Travel Photography Tips for Istanbul

I recently had the opportunity to visit Turkey and the world’s fifth largest city, Istanbul, easily lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. With its many layers of rich culture and history proudly on display, a generally relaxed, friendly and accepting atmosphere Istanbul is certainly a premiere photography destination. Turkey has been going through some difficult times lately and the news seems to have scared off throngs of tourists. Although I enjoyed walking the uncrowded streets and being able to make photos without someone with a selfie-stick jostling for position every time I wanted to make a shot I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for the residents trying to make a living.

Sunset at Hagia Sophia

Sunset at Hagia Sophia

If you have been wanting to take your camera to Turkey, now may be one of the best times to visit: the whole country seems to be on sale!

Good Starter List of Places to Take Pictures of in Istanbul: Istanbul is rich in places and scenes to photograph and it seems infinitely changeable in different lights and from day to day. These are just a few suggestions to get you started.

Keep Your Gear to a Minimum: You are going to want to wander the streets and this means traveling light. For the most part I just carried my Canon 6D with what I have found to be my best travel lens, the Canon EF 24-105mm lens. For wide and some interior shots, I also carried my wide Canon 16-35mm f2/2.8L. A tripod may have been nice on occasion, but there are so many different directions you will want to point the camera, it would have just been a distraction. I wish I had brought a circular polarizer. Make sure you have plenty of battery power and enough storage. You will need it.

A Seagull Flies Past the Blue Mosque

A Seagull Flies Past the Blue Mosque

Get Around: One of the best ways to see Istanbul is on foot. Many of the most popular sites are concentrated near or in the central Sultanahmet District, but there is also a modern tram system on the European side of the Bosporus and it is easy to get to Fatih district and the Egyptian Spice Market on the tram as well as out to some great Bosporus side restaurants in neighborhoods such as Besiktas. So I could get a view of Istanbul from a boat on the Bosporus, as well as a hilltop view of the Golden Horn from Piere Loti, City Discovery Tours offered to treat me to an afternoon boat/land tour of the city. I used several cabs and they are reasonably priced and the drivers seemed honest. The busses seemed reliable, but I didn’t try them. I do recommend taking your smart-phone so you will have maps and can call Uber if you get turned around.

Constantinople's Golden Horn

Constantinople’s Golden Horn

Get High: Although there are many things to see at street level, finding some of the good shots require a bit of sleuthing and climbing. One of my favorite places for making images in Istanbul was in the Sultanahmet District at the Seven Hills rooftop restaurant. It had stunning sunset and sunrise views of both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia (and served nice cold Efes beers). Also, for great views of the city and the Bosporus Straits, find a good perch in one of the rooftop restaurants in the Fatih district near the Egyptian Market.

Egyptian (Spice Bazaar) Market

Egyptian (Spice Bazaar) Market

I traveled all over Istanbul, using just normal precautions and, despite admonitions from well-meaning friends, at no point did I feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I have seen one photographer’s blog post that mentioned covering their camera with duct tape to make it look scruffy and hide its value. I doubt that would fool any opportunistic, potential thief and, although to each their own, it seems to me to be a little unnecessary and paranoid. One thing carrying a professional DSLR does do is identify you as a foreigner and you are therefore seen as a potential customer for every bored merchant smoking cigarettes outside of their sadly empty shops.  But, if you have fun with that, make it clear you aren’t buying anything (if you aren’t), and engage with them, you will see much and learn more than you imagined you would ever know about Turkish carpets. Relax. Have fun!

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Ortaköy Mosque on the Bosporus

Ortaköy Mosque on the Bosporus

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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