time. If you’ve more time, you can go a little further to Varanasi. There’s nothing like Varanasi for street photographers.
My experience of photographing Delhi streets
I have explored Delhi dozens of times for photographing its streets, people and events. I’ll continue to explore Delhi more. It’s such an interesting city!
It was summer of 2018, I was sitting idle in my office. Stepped out from office in my car to go home. Suddenly, going home felt like a boring act in the afternoon. So, I took the turn toward Delhi from Gurgaon. I went to Jama Masjid in anticipation to capture few good portraits of local Muslim community and the street vendors of local people.
Feels like the decision was not wrong! I got few photographs which I’m still extremely proud of. I’ve included those pictures in my book and blogs many a times. The lesson learnt is that don’t resist yourself if the idea triggers to follow the creative pursuits. Passion overrides laziness.
In yet another occasion, I wanted to photograph the dress rehearsal of republic Day Parade in Jan 2019. But I wanted to do more in Delhi because the parade rehearsal was supposed to start at 7:00 am and finish by 9:00 am. Here’s how I planned my day:
5:00 am: start from home to Yamuna Ghat to shoot hundreds of migratory birds, Seagulls, at the sunrise.
6:00 am: Yamuna Ghat photography.
7:30 am: Republic Day parade rehearsal photography at Rajghat.
10:00 am: A seminar of Dard Aryan tribes from Ladakh. More about portrait of Dard Aryan tribes in my last post.
1:00 pm: Back to home
I got 1000s of photographs and was exhausted after driving for so long Gurgaon-Yamuna Ghat-Rajghat-IGNCA-Gurgaon and continuous walking, standing, squatting for photographs. But can’t complaint because the experience was so enriching that I’d love to find many more such days.
Hope, I was able to answer most of your travel and photography queries regarding Delhi. Hit me up (Instagram) if you need to know anything specifically.