Sophia Lee Borazanian: Photographer’s Guide to New Orleans, Louisiana

From 25-cent oysters to the bayous, this is your guide to photographing 'The Big Easy.'

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New Orleans is a place that is full of soul, which makes for wonderful photography. While you take pictures here you find yourself looking within as much as you are looking out. I believe my heart beats at a different rhythm when I am in New Orleans.

This place has the power of reminding you that our lives run deeper and wider than we give them credit for. While visiting New Orleans, remember that this is a spiritual place, and give yourself space to consider the history of this small piece of land and the power of being a part of that.

The best pictures I have taken in New Orleans are the ones that spoke of the journey I was on in this city and the story of the moment I was occupying. If you let it, a visit here will sweep you off your feet.

All photos by Sophia Lee Borazanian, a photographer based in New Orleans. We recently featured her work documenting the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. See more of her photography at her portfolio, built using Format.

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

The best way to ask someone to take their photo is by being friendly and outgoing. Introduce yourself and your intentions, let them know they are in good hands with your demeanor and open communication.

Another way to take pictures of people is to let go and find an adventure. See where the city takes you and who you will meet. New Orleans is so beloved because it is very social. Make a point of talking to people. Visit the local radio station WWOZ’s website to find a place where it is easy to make friends and find goings-on. When the moment feels right you can take a spontaneous photo!

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

The streets of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter, Central Business District, and Uptown are visited by photographers a lot, so people there will be unfazed by and good-humored about street photography.

Outside of these areas in the more private or poor parts of town, you have to be much more discreet and polite about the way you take pictures. New Orleans is made up of a tourist economy, so you will find everyone friendly in areas mentioned above but people will have a need for privacy on their turf while they are off the clock.

I would be specifically wary of photographing the Treme and Bywater, as a lot of residents have had to relocate because of Airbnb, and these neighborhoods becoming tourist destinations is a sore subject.

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

City Park and the Mid-City Bayou are both luscious places to travel to take pictures. The park is full of ancient oak trees and has an art museum with a sculpture garden. While you are there, make sure to go behind the museum to visit a nostalgic cafe called Morning Call that has a timeless pavilion and the best trees in the park nearby.

If you like to picnic you should find the Wind Chime Tree to sit under. It sits in the front of the park in an open field, and is decked out in huge wind chimes that have been harmonically tuned so they will always sound blissful no matter how much of a breeze there is that day.

The Mid-City Bayou is right next to the park and runs through a residential neighborhood. It has an old pedestrian bridge where people lounge over the water in the evening. Both the park and the bayou are easy destinations to travel to, as a streetcar goes directly there from downtown.


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

If you have a car, while you are by City Park you can continue to travel north to get to Lake Pontchartrain. This is a massive lake with concrete steps that fall into the water where people go to fish in the evening. It is not advisable to swim in the lake, but watching the sunset there is gorgeous!

Another gem in a more central location is a bar called the Sazerac in the Roosevelt Hotel. It is completely unchanged from when it was built in the 1920’s, with an art deco mural of the port of New Orleans that is still pristine. I love going there because everyone is a bit more swanky and looks like a millionaire flapper.

What neighbourhoods/areas are good for exploring?

The Garden District will always pique your imagination, as it’s full of spooky mansions from the era of sugar plantations. As you meander through the neighborhood it will be easy for you to find restaurants, bars and window shopping on Magazine St. and St. Charles Ave.

The Columns Hotel has an old-school Southern clubhouse feeling that I love. You can eat on a grand patio overlooking St. Charles Ave., and the interior of the bar/lobby probably hasn’t changed in 30 years.

Another destination in the Garden District I always want to be at is The Blind Pelican’s happy hour. If you like oysters you will be in heaven—25-cent raw oysters and 75-cent chargrilled oysters.


What’s the most scenic way to get around?

Renting a car is actually just as affordable as renting a bike in New Orleans. I would consider it worth it if you want to reach far ends of the city, like the stupendous Tree of Life in Audubon Park. This tree was around when the park was owned by New Orleans’ first mayor, Etienne de Bore—he founded the nation’s first commercial sugar plantation on the land and developed its first granulated sugar.

If you have a car you can also make the journey to Jean Lafitte National Preserve, a trail outside of the city that leads you through the swamp to a gorgeous outlook. The park is named after the pirate Jean Lafitte because he had a smuggling outpost here in the early 1800s.

Otherwise, biking can be easy going, as the city is flat. But you have to be careful to only take the quieter streets because people drive very recklessly here and it is dangerous.

Walking is great during the day, but once the sun sets it is important to find another means of getting around. This was advice given to me on my first night walking in the city by a woman who was so adamant for my safety she wouldn’t let me continue on my journey and had me call a friend to come pick me up. There are people here who have been through unimaginable hardship and there is serious whiplash from that kind of poverty.

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

The Jackson Monument in front of the Cathedral in the French Quarter has been photographed countless times.

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

Sadly, there isn’t any place in town that can fix gear without sending it out of the city.

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

The best way to take pictures in New Orleans is by getting to know people and seeing the world they live in. A good way to meet people is to hang out in the cafes, walk through neighborhoods, stop in bars for happy hour and greet everyone with a smile.

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