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Be A Tourist In Your Own City

If you’re anything like me, you love a great photography holiday. Nothing beats exploring new cities, countries, and scenery or enjoying cultural and dining experiences. I used to take an annual photography holiday to Japan each year to absorb the culture and capture thousands of images of my favourite place on Earth. I would carefully plan and map out each trip and my intended destinations to maximise the photographic opportunities. The biggest problem with travelling to new destinations is the obvious cost involved. And let’s face it, travel is not getting any cheaper in a post-Covid world. It’s part of the reason I haven’t returned to Japan in a few years. How on earth do you experience the joy of travelling with your camera if the budget just won’t stretch that far? The answer is simple! Be a tourist in your own city.

Planning to be a tourist in your own city is an easy way to experience travel photography. I’m not referring to simply catching a train into town and walking around with your camera. Being a tourist in your home city takes planning, preparation, and an open mind to the available experiences. When travelling interstate or abroad, you typically plan where you will go, what you see, the available cultural experiences, and the best eateries. It’s not a holiday if you don’t splurge a little on the food. Being a tourist in your own city should be no different. Alternatively, if you’re a city kid like me who sometimes wants to get away from the hustle and bustle, catch a train or bus out to the leafy suburbs or a rural town. The idea is to spend time away from your usual surroundings and get out and about with your camera in a new setting. Not only will you see and capture new and exciting shots, but you’ll also feel that all-important recharge from taking a mini break. 

Take A Street Walk

A fantastic way to see any city is on foot. You can do a little research beforehand and even use an online guide on the best walks in and around the city. These plans include interesting laneways, broad, lush thoroughfares, and historical monuments. If you prefer an unscripted adventure, plan to arrive at one train station and dedicate an hour or two to strolling towards another. No plans, no directions; just follow your instincts and head out. Or even better, follow the light and shadows as they fall across a cityscape. 

Plenty of big cities also offer guided street tours where a local walks and talks about all the interesting facts and figures associated with the city. If you’re fortunate, you might even be able to book and join a photography-centric guided street tour. Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes and always pack a water bottle. It’s also worth considering how you will safely and securely carry your camera. Keeping your camera on a strap while your daily essentials are in a small backpack is a comfortable way to go.

Hop On A Bus Tour

If you’re not as mobile as you’d like or prefer not to spend the whole day on foot, get on a city tour bus. Most big cities have some form of guided tour on offer. Ride a bus, tram, train, bike, or rickshaw around the city streets to gain quick access to key locations. Bus tours often give you a higher vantage point to street level. What’s more, they cover a far greater distance than you can ever walk in the same amount of time. Some of the more flexible bus tours will offer hop-on-hop-off tickets.  It’s excellent as you can get off the bus at a gallery, museum, or open public space, explore a little and then hop on the next bus that comes along. In my hometown of Melbourne, I know there’s a free Route 35 City Circle tram that takes a trip around Melbourne’s CBD in an older “rattler” tram. It’s not a luxurious travel option by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s fun, and free, and you can hop on and off as many times as you like.

Sign Up For A Ghost Tour

Many older cities and cultures have exciting or even notorious histories. Others have much darker histories that are still worth learning about. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in the opportunity to photograph old and abandoned buildings late at night. Get online and search for local tours that explore historic sites. Many tours also grant access to historical buildings, including prisons, warehouses, cemeteries and other fascinating architecture. It’s the kind of access you don’t otherwise get, and being able to photograph heritage sites may just be up your alley. If you’re not brave enough to go solo on such a tour, meet up with other photography friends and enjoy the experience together. Just be sure to avoid flash photography - it will scare away the ghosts!

Make A Weekend Of It

If you live away from a large city, consider a train or bus trip into town. You could also stretch the budget a little and stay the night in a hotel or Airbnb. Make a weekend of it so that it’s a proper break and you can spend the maximum amount of time out and about with your camera. Visit local galleries, museums, art precincts, beaches, parks, and public event spaces over a couple of days. Photograph golden hour, the streets after dusk, or the sun rising above the skyline. As mentioned, if you live in the inner city and need to escape, plan a weekend in a country town. Drive, train, or bus to your destination and stay in a cheap cabin or bed and breakfast. From Melbourne to the Lucky Straps HQ in Bendigo, a fast train runs every hour, and it takes about two hours to get there. Head to a cafe, order a fancy dish or two and take the opportunity to give food photography a shot. Pack a tripod and a wide-angle lens and find some stunning landscape scenes. Or make the most of the clear night skies and try your hand at astrophotography. 

I live around 5 km from the city centre of Melbourne, and I still treat a trip into town as a bit of an adventure. I pack my gear for the day, grab a spare camera battery, and head in on the train or tram. I make sure I stop for a nice coffee at a laneway cafe and then grab sushi or ramen in Chinatown for lunch. I make the most of the day away from my usual routine. Plus, I always have my camera in hand and ready to go. Cities large and small offer a wide range of photographic opportunities. With the right amount of research, planning, and a little time on Google Maps, you can plan the ultimate tourist trip in your own city. It’s a lot cheaper than booking flights and accommodation overseas, and it’s the sort of adventure you can begin right now. Above all else, get out with your camera.

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