Guide at a Glance
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Heritage-History Tour, Photo Tour, Sightseeing
Red Hook, Brooklyn
Get to Know Sheila Archer: Photo Guiding in North America’s Busiest City
Hi Sheila, your background is in photography so how did you come to be a tour guide in Brooklyn?
First of all, I am a native Brooklynite. But the idea for Brooklyn NY Photo Adventures began in Paris three years ago when a photographer friend of mine took me night shooting in several off-the-beaten-track places, unfamiliar even to native Parisians. While we shot, he filled me in on historical and cultural details of each locale. They were the best tours I had ever taken. It inspired me to replicate that experience for photographers/visitors curious about Brooklyn, drawn to its renaissance in street style, attitude, and culture.
Upon my return, I researched neighborhoods layered with history, multi-cultural life and a very particular urban rhythm that I call “the soul of Brooklyn.” After walking for hours in different seasons and all kinds of weather, I formulated a relaxed, intimate, insider’s tour for like-minded explorers, the only tour of its kind in Brooklyn.
What does a typical day look like for you?
If I am giving a day tour, I meet up with my clients by 9:30 a.m. We spend the next three hours walking and shooting in the locale they have chosen. Based on their skills and goals, I give them the technical tips they need. But just as important to their photography, I want to impart a feel for the history and culture of that neighborhood as well as for Brooklyn. Photography is not just technique, it is truly a state of mind, being able to experience a place and have that translate into an image. Most of all, I want everyone to enjoy themselves.
On the days I am not giving a tour, I am usually out shooting my personal work. Always I am exploring since New York is a constantly changing city. Much of my time is spent researching both history and current cultural events. I also write a blog on street photography. And, last but certainly not least, I am always busy marketing my tours. Running my own business is exciting but it is a 24/7 merry-go-round.
Whew, I just looked at what I do and decided I need to go get a cup of coffee.
My style is basically to put visitors at ease. Prior to the actual tour, I usually send each person a questionnaire in order to find out if they have any special requests, what their skill level is, what equipment they will be carrying, etc. When we meet I am ready to give them individualized attention.
Flexibility is really important based on the visitor, the weather and all the unknowns connected to conducting a city tour. For instance, on one occasion we started talking to a Minister of a local, very small church, which was under reconstruction. He invited us in to see what they were doing and we ended up hearing a wonderful history of the church and the neighborhood. It was a totally unplanned and enjoyable experience.
What is the best part of your job?
Meeting and talking with people from all over the world is absolutely the best part. And I love seeing a light go on when they’ve learned something new, applied it and then got the shot they wanted. That is very fulfilling for me.
“I am always busy marketing my tours. Running my own business is exciting but it is a 24/7 merry-go-round. Whew, I just looked at what I do and decided I need to go get a cup of coffee!”
I really love what I do. The only issue that becomes problematic is rough weather, as in this past winter. It is simply impossible to conduct a street photography seminar/tour in snowy, icy, zero degree weather!
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
Two things ring out. One, when you are on vacation, time and energy can be limited. Working with a guide, who knows the territory, will give you an in-depth look at a neighborhood and places that even the locals don’t know.
Two, good guides are up on all that is current. Street art is a big attraction for visitors. But from one week to the next there are changes. New York City is fast-paced. Buildings go up almost overnight and old buildings are renovated either revealing or discarding architectural detail. Again, staying on top of what is changing takes a dedicated tour guide.
Knowledge, authenticity and thoroughly enjoying what they do.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Ask questions. Email them, call them. Their responses will tell you what you need to know.
Sheila Archer, a native Brooklynite, is a passionate photographer specializing in urban/night imagery. Trained at the International Center for Photography, she is also a New York City Licensed Sightseeing Guide who recently served as a Municipal Art Society Docent conducting Grand Central Terminal tours. In 2012, she created Brooklyn NY Photo Adventures to share Brooklyn’s energy and history with photography buffs, especially tourists, but also with native New Yorkers less familiar with the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
To learn more about Sheila Archer, read our interview with her entitled, “What it’s like to be a photo guide in North America’s busiest city.”