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Istanbul is one of the most incredible destinations for travel photography - simply put, it has something for everyone. Amazing street photography, stunning architecture and some beautiful sunrise and sunset locations
So, in no particular order, here are my 10 favourite places to take photos in Istanbul:
In terms of 1 location and multiple compositions, Galata Bridge is incredible! This is a fantastic place to visit in the afternoon and take photos through til after blue hour. Look out for:
- fishermen on the bridge and the repeating patterns of their fishing rods.
- views to the South with the fishing boats in the foreground and Suleymaniye on the hill in the background.
- views to the North with Galata Tower in the background.
- if you're lucky, the setting sun will go down behind the minarets of the mosques that are west up the Golden Horn.
- after sunset there is a great long exposure spot on the concrete platform below the bridge.
The bridge itself does vibrate with traffic which makes long exposure and time-lapse difficult. There is a good concrete platform on the southern side that has a great view and another under the bridge half way along.
There is a lot of boat traffic which can make for some creative light trails or time lapses.
If you want to try some local "street food", the boats tied to the edge on the south of Galata bridge are always cooking fresh sardines which are served in crispy rolls with lemon and salt.
Istiklal Street is iconic Istanbul. It is always busy, but on a Saturday night it can get crazy! This creates a magic location for motion blurs, crowds and bokeh with the street lights. Its a good fun place to walk and shoot. There is also a tram that runs up and down Istiklal Street that can be a really iconic image. My suggestion is to visit Istiklal in the evening. Start at the Taksim Square end, grab a "wet hamburger" from Kizikayalar and then walk down Istiklal with your camera. Make sure you stop at Sampiyon Kokerech to try the stuffed mussels and Kokerech (intestine sandwich) - local delicacies.
It is a bit of a cheat to group all of these together! Sultanahmet Square is a magic place to be early in the morning just after sunrise - its uniquely quiet and the soft light is perfect for photos. It is a great place to take some portrait/lifestyle images with the Blue Mosque in the background.
Hagia Sofia is an incredible place to visit just as an interested tourist. For photography, you definitely need to go right on opening at 8am - it gets incredibly crowded! When you enter the building you need to go through security and they dont allow tripods. Head in and go straight up the ramp on the left of the entrance. Here you come out to the iconic view overlooking the main room of Hagia Sophia. This spot will be extremely crowded within 30 minutes of opening, so get your shots here first. On the opposite side there is another really nice composition and a great spot where you can sit your camera for longer exposure and bracketing.
The Blue Mosque has been under restoration for quite a while and looks like it will be for a little more yet. It is the most iconic and well known building in Istanbul and one of the most famous mosque's in the world. There are an infinite number of ways to photograph the Blue Mosque including the incredible interior and also from the outside with the fountains & gardens of Sultanahmet Square in the foreground. My favourite view is from the terrace of Seven Hills Restaurant. At sunset this is a perfect place as you have a view of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and then all across the Bosphorus (its a great spot if there is a full moon rising and you have a 600mm lens).
The neighbourhoods on the Asian side of the Bosphorus are the most authentic and tend to be where more locals of Istanbul live. Kuzguncuk and Karikoy are 2 that are definitely worth visiting for a walk around with your camera.
Kuzguncuk has some nice streets running off Icadiye Cadessi - on the north are some nice little side streets and on the south is the street with colourful houses. There are some nice cafes and a decent place for Turkish pide (Metet Kozde).
This is another authentic neighbourhood in Istanbul that is perfect to walk around, especially in the mornings. The 2 most sought after spots for photographers are the coloured houses on the hill at Balat Kafe (make sure you call in and have a turkish tea with Segkin the owner) and the the other set of coloured houses. I suggest starting from the main street in Balat and walking - it is a bit up and down, but is a nice hours walk. Along the main street area are lots of small cafes etc that are great for photos.
This is a magic place to go for sunset in Istanbul. If you catch the boat across to Uskadar and walk south along the water towards Bufe Taner, you will find great places to get compositions of the famous tower and the city of Istanbul behind it. Depending on where the sun sets, you can position yourself to be creative. It is a great place for some long exposures if there's lots of clouds. On a good evening, the sunset from here is incredible. Bufe Taner is a perfect place to sit and watch the sunset and enjoy some food & drink
I actually find the Grand Bazar challenging for photography because it is just so busy! Lots of the stores now dont allow photos, although some will negotiate a price. It is still a wonderful place to walk around and capture movement - really nice spots if you like time lapse videos also. There is also the smaller Spice Bazar close by which is sometimes better for finding nice compositions of spices and sweets. If you are looking for somewhere to eat, try either Havuzlu or Nusr Et.
You can't visit Istanbul and not see the city from the water. It is definitely worth taking a boat ride up and down the Bosphorus - there are lots of different options. I would suggest using the hop-on-hop-off ferry up to Emirgan for a Turkish Breakfast at Emirgan Suitis (for an article on Turkish Breakfasts click here). The whole way along there are compositions everywhere as you get different looks at the changing architecture on either side of the straight. The Bosphorus itself is always busy with boats and seagulls - it really is an opportunity to create your own composition!
Galata Towers stands tall in Istanbul and you can get some great views across the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn and the Asian side of Istanbul, as well as the area around the tower itself. It can be very crowded to get up the tower, especially around sunset, with long queues of people wanting the same view.
There are some great places to take photos of Galata Tower rather than from it. From the souther side of Galata Bridge is a perfect spot at sunset (either side of the bridge will work).
There is also a street that runs straight at Galata Tower that is famous for some of the compositions and is perfect for lifestyle photos or the classic shot with a yellow taxi cab. The light would be best in the evenings, however, like lots of places in Istanbul on a nice afternoon, it will be crowded with people. It is quiet in the mornings and you will just need to content with shooting a bit towards the sunlight.
This is a beautiful mosque that sits right on the banks of the Bosphorus and is a great spot for sunrise photos. If you arrive around 40mins before sunrise, the lights on the bridge behind the mosque will still be on and give a nice blue hour composition. During golden hour, you can get some great colours and with a ND filter can get reflections in the water on a still morning. There is a small dock area on the south of the mosque t is the best place for photos. It is also really great for lifestyle photos with a model - the light will be better for this in the afternoon but it will be really busy!
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