"I am not a 'street' shooter... but I can happily shoot New York with a Leica"

New York by Jeremy Walker
(Image credit: Jeremy Walker)

I must admit, my year-end trip to New York had an element of relaxation about it. I’m not going to use the word 'holiday,' (Editor's note: remember Jeremy is English – he means 'Vacation'), I don’t do holidays, but there was certainly an air of recreation to this visit. I had set my mind on a bit of location hunting and a recce for a possible workshop in 2024/25, so no early starts, but perhaps watching a few sunsets and shooting anything of interest that caught my eye.

I had been to New York on four previous occasions, but on those I had been shooting for clients and had been looking for specific shots. The city has changed since my last visit, and I just wanted to mooch around and find out what was new.

I would like to say I packed light, but I always do now, the Billingham bag with the M11 and four lenses is all the kit I travel with and on this occasion, no tripod. The trip started well with my now customary small bag smugness at the airport, but eight hours on a plane can knock that out of you.

I basically had four days to do my exploring, and so to maximise my time I had pre-booked tickets to a few of the time-dependent and security-conscious sites, namely The Empire State Building, The Rockefeller Centre, and Liberty Island. If you don’t do another thing in New York, these three attractions will give you incredible, far-reaching views of the city.

Millionaires Row by Jeremy Walker (Image credit: Jeremy Walker)

Monday morning was spent wandering the streets, getting my bearings and trying to get a feel for a city just getting ready for Christmas. I say getting my bearings, I very easily found my way to B&H Photographic, possibly the biggest camera shop in the world. Thankfully I managed to leave without troubling the Leica department.

On arriving at the Empire State I noticed that the clouds were bubbling up and the light was beginning to look interesting. Booking fast-track tickets paid off and the queue jumping began as I headed straight for the observation deck. Emerging on the 86th floor I was greeted with a setting sun, a backlit snowstorm and a viciously cold, biting wind. Within less than a minute I was shooting with the M11 and a 35mm Summicron, what a wonderful combination. 

The simplicity of the Leica is a joy to behold. Shutter speed and ISO dial on the top, an aperture ring and a focusing ring on the lens. I have known people fail to get images because they had inadvertently pressed the wrong button, switched some mode or other on, or off, could not sort the problem and then missed the light. Focus, compose, meter, shoot. Photography doesn’t get any simpler, or better. I think I shot about five frames before the storm had blown through. I know some people who would still be fussing about which zoom to put on their camera. Simplicity is a wonderful thing.

The Empire State Building (Image credit: Jeremy Walker)

Wandering the streets of New York with a Billingham bag and Leica is a delightfully discreet way in which to work (and yes, the red dot is covered up!). Or at least right up until the point a smartly dressed businessman shouted at the top of his voice “A Billingham bag? You must be a Leica guy!” I cringed, but this being New York, no one listened, and no one showed any interest in me.

Shooting from the top of ‘The Rock’ poses the same sort of problems as the Empire State; security, queues, and then finding the right viewpoint and staying there. It gets busy at sunset, and you need big elbows to protect your territory. Again, I was lucky. The sharp crisp warm winter light broke through a bank of cloud just for a few seconds as the sun set. Compose – focus – meter – shoot. Job done.

(Image credit: Jeremy Walker)

The next day I took the ferry out to Liberty Island and spent my time wandering around, looking for the quirky, or at least something a bit different. I know I will sound like a stuck record (young people, you will have to look that one up) but small and simple is wonderful (the camera, not me). Also, having only primes to use, I do make more of an effort to move around and search for images that work with the kit I have.

Ellis Island, for me, was a revelation. I hadn’t visited it before. The windows in the main hall, with Lady Liberty in the distance, were amazing, with strong lines, shapes, patterns, and deep dark shadows cast by a winter sun. I spent a very happy couple of hours just wandering around, looking for all the elements to come together in a single shot. The 35mm rarely came off the camera and when it did, it was replaced by the 50mm. In fact, I think I did the whole trip just shooting the 35 and 50, I could make my bag lighter!

I am not a ‘street’ shooter. Random shots of random people doing random things is not for me, but I can happily shoot cities and urban scenes. The Leica is perfect for this, and New York is perfect for the Leica.

If you're thinking of going Leica check the DCW guide to the best Leica M lenses.

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Jeremy Walker

Jeremy Walker is an award-winning professional photographer with many years of experience specialising in high-quality landscape and location photography from around the world for use by advertising, design, and corporate clients. A belief in 'quality is everything', a meticulous approach and a far-reaching vision and style serve Jeremy and his clients well.