While this obviously isn’t the definitive list of “the greatest and only spots” to hit when out walking with a camera as there are literally thousands of spots in Melbourne that the city’s street photographers hit each and every day. But, it’s a great start and hitting these locations once or twice on a trip will give you a pretty good taste of Melbourne’s colourful characters, more than enough to get a few choice street shots.
I will guide you through this weird wander north as we hit a decent chunk of Melbourne’s best street spots.
I’ve put together a pretty dodgy Google Maps for you to follow along with that I’m pretty proud of, it’s below for your viewing pleasure.
The whole walk, including shooting time should take you about 90ish minutes. This short walk should give you plenty of opportunities for street photography at each location, which are usually packed with people. Coming in at a very easy 5kms this walk can be done in any weather, in a group or solo. I would suggest spending about 5-10 minutes in most locations and be sure to keep your camera on while walking between markers on the map as there is always something going on!
We will be starting in the south of the CBD grid at Melbourne’s main train station and making our way slowly north to the markets, hitting a few choice spots on the way.
Flinders Street Station
“Meet at the steps” is a phrase that every Melbournian has said to most, if not all their mates and family members. This simply means: Meet me on the Flinders Street Station steps. This is a great spot and the beginning of our journey into the guts of Melbourne’s CBD. To get here: take any Metro Train until the end (pretty much), it will terminate at Flinders Street and you can begin.
This is a great spot to warm up and get the creative juices flowing. The crossing on Swanston Street is one of Melbourne’s largest and busiest, wiht new subjects to shoot crossing back and forth every thirty seconds or so. Here is the perfect spot to sort your settings, I do this walk every other month and usually dial in my main ISO and shutter speed settings here and begin walking…
Walk across the main cross walk directly in front of the Flinders Steps and make your way up Flinders Street. You’ll see Federation Square to your right, which can produce some fruitful shots, but is usually typically with performers and tour groups, avoid if you can. Continue up Flinders Street past MyMac, Nando’s and turn left at Movida.
Hoiser Lane is Melbourne’s premier graffiti laneway, local as well as international artists slap up new works daily and is a mecca for tourists and locals alike making it a great spot to warm up and start thinking about composition. I would suggest doing 3-4 laps of the whole area which forks around into a big U, just be aware that there usually is a handful of dodgy characters in the far corner, wedged between the carpark edge and the gates – just smile and keep walking/shooting. There’s also a coffee shop in the middle of the lane for those inclined, it’s very Melbourne.
The best time to hit this particular laneway is in the middle of the day, around lunchtime as you’re more likely to encounter one of Melbourne’s graffiti artists killing it as they toss up a new piece like Kayze (above). If you’re there at lunchtime you’ll see more locals, businessmen & women, workers and far less tourists. By 4pm in the late afternoon the laneway is packed with tourists rocking smartphones and selfie sticks – on weekends it’s busy from 10am-5pm no matter the weather.
While it’s very touristy, I like this location for shooting as it’s quite short and as such you get a new group of subjects every five minutes. It’s a high volume, low effort location and great to get your juices flowing at the beginning of the walk. Hoiser Lane allows you to focus on a particular piece or shot and gives you time to wait for the right subject, which is kinda nice.
If you exit the laneway at the Flinders Lane end and turn right towards Russell Street, about three quarters of a block further north-east you’ll find Duckboard place. Very similar to Hoiser Lane in that it’s another graffiti laneway (we will eventually hit three on this walk) but far less crowded. Most tourists don’t make the pilgrimage LESS THAN A WHOLE BLOCK to Duckboard Place which means there is far more time for composition. I suggest walking past AC/DC lane and turning right onto Duckboard Pl first.
This small collection of laneways hides some of Melbourne’s best restaurants, but we’re not here for that. As there are almost no crowds at any time of the day here you can take your time and get some nice shots. There are buildings of different heights here which can produce some interesting intersecting shadows in the early morning and late afternoon. The street art is usually of a higher quality too! If you’re in AC/DC lane late in the afternoon or weekend stop in for a beer at Cherry Bar (below), if you’ve past the stickered window it’s either not open or you’ve gone too far.
Exit the laneway back onto Flinders Lane and head east towards Swanston Street.
Our next location is the final and most visited graffiti laneway in Melbourne: Union lane. Continue down Flinders Lane and turn right onto Swanston Street. Swanston Street is a closed street, only open to trams, police and foot traffic. Giving you plenty of opportunities to capture on your way over to Union Lane. If you decide to walk on the right-hand side of the street you’ll pass the Melbourne Town Hall, hang a left on Little Collins street and enter Union Lane from the rear. There are other laneways and arcades in the general area that are worth exploring, but for this walk I will usually skip them unless it’s really raining or cold out.
Literally every tourist ever to visit Melbourne will take a selfie in Union as it leads onto Bourke Street Mall. However, this laneway can provide some decent street opportunities as it’s super narrow and wedged between two buildings of exactly the same height making shadows interesting and you’re not going to have a shortage of subjects. People tend to spend about five-or-so minutes in the laneway, usually walking to end and back again. I’d suggest spending fifteen-ish minutes here, which is about 3-4 laps depending on whats happening. In the summer there are usually musicians in the lane daily and in the mornings most days there are artists working on pieces (time it best for you).
Note: it can get quite dark in Union Lane even if it’s crazy bright outside, adjust your shutter speed here to allow for the decrease in available light.
Once the subjects die down or the light isn’t playing nice, exit the laneway to the north and our next location…
Bourke Street Mall
If I’ve written this guide well enough, you should now have found yourself at the infamous Bourke Street Mall. Totally closed to all vehicles except the occasional cop car and trams (that run every 2-3 minutes). There is so much going on in Bourke Street Mall on any day: school groups, the lunch crowd, performers, homeless dudes being dragged out by the cops, tourists, locals, trams and shoppers. So much to shoot! I’d suggest spending about twenty or so minutes here, wandering from each side and back as well as back and forth a few times. It’s always busy, even in the evening, making this a perfect spot to stop and fire off a few shots or thirty. Be careful of the trams that run up the middle of the mall.
Tucked into the far North-West corner of Bourke Street Mall is our next Location.
The GPO is a favourite spot for Melbourne’s street photographers as it provides good framing, excellent shadows at most hours of the day and is usually packed with subjects. There are steps on both Bourke and Elizabeth Street sides giving you good opportunities for relatively prone subjects. There are massive columns on either side of the steps and Melbournians usually hangout in the walkways between the columns. There’s a couple of coffee shops here if you’d like to refuel.
I’d suggest at least a few laps of this location, it’s the size of the whole block so there are many, many subjects to shoot and differing light due to the size of the columns and roof in some sections.
Once you’re all shot out, or you’ve finished off another coffee continue down Elizabeth street past H&M and turn right onto Little Bourke Street.
Chinatown in Melbourne is referred to as either one of “the entirety”, “most of” or “some of” Little Bourke Street. For my money, the best shooting can be had between the Swanston Street end and the Russell Street end of the Chinatown strip. There are heaps of little alleys and pockets to get into and use the light to make something interesting, heaps of subjects moving about and a couple of arcades to duck into if it’s raining.
Time at this location really varies depending on what’s happening on the day and what time of the day you’ve chosen to take the walk. While always busy, I’d had the best success on weekends or closest to dusk in the late afternoon, your experience may differ – the beauty of Street Photography!
Exit back the way you entered and turn right and continue on Swanston Street. I like to stick to Swanston Street as much as possible to maximise shooting opportunities as Swanston Street is busy all the time, there’s usually something good to shoot between key locations.
State Library of Victoria
If you stick to the righthand side of the street you will eventually pass QV, cross Little Lonsdale Street and land at the State Library of Victoria, another of Melbourne’s key meeting places.
For some reason Melbournians like to hang around and meet on steps…
The State Library as it’s known to locals is a massive public library that’s open most days during business hours. You’ll find that this location is littered with students, tourists and folks meeting their mates. There’s usually a couple of games of chess occurring on the grounds or dudes lounging on the grass if the weather is fine.
It’s really a great location for street as there are columns, chess games, massive entry doors, lawns and steps on either side and directly in front. So much to choose from! I usually approach from Swanston Street and do a couple of laps around the grounds. Head inside if it’s super cold or you need to swap out memory cards or film.
Our next location is directly across the street, you can’t miss it – the building with the big green splooge/blubbly thing on it… you’ll see it. Stay on Swanston Street and cross over La Trobe Street.
RMIT University, Melbourne City Campus
This is probably the hit-and-miss location on this walk, but it’s still quite good. Wander the grounds of RMIT University and take some interesting architectural shots if there’s nothing happening! However, theres usually students rushing back and forth from class, fast food and bars so there’ usually something interesting to shoot.
Queen Victoria Market
The final stop on our tour of Melbourne’s Best Street Photography Locations (ish, kinda?) is the famous Queen Victoria Market. If you exit the RMIT Campus onto La Trobe Street head West over Swanston Street and head towards the 711. Turn Right onto Elizabeth Street and continue North until you hit the Market’s Food Hall.
Busy most days and closed on Mondays and Wednesdays you’ll certainly find many opportunities to shoot something interesting. As it’s a market, there are so many stalls, vendors, sheds and food carts to shoot you’ll definitely be in for a good 30-40 minutes of photography if you make your way around the whole precinct. I usually enter from Elizabeth Street, wander around the meat shed for a bit, pop into the cheese section then do a lap or two of the outer sheds. This usually gives a pretty good cross section of what’s going on around the market.
Now you’ve made your way (pretty much) through Melbourne CBD’s prime street shooting locations! To get back to Flinders Street simply take any tram south down Elizabeth Street towards Flinders Street, they’ll take your right to the station!
I hope you had fun!