Welcome to my urban photographer’s guide to Manila — or, strictly speaking, Metro Manila. This first post on where to shoot identifies a number of neighbourhoods with great shooting opportunities for the urban photographer. More suggestions will follow in part two. A subsequent post will consider what to shoot, while a final post will deal with getting around and staying safe.
Metro Manila is huge. The population is something like 12 million and even though the city sprawls for miles many areas are very densely populated. Metro Manila is made up of sixteen different cities (including the city of Manila just to confuse matters) and one municipality, though these all run together into one vast urban space.
Opportunities for urban shooters abound. If you can’t take great pictures here you might as well put your camera away. The biggest challenge for the photographer is where to start. The second biggest challenge is, once you have decided where to start, actually getting there given the state of Manila’s traffic. To help you on your way, here are a few suggestions and a few tips. (Click on each neighbourhood name for a map).
Where to Shoot
Less well known than some other locations both the city of Pasay and the neighbourhood of Baclaran in Paranaque are well worth a visit. Baclaran is home to an extensive street market running beneath the MRT line and along Quirino Avenue and to the very busy Redemptorist Church, also known as the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
My favourite part of Pasay borders Baclaran in an area bounded by Harrison Street, Arnaiz Avenue, Evangelista and EDSA (this also includes a little bit of the city of Makati). As well as walking the streets, Pasay City Market on the corner of Taft and Arnaiz is worth a visit.
There is nothing conventionally photogenic about these neigbourhoods; but what they do have is energy, vitality and intensity. The streets are crowded and busy. Shops, markets, even people’s homes are open to the street. Take your time, walk slowly, find a corner or a cafe and just wait around. You don’t need to go chasing pictures here.
Nearest Metro: LRT1 — EDSA / MRT3 — Taft Avenue
Manila’s Chinatown is reputedly the oldest in the world, dating from 1594. Also known as Binondo after the neighbourhood in which it is located, Manila’s Chinatown is a thriving, busy community. The main street, Ongpin, runs from Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz with its old church St Lorenzo Luiz to the Plaza Sta Cruz and the Sta Cruz church.
Ongpin takes you through the heart of Chinatown but the side streets leading off it are well worth exploring and will take you to, among other places, Arranque Market on Soler Street, and, a little further away, the Seng Guan Bhuddist Temple on Narra Street (though strictly speaking this is in Tondo rather than Binondo).
If you have time, the Chinese Cemetery, North West of Chinatown is worth a visit. The cemetery dates from the 1850’s and consists of row upon row of mausoleums, some of them vast in scale, testimony to the impact of the Chinese community in the Philippines.
Nearest Metro: LRT1 — Doroteo Jose / LRT2 — Recto for Chinatown. LRT1 Abad Santos for the Chinese Cemetery.
Immediately to the north and north west of Binondo is Divisoria, ‘the mother of all markets in Manila‘. A combination of, shops, open stalls and massive malls Divisoria can be overwhelming for the first time visitor, but, again, the opportunities for street photography are abundant. The market spralls over multiple streets but is centred on Recto Avenue, Juan Luna Street and Sto Cristo Street.
It’s worth putting your camera away and just soaking in the atmosphere and indulging in people watching on a first visit. There will be plenty of opportunity for great shots on every visit. It’s also worth visiting at a less busy time (though less busy is a relative term here — it’s always busy).
Nearest Metro: LRT1 — Doroteo Jose / LRT2 — Recto
Also adjacent to Chinatown, to the east, is the district of Quiapo. The highlight here is the Quiapo Church, also known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. As well as the church itself, the Plaza Miranda, immediately in front of the church, is a good spot for photographers. The narrow surrounding streets, lined with market stalls are also worth exploring.
Quiapo is also the home of Hidalgo Street, once considered one of the most beautiful streets in Manila. These days Hidalgo Street is best known for photography stores selling both new and second hand photographic gear. Starting from Plaza Miranda you can explore the west end of Hidalgo Street and neighbouring streets, browsing the camera stores along the way. Head back east and Hidalgo will take you to the looming neo-gothic San Sebastian Church. For photographers interested in architecture, Quiapo is also home to Manila’s largest mosque, the Golden Mosque or Globo de Oro Street.
Nearest Metro: LRT1 — Carriedo
In the next post, Where to Shoot Part 2, I’ll look at Intramuros, Bonifacio Global City, the Manila Baywalk and Araneta.