Recently Tarek and I have been discovering our new home city together. Being camera happy, we took endless pictures of the street life and came to the conclusion, that hardly any other city in the world can compete with the enigmatic allure of Cairo street photography. If documenting everyday life and society on the streets is the essence of street photography, then Cairo has photogenic moments are scattered at every step. Often termed as candid photography, street photography is not set up, and the pulse of Cairo makes it easy to capture an image on the go.
Cairo street photography is alive and alluring
Perhaps, that’s what makes Cairo street photography so alluring; the ability to see beauty in everyday life. It is not the cleanest, quietest city, and there are lots of hassle to endure. Personally, I am a fan of big cities and love the variety of life and interest they usually offer. But, not every city has a character which sets them apart and Cairo definitely does not have to try hard at that. This ancient city has a timeless feel while being gigantic and clumsy at the same time. There is a certain quirky charm in its chaos and despite the disorder, the city somehow manages to function. The history, the crumbling character, the chaos, the diverse neighbourhoods and the signature golden brown hour all come together to make Cairo one of the best places for street photography.
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You can just point a camera and shoot for amazing Cairo street photography
Many believe that the goal of street photography is to capture raw emotion, humane feelings of a place all the while creating a stunning visual art. The driving force behind street photography is intense visualization and to spot a gorgeous image when you see one. Being brought up in the teeming urban sprawl of Calcutta, I have seen arresting human faces, dilapidation, squalor, glory, and interesting cityscape all my life. Thus, it is no wonder that street photography draws me and I love to play with the extremes of the places during my travels. I love their business, the emptiness, changing of light and shadow and the human tapestry which weaves together all these factors closely. My recent shift to Egypt has enhanced this passion since Cairo street photography is a whole new exciting world to discover.
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Cairo is a blend of history, human struggles, and Parisian panache
To a street photographer, Cairo is a kind of ‘has it all’ city. An ancient city turned into a gigantic metropolis. Cairo is the nerve center of North Africa. This city never fails to transfix me with its massive energy and there is always a lot of action happening here simultaneously. Approximately 22 million people call Cairo home and the Egyptian capital is indeed a street photographers’ paradise. Egyptians call Cairo ‘Masr’ which is incidentally the name of Egypt in Arabic and this emphasizes the importance of the city. Its sheer size and buzzing streets throbbing with life is not everybody’s cup of tea, but you need to look past the grit to feel the essence of Cairo. An intriguing mix of places like the Pyramids, the City of the Dead, the stunning Old Town (which put Paris to shame in the past), upmarket Zamalek, Masr’s colourful ‘Oriental’ local life, colourful souks and glimpses of old-fashioned Egyptian life, makes Cairo street photography an addictive affair.
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Snippets from my Cairo street photography memories
Imagine a man on his donkey riding past a canal built during the Pharaonic time, as feluccas dot the Nile with their snow-white sails. The Pyramids of Giza shimmer through Cairo’s infamous smog and domes of mosques punctuate the otherwise dusty skyline. Evening brings beautiful sunsets and colourful markets and Cairanese throng to local sheesha shops for their daily dose of mint tea (Chai Naena) and Turkish Coffee (Qahwa Mazboot). Water pipes gurgle merrily as reticent men watch soccer on TV or play backgammon in silent determination.
Local life as portrayed in Cairo street photography
Women come back home bearing babies on their hips, and shopping bags balanced on their heads, as the city’s million cats scurry around. Freshly baked Aish-e-Baladi (Egyptian bread) gets sold from wicker platforms, and wrinkled old women in black sell lettuce, carrots, and Egyptian walking onions. Expensive cars whizz past this stratum of Cairo society and shops display a fascinating range of products for sale. Somewhere the golden hour falls on an arresting face, a building gets partially dissolved in shadows, and colours of local produce pop against the traffic stream. This is the beauty of Cairo street life and it really does not get bigger or more historic than this.
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Street Photography Tips
- Get the correct tools – An appropriate lens is one of the biggest secrets behind outstanding street photography. A wide angle lens is the universal choice of the street photographers. The upcoming ones prefer a compact lightweight camera for taking photos on the go.
- Make sure you opt for the sight settings – Switch your camera to AV (aperture-priority mode), select your aperture and ISO manually and let the camera decide the shutter speed (exposure). On a bright sunny day, the aperture can be around16 with an ISO between 200-400. If your camera shows a shutter speed higher than 1/200th a second you are street photography ready. If you’re new to photography then start by setting your camera to auto mode and let the camera select the correct settings. P.
- Always carry your camera – This is the golden rule of street photography. Since street photography is a spontaneous art, it is the practice which makes you perfect. Consider your camera as an extension of yourself and you don’t want to miss amazing photo opportunities by not having your camera on you. In street photography, you have only a split second to capture your subject before it’s gone forever and there is rarely a second chance. So be prepared.
- Clear your head blocks and inhibitions – Street photography needs you to be street smart and savvy. Many people struggle with this concept since you are shooting live subjects at candid moments. The fear about your subjects getting angry because you took their picture, threaten you with physical violence or hassle for money, is a very common one in street photography. The best way to overcome it is to go out more with your camera and shoot.
- Try shooting from the hip – Being a petite person who easily gets lost among the crowd, shooting from the hip has never been a hit with me. My husband, Tarek, however, loves to practise this method and some of his shoot from the hip pictures are unbelievably outstanding. This method works best when it’s not possible to raise the camera to your eye, and shooting from the hip may help you capture a decisive moment.
- Night photography in the city creates unique images – Though not as easy as shooting during the day, night photography in the city creates some unforgettable images. I find it to have more space for experimenting with low shutter speed to create blur etc, and it is the best time to home your manual shooting skills. Take a tripod if long exposure shots are on your mind. When shooting at night try finding interesting lines, shadows, silhouetted subjects, and compositions to give the image a bold visual statement.
- Street photography is very diverse and fluid – Most people associate street photography with people or candid portraits. The reality is that it is a vast open mode, and you don’t have to capture people in a frame. There are infinite opportunities for all kinds of images with or without people. My tip is to play with textures and the effect of changing light on them.
- Finally, enjoy what you do – Creativity flows where the passion lives, so do what makes you happy. I love shooting street because I love getting lost in the secrets of the city. So next time, you are visiting a new place or neighbourhood, take some time to wander, observe, feel the pulse, and capture what strikes you. Don’t wait for the second chance, because in street photography, that rarely comes.
- Be aware of your surroundings – Street photography involves wandering into different places. Here are a few safety tips that I follow even on a street photographing spree. I research beforehand into what neighbourhoods are truly unsafe and that I stay within the limits of the safe environment. Often I hire a local guide the hotel concierge from the tourist office.
P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will take on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of an expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE