Duran Levinson: Photographer’s Guide to Cape Town, South Africa

From Afrikaans slang to penguin-spotting, this is a photographer's guide to Africa's laid back city at the tip of the world.

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Cape Town is a beautiful city right on the tip of Africa. It’s a melting pot of deeply rooted traditions and cultures. This is an old city transitioning into the future, slowly. It’s a small population that literally has too much talent for its own good.

When you’re visiting, slow down and enjoy Cape Town’s painfully chill vibe. The natural beauty of wildlife and sunsets will make you pause. Keep your eyes open to see all of the incredible things going on in this city at the tip of the world.

All photos by Duran Levinson, a photographer/cinematographer based in Cape Town, Africa. Find more of his photography at his portfolio, built using Format.

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What’s the best way to ask someone if you can take their photo?

If you’re looking to take a stranger’s portrait it would be best to approach them with strong eye contact and a fist-bump or handshake. Be quick and vigilant if you are dealing with someone who might be displaced or from a poor background. It’s best to ask them for a moment of time. Using Afrikaans slang could also help you. When approaching someone in Cape Town you can say “Aweh bru!” which basically means “What’s up” in a way only people in South Africa would relate to.

South Africa has a reputation as a dangerous place with crazy people, and although there is crime and all the factors that come with a completely broken political system, people are super friendly and are happy to stop and talk to you. You just need to have your wits about you, and don’t go exploring specific areas without a local guide or by yourself.

How do the locals feel about selfies?

Selfies are universal. It’s definitely not like Asia here though—where you would see 100 selfie sticks in 10 seconds. If you’re looking to take a selfie with someone in Cape Town and you don’t know them, respectfully ask them and it shouldn’t be a problem at all. Everyone understands and speaks English in Cape Town.

What are the do’s and don’ts of shooting candid street photography?

The street photography scene in Cape Town is somewhat small and limited compared to a lot of other places I have visited in the world. I’d recommend the usual advice, be vigilant, be quick and inconspicuous, take the shot and move on. There’s a lot of poverty mixed with intense beauty in Cape Town, and the juxtapositions are insane. Cape Town probably has the best scenery and backdrops in the world for portrait photography.

If you’re looking to actually tell some real stories through street photography in Cape Town, then you need to visit the the townships (ghettos) and see what life’s really like for the majority of people here, not just the privileged few. It really depends what kind of street photography and storytelling you’re interested in doing. Just remember to be respectful, and if you get caught shooting someone who might not be too pleased, apologize or just move on. A warm smile is a universal tool that can diffuse an awkward or unpleasant situation.


What are famous landmarks that are worth the trip to get good photos?

The top locations would have to be: Table Mountain for its epic view of the entire city and the ocean, Lion’s Head for its caves and gorgeous hike and Cape Point nature reserve, which is the tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian ocean meet.

Camps Bay is basically Miami in Cape Town, with beautiful beaches, girls and restaurants. Kirestenbosch Botantical Gardens is great for shooting and hanging out in. Boulders Beach is in the south and you can go hang out with penguins, seals and sharks. Simonstown is also deep south and an old Royal Naval Base with tons of old architecture and an almost snail-like pace of life.

Chapman’s Peak Drive is a coastal mountain road that has some of the most dramatic scenery in Cape Town. You can stop your car at the viewpoints and shoot some great landscapes if you time the lighting correctly.

Cape Town is a small place with a ton of great nature and beauty.

What are hidden gem locations that will take your travel photos to the next level?

Visit Mzoli’s, a township restaurant which is popular among tourists. Being able to experience both ends of the spectrum in Cape Town would give your photos variety and show what life is like for the majority of people in South Africa. Areas like Woodstock and Bo Kaap, are gentrified neighborhoods that have amazing colored houses, interesting graffiti and all the artisanal coffee shops you can shake a teaspoon at.

Many spots aren’t hidden gems, but areas where you can find interesting characters, such as: Sea Point promenade, Woodstock, Bo Kaap and the deep south.


What neighbourhoods/areas are good for exploring?

Observatory, Sea Point, Woodstock, City Bowl, Bo Kaap, Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Camps Bay, Hout Bay, Noordhoek, Stellenbosch.

What’s the most scenic way to get around?

If you can drive, Cape Town is easy to circumnavigate by car. There are the famous city sightseeing red buses that go all over Cape Town. There are also the blue My Citi buses which go on most routes in and around the city and surrounds. In areas like Woodstock, Sea-Point and the City you can skate, walk or ride a bicycle.

What are really good restaurants for food photography?

The food in South Africa is amazing and Cape Town is the best city in the country for the amount of amazing restaurants in one place. Streets in the City Bowl such as Bree Street, Loop Street, Long Street, and surrounding areas have anything you could ever desire to eat. If you’re balling you could visit the Test Kitchen in Woodstock. This year it was voted as one of the best restaurants in the world.


What place would you skip?

It depends what you would find boring. There’s so many varied and different areas it’s probably a personal preference. Avoid suburbia!

What’s the most typical tourist photo that doesn’t need to be taken anymore?

It probably has something to do with Table Mountain and a cable car. It is a good view though. Or a photo of a penguin, please God may I never see another photo of a penguin, they’re not that cute.

Is it safe to carry expensive camera equipment around with you?

At night, in an area you don’t know, you need to have your wits about you. Cape Town isn’t the massive crime hotspot some think it is, but safety is a concern in terms of muggings and tourists being mugged. It’s best to keep your equipment minimal and avoid making conversation with any sort of beggar who approaches you, generally asking for money. But if you’ve travelled other places, you’ll realize it’s the same as any third world country and you shouldn’t have any troubles unless you’re careless.

If your gear is broken, where’s the best place to take it to get it fixed?

You can contact a photo company called Orms, based in the City Bowl for all your photographic and development needs.


Where is the fastest place to get film developed?

Orms is one of a few places left developing film well with a good turnaround time, about two days. Hi-res jpeg scans and development are around $6 for color and $8 for black and white. They also have a decent fridge with 35mm and medium format film.

What is the photographer community like?

It’s huge and Cape Town literally has too much talent. We’re blessed with amazing locations, one of the best film industries and a lot of talented individuals creating art in all forms.

How do people find work?

There are a lot of photographic agencies, film companies, production companies, rental houses and all the usual advertising agencies. A lot of my friends, including myself are full time freelancers, working on movies, commercials and photo shoots. Cape Town is not as seasonal as it used to be, meaning there is work all year around in the film and photo industry.

What advice would you give to photographers travelling to your city?

If this is your first time in Africa, prepare to have an amazing introduction. Cape Town is rated as one of the best tourist cities and food destinations in the world for a reason. If you’re planning a photography trip, Cape Town makes for a great destination as it just has so much to offer visually.

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