It was time for our next street photography adventure and this time we picked Colombia – one of the most fascinating countries I’ve ever visited

Thanks to Netflix, these days Colombia often brings to mind the TV show Narcos and Pablo Escobar – while being a great show, it may not put Colombia on the top of your list of places to visit. That needs to change.

The Colombian people are incredibly hospitable, generous (inviting us in for coffee and wine), welcoming and fun (memories of our evening in a local dance hall come to mind). They are a very proud people, taking great effort/care in their homes and neighbourhoods. One street in Communa 1, Medellin was covered in flowers made out of recycled bottles and CDs by the local residents.

The country also boasts beautiful landscapes, from the mountains all the way down to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

On a macro level, Colombia’s achievements include having the 2nd highest biodiversity in the world, 70% of Colombia’s energy comes from renewable energy, and with it’s neighbour Venezuela creating a refugee crisis to rival Syria’s, Colombia is the only country to keep it’s borders open; welcoming in an estimated one million Venezuelans in need.

The progress the country and its people have made considering its difficult past with both the war against drugs and more recently the civil war with FARC makes this all the more impressive.

Seriously, if you ever get the chance to go to Colombia, do it!

2 weeks, 3 Locations – Medellin, Jardin and Cartagena

We picked 3 locations in Colombia to offer a range of places to shoot in and hopefully a better insight into the country and its people.  While shooting street photography overseas it’s important to remember that we’re telling a story from our perspective, a perspective that will often have inaccuracies due to our incomplete understanding of the country and its people.

To help improve our understanding we can research the country we’re visiting, speak to the people we’re capturing and empathise the best we can. Context is key. However, unless you’ve ever lived in their shoes, you can never fully understand their situation. Shooting street is a great way to dive into a place, learn and better understand other peoples and cultures. At the same time, it is important to remain aware of our own limitations and frequently question our understanding of a situation.

Ok, back to the trip. We spent the most time in our first location – Medellin; Colombia’s second largest city located up in the Andes Mountains. With so much to share about Medellin, I’ll be creating a separate post for it in the coming weeks.

Next we traveled up to Jardin for some fresh air and to escape the city for a few days. It’s a beautiful town in the mountains surrounded by lush green vegetation and filled with fascinating characters and colonial architecture.

Finally we flew up to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. A city dominated by vibrantly colourful walls, the Caribbean heat, tourists, bustling markets and nearby fishing villages.

Top Tips For Street Photography in Colombia

  1. Get up early, break mid day, shoot late – the best times to shoot are early morning (often started at 5am) and in the evening. At these times the pace of the city is slow, it’s not as hot and the light is beautiful. Middle of the day can be used to relax and recharge.
  2. Speak to people – not only is this respectful, gives you a better understanding of what you’re seeing, learn cool stories, it often gives you better access to your subjects because people feel more comfortable with you.
  3. Respect your subjects – this should go without saying but sadly when speaking with some Colombians we heard of lots of cases of tourist taking photos and running away or getting in the way of people trying to do their job. Just imagine if the roles were reversed. How would you feel if someone treated you like that?
  4. Slow down – Still on of the best bits of advice I’ve ever received with my photography (thanks Tyler Wirken)
  5. Keep your gear light – I’m a big believer of the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Stupid). A great photo is made up of 3 elements – light, composition, moment. The less time you spend thinking about gear, the more you have to photos on these 3 elements. I only take one lens with me on these trips – my Fuji 1.8 23mm.
  6. Learn from each other – going with other photographers has the immersive benefit that you can learn from them. Looking at the back of each others cameras during breaks and seeing how others saw the same street totally different is fantastic for improving your photography.
  7. Read up on the history of where you visit – if you want to better understand the stories and meaning behind the subjects in your photos do a little Google on your next coffee break.
  8. Comfy footwear – When you’re on your feet most the day, uncomfortable footwear can ruin a trip. I’d avoid sandals/flip flops because in cities you are often walking on broken ground. If in hot climates make sure they’re breathable. Sketchers are my shoes of choice.

Developing My Photography Skill Set

One of the reasons I invest in these trips is its ability to improve my skills as a photographer, which I can then put back into what I offer my wedding couples. With street, you have no time limit, so you can really slow down, experiment and hone your craft. It can also built your courage in getting close – if you’re happy to get close to strangers on the street, getting close at a wedding where you have a license to shoot is a breeze.

You also get the opportunity to learn from the other photographers around you. We regularly swapped cameras during breaks to see how others had seen things differently and offer feedback and critique.

Street Photography Gear – Fuji XT2

For the 3rd street photography trip running I was accompanied by my trusting Fuji XT2. I only use the one lens (being a big believer of keeping things simple gear wise) – the 1.8f 23mm (equivalent to 35mm full frame). The size and weight of the XT2 is perfect both for long days of shooting and also getting closer to your subjects (the quieter shutter [I usually use a Nikon D750 for weddings] is an added bonus in this area).

Here are my favourite photos from our Colombia street photography adventure. At the bottom I share some ‘behind the scenes’ photos to give a more complete taste of our awesome experiences.

Things to Know When Visiting Colombia

  1. Getting around – Public transport in the big cities was very impressive, especially the metro system in Medellin. You can also get taxis (run on meters in Medellin but in Cartagena we had to negotiate fees before getting in) and they have Uber in the larger cities.
  2. Internet – Wifi is common and 4G was available in most places we visited. Just check the roaming options with your network carrier. If you’re based in the UK, pick up a 3 SIM card which will give you 4G and 6GB of data for around £14 (Colombia is covered in their roaming package).
  3. Safety – The areas we traveled to in Colombia were very safe, with maybe one exception. Medellin has come an incredibly/impressively long way since it was known as the murder capital of the world and although you can walk freely through most of the city, you need to be a little careful in some of the Communa’s. For example Communa 1 (one of the highlights of the trip for many of us), we’d been told to stay near the cable car for safety. A few times when we wondered a little further afield the locals kindly told us we probably shouldn’t walk any further down certain roads. This was one of many examples of their amazing hospitality.
  4. Money – Although cards are widely used in the cities we visited in Colombia, many smaller businesses still prefer cash only so make sure you keep some on you. A Revolt Card is one good method for getting out cash at ATMs at a great rate.
  5. Accommodation – We used a mix of hostels and Airbnb during our trip and had good experiences with both. If you’re traveling in some of the more rural areas/islands you might be surprised at the amazing finds on Airbnb.
  6. Language – Within the tourist industry (hostels, travel agency, etc) everyone speaks good English, outside that  maybe 1/3 of Colombians speak English. So I’d definitely pick up some basic Spanish before your trip, it also makes a great first impression as it shows you made an effort.
  7. Attitudes towards photography – most people were happy having their photo taken. A small minority said “no photo” and some would hide their faces or try and move out of the shot. If someone shows any signs they don’t want their photo taken, I put my camera down straight away.

Behind the Scenes

This section is dedicated to the awesome group of individuals who joined us for our Colombian street adventure. As well as 6 super talented photographers it was amazing to share this experience with my partner (who I should probably clarify is also a super talented photographer 😃 ). Living these experiences is amazing, but having people to share them with makes them so much richer.

These photos hopefully also reveal a side of the trip that isn’t really reflected in the photos above – the fun moments and the giggles we had both with the group and the locals.

Here are some photos of our Street photography crew in action, enjoy!

 Any thoughts or questions? Shoot a comment below and I'll reply pronto