Olli Thomson

Shoot Manila – What To Shoot


Welcome to the third post in my urban photographer’s guide to Manila. In the first post I identified four neighbourhoods with great shooting opportunities for the urban photographer. In the second post I look at three more. This third post will consider what to shoot, while a final post will deal with getting around and staying safe.

What to Shoot

Street Portraits

In much of the world photographing people in the street is becoming more challenging; laws are increasingly more restrictive and people more wary. Manila is a glorious exception to this trend. One of the first things I discovered when I arrived here is that, not only are many people willing to have their photograph taken, but lots of people positively insist on it when they see your camera. Your subjects will pull all kinds of poses for you, but if you want a more restrained portrait just ask. If you are the kind of person who finds it difficult to approach a stranger and ask to take a picture (as I am) Manila will be a revelation. Enjoy the opportunity while it’s there. You can take a look at my gallery of Manila street portraits.


Jeepneys are ubiquitous throughout Manila and the Philippines. Go shooting around the city and you will be taking pictures of them whether you want to or not. The Jeepney originated in the aftermath of the Second World War when surplus US Army Jeeps were adapted and then expanded for use as public transport. The Jeepneys on the streets of the city today are much larger — nominally carrying around sixteen passengers — and are purpose built. The Jeepneys are brightly — some say gaudily — painted and decorated which makes them wonderful subjects for the photographer.

Markets and Street Vendors

I mentioned the Farmers’ Market in Cubao in a previous post, but you don’t have to go far to find plenty of other markets around Metro Manila, all of them more photographer friendly. Most neighbourhoods will have some kind of small market and somewhere there will be a larger central market. As well as the markets, the city streets are thronged with street vendors, some static, some mobile selling everything imaginable. If you are spending time photographing traders, you might also consider giving them some business and buying from them. If you are nervous about food poisoning you can stick to the barbecue stalls and the ice cream sellers.


Festivals, large and small, local and regional are a year round phenomenon in the Philippines. Many of these festivals are religious, like the Feast of the Black Nazarene, held every January in Manila. Others reflect the ethnic diversity of the country and are held throughout the Philippines. If you don’t have time to travel to some of these you can get a taste of them at the annual Aliwan festival, held in April in Manila and Pasay which brings together performers from different cultures and ethnic communities. My favourite is the Chinese New Year celebration held every January or February in Chinatown. It’s colourful, energetic and chaotic. Even if you are not in town for any of the major festivals there’s every likelihood that you will run across a local celebration somewhere on your travels.


Children make great photographic subjects, free of our adult hang-ups and attitudes, spontaneous in their actions and responses to the camera. Sadly, in much of the world these days taking pictures of children might get you in trouble with the law, or with irate and suspicious parents. Thankfully, things have not yet reached that stage in Manila and it is still possible to get some great pictures of kids. This is not to say that you should shoot pictures of children without taking into consideration the feelings and wishes of those responsible for them. Parents, siblings, or people from the wider family will be around somewhere and where possible you should make sure that they are happy for you to take pictures. Often all that is required is to point to the kids and your camera and wait for a smile or a nod. Generally this will be forthcoming and you’ll get some great shots.

I could go on but this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just some suggested starting points. Every new street or neighbourhood will bring new subjects to shoot.

In the final part of this series I will look at getting around and staying safe.

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