A photographer’s walking tour of Goerlitz, Germany

Goerlitz Untermarkt

Visiting Goerlitz, Germany

Many people consider Goerlitz to be the most beautiful city in Germany. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I might say it’s the most beautiful German city you’ve never seen. Except that too isn’t quite true. If you’ve watched movies such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Monuments Men, The Book Thief, Inglorious Basterds, or many others, you’ve seen Goerlitz. It’s become such an important place for shooting movies that it won the European Film Location of the Decade Award two years ago.

If you visit Goerlitz, you can obtain a map of all the “Goerliwood” filming locations from the tourist office located on the main Obermarkt square. Here’s a list of some sample locations.

Goerlitz StreetBut besides film sites, there are many other places to see and photograph if you make your way to this eastern-most city in Germany. I’ve organized the locations as an ordered walking tour with tips for photographers along the way. But you can visit these and many other beautiful locations in Goerlitz in any order that works for you.

The main square (Obermarkt)

The Obermarkt is more an oval than a square but serves as a central starting point for your walking tour. Visually, it’s a shame the center of this oval is used as a parking lot, but reality and 21st century logistics will often intrude into many a photographer’s desire for a pristine historic setting. You can still find some lovely sights, stores and restaurants around the square.

Goerlitz fountain

Note the yellowish corner building that houses the tourist office.

The primary starting point of this walking tour is the visitor’s information center near the above fountain at the north end of the Obermarkt. Find out about filming sites and other happenings, then proceed across the street past the fountain to the Dreifaltikeitskirche (Holy Trinity Church). On the way, you might want to pop into the Hotel Schwibbogen whose breakfast room is lined with a five-hundred-year-old mural.

Hotel Schwiboggen at night

The Hotel Schwiboggen, is on the left with the Holy Trinity Church to the right.

Stop 1: The Holy Trinity Church (Dreifaltikeitskirche)

Holy Trinity Church pews

These pews face west.

At the church, the interesting interior reflects the building’s development from a 13th century monastery church to a school in the 16th century then to a parochial church in 1712.

Holy Trinity Church from the Baroque altar

The same church looking south from the Baroque Altar

Thus, in one building, you’ll see elements of the original Romanesque style mingled with later Gothic developments such as the nave and choir combined with a Baroque high altar and other later touches.

From a photographer’s perspective, check out the colors, lighting and layout of this church. You’ll need a fast lens or tripod due to the low light. A wide-angle lens also helps. I tried to stitch together several shots for a panorama of the ceiling, but the angles made it difficult to align everything well without a tripod.
The church is unique (at least to me) in that you have most of the pews facing west but several facing north toward the high altar (whose ceiling is a blue-gray color unlike any other church ceiling I’ve seen). I’d love to see how they conduct services with this setup. But for your visit, be sure to look up at the all the ceiling construction and paintings.

When you’re done, return to the Obermarkt and turn to your right. You can do a bit of shopping along this street filled with stores and eateries as you head for Bruederstrasse 9, about a block up from the church.

The road

Look down at the cobblestones on which you’re walking. It’s easy to ignore these. But noticing them helps remind you that the street that you’re walking on was part of the Via Regia, the longest and oldest network of roads that connected the most eastern and western parts of Europe for 2,000 years.

Cobblestone replacements

A side street in Goerlitz was having new cobblestones put in. It gives you a better appreciation for how they make those roads you walk on but rarely notice.

This set of roads went from Kiev, Ukraine to Santiago de Compestella on the Atlantic coast in Spain. It served three seemingly disparate but historically common purposes. First was trade. Merchants in the West traded cloth and other goods for spices, furs and wood from the East. Second was military. In times of war, the route allowed a quicker movement of armies back and forth between countries or kingdoms. Finally, the Via Regia served as a pilgrimage route connecting the most Eastern areas of Europe with the famed Camino de Santiago in Spain. And central to all of this sat Goerlitz.

Corner of the Waidhaus

This colorful corner is part of the Waidhaus where woad was stored.

Goerlitz itself became wealthy by selling a blue dye derived from woad (a local plant). Woad served as the principle source of the color blue until the 18th century when cheaper indigo from India took over. But while the trade lasted, it resulted in vast wealth for Goerlitz merchants. They used this wealth to build what we now refer to as Goerlitz Hall Houses.

You’re going to explore one of those now.

Hall house exterior

From the Holy Trinity Church, walk up the street looking for that whitish building on the right, the Hall House. The Silesian Museum is the reddish orange and gray building next door.

Stop 2: Hall House

Hall house vacant roomWhen I visited Goerlitz in October 2019, one of the most fascinating sights of the city was one of these hall houses or merchant palaces that was in the early stages of renovation.

Hall house walls

This was one of my favorite places in Goerlitz, but I’m not sure how long you’ll be able to see it as the exhibit itself closed at the end of that month. They may still allow visits after that without the exhibit, but check at the location on Bruederstrasse 9 or with the local tourist office to be sure.

The exhibit was the architectural equivalent of examining tree rings. You can see over 600 years of life and change to the same building. These palaces are known as hall houses because they are narrow at the front of the building but have long hallways extending hundreds of feet from the street. This particular merchant palace reflects a diverse history of multiple uses over the centuries, the most recent being a residence for low-income citizens of Goerlitz in the 20th century.

Hall house ceiling

Remnants of once glorious ceilings with large photos of the house on the walls.

What makes this such a fascinating find for photographers is that you get to see the building in an untouched state. There’s a derelict feel to the place, exposed plumbing, layers of peeling paint, architectural details worn weary with time. Models of the house help to reveal its former glory, but it takes some imagination. Plus, natural lighting illuminates the empty rooms and corridors in a manner that makes you feel as if you’re witnessing something almost forbidden. It’s as if you’ve sneaked into an abandoned mansion but without fear of being caught.

Like so many hidden places, it will bore some for whom pre-renovated buildings just feel decrepit. For those, head next door to the more opulent Silesian Museum. But if you want to delve into the hidden past, both figurative and literal, you should try and see this place.

Stop 3: The library at Barockhaus

Baroque House kitchenA few doors down from the hall house and the Silesian Museum lies another museum, Barockhaus (the Baroque House) at Neissestrasse 30. Here, you get to see what one of the hall houses looks like furnished. The museum has interesting exhibits of daily life, art and even scientific instruments.

Scientific instrument roomWhy most photographers go here, however, is for the library.

Barockhaus libraryThey charge a few euros if you want to take photos (same with the Holy Trinity Church), but the library alone is worth it if you like the look of old books. Rated by some as one of Europe’s most beautiful, the library used to be even more extensive before much of the scientific works were moved during WWII to the other side of the river into what is now Poland. After the war, those books were never returned. You’ll want a wide-angle lens for the library since you’re limited, unless you’re on a tour, to viewing the the library only from the entrance (hence the shot above). But even with that restricted view, it’s an impressive sight. I used a wide-angle for this shot, but a mid-range telephoto lens would allow you to focus in on the inner arches and open tome in the center on the table.

Stop 4: Restaurants

Goerlitz restaurantsKeep moving down Neissestrasse toward the river and you’ll come across many of Goerlitz’s restaurants. While relatively few Americans visit this city, it’s become quite popular with German tourists and retirees.

Restaurant interior

Interior of the restaurant on the right in the previous photo.

So much so that on a Saturday night in October, we couldn’t get into any of the most popular restaurants until late in the evening since every one of them were reserved. In addition to those shown above on Neissestrasse, other restaurants recommended to us (that were also fully booked) included two on Peterstrasse: Fileto and St. Jonathan.

Gracja interior

Being a bit more casual than the other restaurants we couldn’t get into, we had a nice dinner of traditional Polish specialties here at Gracja next to St. Peter’s church. One beer will put you under here if it’s the size of the one on the right.

Stop 5: The border with Poland

The river NeisseIf you ever want to enter another country without knowing it, just cross the Altstadtbrueke (Old City Bridge) that spans the Neisse river. No sign or other indicator informs you that you are leaving the town of Goerlitz, Germany and entering Zgorzelec, Poland (which was all one city before WWII).

Crossing the bridge to Poland

Is the biker in Poland or Germany? Hard to tell.

So much for the passport stamp.

Goerlitz from Poland sideFrom a photography perspective, you’ll get some great shots of Peterskirche (St. Peters Church, the largest church in Goerlitz), and the neighboring gray Waidhaus (with the red-brown roof), one of the oldest buildings in town, originally used to store the valuable dye-making woad.

Goerlitz from the bridgeYou’ll also get views of both towns down the river banks. Cross over into Zgorzelec for cheap but good restaurants and to watch local German citizens loading up on relatively inexpensive alcohol and cigarettes.

View from the bridgeAfter spending time in Zgorzelec, cross back into Goerlitz and head up the rise to your right. You’ll arrive at the entrance to St. Peter’s Church.

Stop 6: St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)

Entrance to St. Peter's churchYou can visit most weekdays (here’s a helpful article on the history of the church and what you’ll see inside ), but one of the best way to appreciate this church is to attend one of their evening concerts where they play the magnificent Sun Organ. Check with the church or the visitor’s center for days and times.

From St. Peter’s Church, you have a few choices. You can follow the map to the next stop, or make a detour and wander back down the river. If you do the latter, just catch up to the next location (Stop 7, Nicolaifriedhof) when you’re ready. And no matter which route you take, spend time just wandering the streets. This, to me, was the best part of Goerlitz.

Side streets of GoerlitzGo up and down almost any street and you’ll see all kinds of historic buildings. Much of the town has been renovated over the last decade due to the generosity of an anonymous donor who spent around 500,000 euros per year from the mid-1990’s until just a few years ago.

Flower boxesThe result are colorfully-painted buildings in place of the drab monotones of the city during the Communist era.

Goerlitz window

Not everything in Goerlitz is fully restored. You’ll find plenty of places that still need some refurbishing.

The old town is small enough that you’re not likely to get lost, so just wander and be sure to take in the many architectural details along the way.

Eventually, end up at the next stop, where, as the old joke goes, people are just dying to get in.

Stop 7: Nicolaifriedhof (St. Nicholas Cemetery)

St. Nicholas graveyard

No, this is not where Santa Claus is buried (who’d deliver all the toys if that were the case?). Instead, it has served as the graveyard for Goerlitz for over 800 years. It’s a quiet place to explore respectfully.

St. Nicholas tombstonesMany of the tombstones and other sculpture also make for interesting photo subjects. If it is open, you can also pop into the St. Nicholas church there.

Exterior of St. Nicholas ChurchNow head back into town to the Untermarkt (lower square) and the Hotel Boerse, the pink building that sits in the center of the square.

Stop 8: The Untermarkt and Hotel Boerse

Bourse Hotel and City Hall

The pink building to the left is the Hotel Boerse. The one to the right is part of the Town Hall.

There are many appealing hotels and guesthouses and apartments in Goerlitz. We chose to stay at the Hotel Boerse because of its history and location. OK, to be honest, we’d heard this was where Wes Anderson and the film crew for The Grand Budapest Hotel stayed. Plus, it looks like it should be in that movie. Actually, we stayed at the guesthouse that is part of the hotel but lies across the square from the main building.

Old Pharmacist's Building

Note how the three top windows watch you like eyes as you look at the astronomical charts on the building’s side

From a photographer’s perspective, this hotel and square provide numerous subjects. Pay attention to the details such as the astronomical notations on the old pharmacist’s building (which now houses the inviting Ratscafe where you can stop for a coffee of snack).

Whispering arch and guesthouse

Note the whispering arch over the doorway in the center of the image

Whispering arch detail

This is a detail of the left side of the whispering arch.

The entrance to our guesthouse across from Hotel Boerse was marked by the Fluesterbogen (Whispering Arch).

A person whispering something on one side can be heard by a listener on the other. It’s like an echo: You try it because others have, but find it’s more remarkable than you expect.

Also of note for shoppers, the little glassworks shop next to the Whispering Arch has some beautiful handmade items. We arrived after the store had closed, but the kind woman reopened and let us buy some quick gifts that were some of the best received items we purchased in Germany. And if you come during the Christmas season, I’m told there’s a Christmas Market that takes place in this same square.

Concluding thoughts

We arrived in Goerlitz on a rainy afternoon and left the following morning after a lovely breakfast at the Bourse Hotel. With the weather and logistics, we had far less time to make photos of this beautiful city than I would have liked. So if you visit Goerlitz, allow at least a full day to take in all that the city offers. And pay attention to all the details, both inside the buildings and outside. I wish we’d had sunnier weather for some of the bigger landscape shots. However, the clouds made it easier to photograph some of these details without glare or too much contrast. Thus, for photographers, any time or weather can result in good images if you take the time (I was a bit rushed) and venture into the side streets.

Arch details

If you look closely, you’ll find architectural details like these throughout Goerlitz. This one contains a hidden reference to Romans 4.

To me, those details are what made this such a fun and attractive city, both aesthetically and photographically.

Goerlitz building details

Some of the many figures on the Waage (the Scales) building in Goerlitz’s Untermarkt

I’ve linked above to various articles, but here are two sites that I found to be very useful for our time in Goerlitz:

Tessa Approves – The blog of an American who lives in Goerlitz.

Visit Goerlitz – Official visitor site for the city.

Finally, if you want to improve your own photography, particularly on a trip, check out my free Guide to Making Awesome Travel Photos.


The art of cropping: In photography, travel and life

Why cutting things out improves what is left

Cropping — the cutting off or leaving out of areas of an image — is one of the most common yet powerful tools a photographer has. And the principle behind cropping — editing to reveal the most important element of something — applies to far more than photographs. As we’ll see, cropping has implications for how we approach many creative aspects of life including travel.

Cropping after the fact

Great photographers crop, but they usually do so mentally when framing their shot, seeing the final image in their mind before they release the shutter. Personally, I’m not quite there. More often then not, when I get home from a trip or photo shoot, I find that many images could stand a trim to improve the image I thought was there or, in some cases, to reveal an even better one.

Cropping: Val di Funes, image croppedThe photo above is a good example. You may recall this general scene from the article on the Dolomites. Here’s what the original looked like before cropping:

Cropping: Val di Funes - uncropped

I almost deleted this shot because at first it seemed like a picture of a big field with some mountains crammed in on the right.

I was actually trying to get the shot that most people take when they come to Val di Funes, this lush green valley in the Dolomites. Here’s an example of the more typical shot of the church with the mountains behind it:

Cropping: Santa Maddelena, Val di Funes, image cropped

It’s an interesting photo. But I still like the one of the field because it’s less typical. And even this one with the church benefited from cropping as this view of the original reveals:

Cropping: Santa Maddelena, Val di Funes - uncropped

In both of the above original images, cropping helps. With the first, it takes a so-so image and turns it into a strong composition. With the second, cropping improves an already interesting image by concentrating your eyes on the essential elements in the photo and removes some distractions like the white hay bales on the far left.

Cropping is for more than images

The same principles of cropping apply to most art forms, including travel. Writers edit. Chefs eliminate ingredients from recipes or replace them with something new. Composers take elements from a symphony that isn’t working and use those to create a smaller, yet more refined piece. And travelers? They choose to cut out parts of their itinerary in order to enjoy fewer places or experiences in greater depth. Here are some principles of cropping you can apply to travel or any creative endeavor.

Principles of cropping

  • When you cut out the non-essentials, you enhance what remains. That, is the heart of cropping, improving what is there by removing what shouldn’t be.
  • Cropping helps you discover something fresh in a scene, a focus beyond the obvious original intent. We like the familiar but we love the novel, especially when it retains enough of the familiar to be inviting. I once saw a wonderful photo taken near the Taj Mahal. But only a portion of that famous building could be seen in its reflection in a pool. The rest of the image captured the interesting people there. It was a new, intriguing way to view this iconic landmark and far more interesting by cropping out just enough of the more familiar.
  • You learn to transform the merely adequate. Cropping lets you take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Each photo becomes a treasure hunt to see what can be improved by finding the true story in the image. Like the comment attributed to Michelangelo that within the rough block of marble lies a horse and all he did was to remove the parts that didn’t look like a horse, so too with a photo or trip. You crop out the parts that don’t fit the best story inherent in the image or experience.
  • You see the same scene but in a different way. You’re actually re-seeing it because cropping allows you to shift perspectives. Same with a trip: Eliminate a few activities and gain more time, and you’ll view what you do see in a different way than if you were rushed.
  • You learn to tell the true story inherent in the image or trip. You may not always consider your viewers when you snap your shot. But when you edit, you begin to think about how others will perceive the image. What’s the story you want to convey? Cropping helps you refine that story and craft a final image that “reads” and makes sense even if the viewer has never been to the location in the photo. On a trip, you define what you want from your time in a place then ruthlessly cut out anything that doesn’t fit. It sounds harsh, but the results can be extraordinary because you’ll have the trip that matters to you, not one that everyone else did. This is the same idea as that expressed in this article on how to enjoy a museum: by seeing less, you actually see more of what delights you.
  • Everybody crops. Every decision to forgo something in favor of something else is a form of cropping. Cropping is so familiar, we likely don’t realize what a useful tool it can be. Cropping is the difference between a first draft and a final work, the refining process that separates good (or even adequate) from great. With travel, cropping out the non-essentials is the difference between visiting a place versus truly getting to know it.
  • Cropping well only comes with experience. It takes time, exposure to good design and practice to learn what makes an image, an experience or any work of art “just right.” Guidelines such as the “rule of thirds” help, but practice remains the key. Same with travel. You learn your own pace and what to leave in and out only by doing it repeatedly.

The results of cropping: Less is more

Thus, if you’re a photographer of travel images, you may want to pay more attention to the cropping function. With it, you can recenter, rotate, remove and re-position. But most of all, far beyond the realm of photography, cropping serves as a vital discipline for all creative types, including travelers. It enables you to discover and highlight the heart of the image, subject or place and to eliminate the distractions and lesser narratives. You end up with less: cropping is inherently reductive. But that less is almost always more: a stronger image, story, point or trip. By taking away, you add. And the results can be spectacular.


What to look for in a photo tour

Photo tour

Improving your photography through a photo tour

If you’re a photographer or a traveler, chances are you have or will someday hit a plateau. In any field, we all reach levels where we feel a bit stuck. We want to grow and improve, but on our own, we’re not sure how. One way to jump-start your progression toward photographic mastery is to take a photo tour.

View finder on photo tour

What is a photo tour?

These come in various shapes and sizes from multi-day (or even week-long) excursions to workshops that take only a few hours. In most cases, you’re led by a guide/instructor who takes you out to a location and exposes you (pun intended for you old school film shooters) to new approaches or conditions for shooting.

Photo tours differ from online classes or even classroom workshops in the onsite interaction you get from your instructor. While it’s good to start with some basics before your tour, being on location and getting instant feedback provides a very different, highly customized way of learning you simply can’t obtain from a book or video course.

The competition for these tours and workshops is growing daily as photographers seek alternative revenue sources for their profession. Thus, to get the most from a photo tour or workshop and to help you sift the good from the bad from the great, it helps to know a few key questions to ask before you sign up for one. The better you prepare and the more questions you ask and get answered before you go, the better your chances of having a great experience that can dramatically improve your ability as a photographer and your enjoyment of both your craft and your tour. Here are some key questions to consider:

Photo tour group

Important questions to ask in choosing a photo tour

  • Who is your guide/instructor? Look at the types of photography that he or she specializes in. Look at his or her photos. You want someone whose work you appreciate and resonate with. How long have they been doing tours (not just photography, but actually leading workshops or tours)? How well do they relate to students? Someone can be an amazing photographer and a lousy instructor. Check out what others have said about them by reading multiple reviews.
  • Where will you go? Find out if the guide has been there before and knows it well. This is really critical if you’re going for specific shots of a place rather than to learn photo techniques in any picturesque location. Some guides don’t like to reveal ahead of time the specific sites in order to keep them special. But they should be able to give you a general sense of the environments you’ll be in and the types of settings (and thus images) you can expect.
  • What about timing? How long will you be in each location? How far is each spot from the previous one? You don’t want to spend your whole time just getting there or be rushed once you arrive. Also, how long will you be out each day? You want to shoot as much as you can, but also realize that you can get “photoed out” after too long without a break.
  • What are the logistics? Where will you be staying? Eating? Are those included or are you on your own for those? How much time will you be spending in your room (i.e. find out if your schedule has you out before dawn and back late to know how important the quality of the room will be). Also, how easy or expensive is it to reach the starting location and then to return home? And don’t forget to include trip insurance in your planning as it can save you a great deal if plans change, you need medical help or your gear gets stolen.
  • What else is included? Are there side trips or other forms of instruction that might be added or part of the package like tours to other locations apart from the photo tour or cooking classes or connections to local cultural activities or events? You may be coming for the photography, but as long as you’re there, get as much out of the experience as you can.
  • Do they speak your language? The website might be in English, but is that a language your instructor is fluent in? Photography is a visual language, so you can still learn a great deal from someone whose English isn’t perfect. But it’s harder to get detailed explanations if you both can’t communicate in a common language.
  • What are the payment terms? How much of a deposit is required? By when? How much do you get back (if any) due to inclement weather or other factors that mar the experience?
  • What will you learn? Be clear on the focus of the particular tour. Is it mostly about a place or a type of photography (e.g. landscapes, street, architecture, portraiture, etc.)? If there are certain techniques you want to perfect, find out if those are covered or could be included. That might include panning, low-light, nightscapes or star photos, wildlife, time lapse, macros, etc.
  • What about spouses or partners? If you’re traveling overseas, you may want to bookend or extend your photo tour. And if so, you may want to travel with someone else. Does the tour allow for that or offer activities for your partner to do while you’re out with the group making photos?
  • Do you have the right equipment and clothing? Find out what you’ll need, not just in terms of camera(s) and tripod but also if you’re expected to use filters, flash or other peripherals. Will you need to be prepared for harsh weather? Crossing streams? Mosquitoes? Are you expected to have a laptop so you can share your images with others in the evening? The more you can get a clear picture of the environment you’ll be in and expected activities, the better you can prepare. And if you don’t have all the needed equipment, see if the guide can loan you some or you can rent some before you arrive.
  • What is the amount of instruction? Will you be “trained” or merely “guided/coached.” Some tours are more about the location whereas workshops/classes are more about teaching specific approaches and techniques. Find out which is the focus and which is more appropriate for you.
  • How big is the group? The more people, the more you might be bumping into each other or getting in each other’s shots. The smaller, the more personal attention. But with high-profile guides, even a few minutes in each location with a master can be valuable. Also, larger groups allow you to learn more from the other participants which can be almost as helpful.
  • How experienced do you need to be? You don’t want to be on a tour where every other participant is a pro if you don’t know your F-stop from a stop light. Find out what level the tour caters to and if it is right for your skill level. Also, be aware that one of the most meaningful aspects of a photo tour are the relationships you develop with other participants. The more you have in common, the more you’ll likely connect.

The best of both worlds

Photo tour photographer

Photo tours can be one of the best ways to improve your photography while having a wonderful experience in a new place. Asking the above questions will help ensure that your overall experience — and the photos you come home with — are both top notch.

Not quite ready for a photo tour? Start with my free Guide to Making Amazing Travel Photos. It’s helpful for both beginners and even more seasoned photographers.

Also, if you want to know more about my own experience on the photo tour shown in the images above, check out this article on Passion Passport.

Frankfurt stopover: DIY walking tour of Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt stopover: riversideGot a stopover in Frankfurt?

UPDATE: I’ve updated the information below as of October 2018. The main changes are the track from the airport station is now on track (Gleis) 2 since track 1 is being worked on, and all the new buildings in the Old City (Altstadt) that were finished earlier in 2018. See below for details.

Frankfurt is a surprisingly beautiful city. I wouldn’t necessarily make it a destination on a trip to Germany, but if you are passing through, there are many ways you could spend a few hours to a full day in Frankfurt. The downtown area is only 15 minutes by train from the airport and all the main sights are within walking distance once you get there. Plus, if you’re a photographer, there are many opportunities to make some great images.

How much time do you need?

In terms of timing, I had a six-hour Frankfurt stopover. This means I effectively had only two-and-a-half hours to explore after factoring in time to clear inbound customs, store my bags, get to the train station, catch the train downtown and back, check in two hours before my next flight and go back through security. It was still enough and it makes for a fun adventure that helps keep you awake after a long flight.

If you have a Frankfurt stopover of four or even five hours or less with an international connection during the busy season (I was there in February, so shorter lines) I don’t think it would work to try and visit downtown. No sight there is worth missing your connection! However, that doesn’t mean you’re at a loss for things to do. Here’s a very helpful overview of services at the Frankfurt airport.  One of the options noted is a tour of the airport itself (the 11th busiest in the world) but keep in mind that most of these tours are in German only. Still, if you check out the reviews, many people find it quite interesting. There are also some other things you can do at the airport itself.

Pay to play

Let’s assume, however, that you have at least six hours and want to see some of Frankfurt’s highlights. You have a several choices for paid tours, some of which will meet you at the airport. I can’t comment on the quality of any of these, but here are some options:
Frankfurt on Foot
Tours by Locals
Open bus tour 
Frankfurt city tours 

NEW: Altstadt Walking Tours

DIY Tour

However, why not do it on your own? Especially if you are a photographer or just keen on architecture, Frankfurt offers some wonderful opportunities to make some great shots. Besides, when I looked at what was included on most of these tours, everything listed tended to be things you could see for yourself. Let me show you what I did and then give you some additional options as well.

Navigating the airport

First, let’s get you out of the airport. I arrived in Terminal 2, so I’ll explain that route. If you arrive in Terminal 1, it is actually easier since the train station (you’ll be taking the S-Bahn or local train into downtown Frankfurt) is across from Terminal 1.

For Terminal 2, I got off the plane and had to go through passport control. Depending on the line, this could take five to thirty five minutes. You never know. For me, it was only about five minutes. If you have checked a bag, you’ll need to pick this up unless it has been checked through to your final destination.

As you exit passport control, you go down a long hallway. You’ll notice they have showers on the right in case you want to clean up after a long flight. You can always access this later, after your walking tour.
You’ll go down the escalator (to your left) and as you exit the restricted area, the baggage storage (Gepackaufbewarhung) is to your immediate right. There’s also a set of restrooms here. I mention this because finding public restrooms downtown isn’t so easy, so go while you can! At baggage storage, you can drop off your bag(s) and get the receipt. You’ll pay 7 euros for 2 to 24 hours when you pick your bag(s) up.

Take care of the basics

From there, continue straight out then turn left toward the exit signs. Along the way, stop at one of the many ATMs so you have at least a few euros (you’ll need about 10 euros per person for the round trip to/from downtown by train). The train ticket machines don’t always work with US credit cards, so it is easier if you have cash. After that, go to the Information desk near the exit and ask for a map of Frankfurt. They were super helpful here and speak excellent English, so if you want, you can confirm your details about getting downtown and back. Tell them your connecting flight since they also know the usual wait times for when to check back in for the next leg of your journey.

Head outside and immediately, you’ll see a sign for the bus for Terminal 1. You’ll take that bus and get off when it stops and head into the train station. It can be a bit confusing finding your way here, but follow the signs for Gleis 1 2 (Track 1 2 is now the one for the train going downtown). First, however, find the ticket machines.

Buying your train tickets

Here’s the key (which I missed the first time I was here): The options for other languages are on the bottom of the screen. Look for the icon of the British flag and select it. I speak fair German but even so, the first time I came through, I was a bit confused with the options in German. So look for the English language selection and your life will be simpler.

Select the day pass (Tageskarte Frankfurt) if you’re coming back the same day. It is about the same as two one-way tickets and easier than having to buy a ticket again. There is also a one-day Frankfurt Card for about 1.40 euros more than the day pass and includes unlimited transport for a day plus discounts on museums and many sights. The only challenge is that you’ll need to get this card at the Hotels and Tours desk in the Welcome Center, Terminal 1, Arrival Hall B since they don’t sell it at the train station itself. If you’re arriving late and staying over, just get a one-way ticket (Einzelfahrt) for 4.80 euros since the day pass is for that specific day, not a 24-hour period.

Catch the train to Hauptwache

Look for the sign and stairs leading down to Gleis (track) 1 2. Then, wait for and board the next train. I recommend that you head to the Hauptwache stop which is two stops past the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) stop. If you have limited time, the area around the main train station, while much less seedy than it used to be, isn’t really worth the effort with one exception: The train station itself offers some very interesting photo opportunities.

Frankfurt stopover - HauptbahnhoffSo if you have the time, consider walking there at the end of your tour (I’ll explain below). But for now, stay on the train till Hauptwache which is closer to all the main areas of interest. It will take about 15 minutes to get to Hauptwache from the airport.

Once you get there, you can use this map or the one linked to below for the city tour.

Arriving at Hauptwache

When you exit the Hauptwache station, to find your bearings, look for this building, now a cafe, that serves as the unofficial center of the city:

Frankfurt stopover - Cafe Hauptwache

From here, you can just wander around the large stores in the area, but if you want some interesting photos, I suggest you look for the largest street, Zeil, and head up that just a few dozen yards until you see the glass fronted mall with diamond patterns and what looks like a giant hole in the middle. That’s MYZeil Shopping Center (follow this link for images of the outside of it).

You can shop here, but visually, you’ll find some really great architecture and angles inside.

Frankfurt stopover - My Zeil looking downHead to the top and count yourself fortunate if it is raining since the water running down the glass forms intriguing patterns.

Frankfurt stopover - My Zeil

Better than Costco

Next, go back out the way you came in, turn left and when you reach Hasengasse, turn right. You’ll go about three blocks then on your right, look for rather small signs for the Kleinmarkthalle. I hope you’re hungry!

Frankfurt stopover - Kleinmarkthalle sweetsThis is essentially an indoor food market with high-end fresh food and other products.

Frankfurt stopover - Kleinmarkthalle produceIt’s like Costco, in terms of all the samples, only with really good food.

Frankfurt stopover - Kleinmarkthalle pesto sellerThere are actual restaurants upstairs, but you can load up on picnic supplies here or make a meal from the samples, some bread, fruit, meat and cheese or whatever you like. Mostly, it offers some wonderful photo opportunities of both the food and the people buying and selling it.

Look up!

Frankfurt stopover - KaiserdomGo back out the same way you came in, turn right and head about four blocks down to Kaiserdom (St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral) with its magnificent tower surrounded by more modern buildings. At this point, I’m going to give you two choices. You could combine the two with some backtracking, but let me explain your options.

The city tour

The first is better if you’re mostly interested in the traditional sights of Frankfurt and want a bit of history and background along the way. For this city tour, rather than me reinventing the wheel, I suggest you check out this virtual tour of the city that provides helpful background on each location. It starts at the Cathedral, circles you back to Hauptwache (where you can catch the train back to the airport) but also provides some additional stops beyond that if you have time.

Here’s the downloadable PDF version of the city tour so you can print it out if you prefer.

The outdoor (mostly) tour

Frankfurt stopover - KunsthalleThe second is more for those who just enjoy walking and want photos that are going to be different than the usual tourist shots. Also, this is for those who may want to take in a bit of art as well. This is the one I did.

Continuing using the Google map above, head toward Romerburg from the Cathedral pausing to take a look at all the interesting architectural photo possibilities of these long hallways along Bendergasse around the Schirn Kunsthalle (art hall, where you can stop and see their exhibit if you have time).

At this point, cut through the buildings (or go around if you can’t find the courtyard that goes through) for a quick detour along Saalsgasse  for a row of buildings reconstructed by a variety of artists using postmodern design principles.

Frankfurt stopover - Saalsgasse


Continue down Saalsgasse (heading away from the Cathedral) until you reach Roemerberg. Turn right and you’ll find the main Roemerberg square and the most complete set of Medieval buildings in Frankfurt (reconstructed after the originals were destroyed in WWII bombing). UPDATE: In addition to the Roemerberg square, there is now an entire new section of reconstructed buildings known as the Neu Altstadt (new old town) that you can explore. These lie between the Cathedral and the Roemerberg square and consists of shops, cafes and museums. 

Frankfurt stopover - RoemerburgLook around and keep an eye out for great photo opps of the many tourists playing around the square.

Head for the bridge

Backtrack a bit and head to the river and look for the pedestrian-only bridge ahead and slightly to your right.

Frankfurt stopover - Bird on bridgeStop at the entry tower for good shots of the city historical museum (shown behind our feathery friend above), then go out onto the bridge and take in all the romance of the thousands of padlocks attached to the bridge as a sign of undying love.

Frankfurt stopover - locks on bridge

Lost in the trees

Frankfurt stopover - Biking by the riverReturn back to where you got on the bridge and turn left. Here, there’s no singular sight to see, just a lovely tree-lined walkway that parallels the river and offers a wealth of views of the river, the surrounding area, the trees and all those Frankfurters living out their lives along their river.

Connect to the city tour here or get some art

At this point, if you want to see more sights, return back to Roemerberg and pick up the city tour there (stop 9 on that tour). Or continue down this river walk till the next pedestrian bridge (past another bridge for cars and trucks), the Holbeinsteg. Cross this bridge for another view of Frankfurt or to visit the Staedel Museum (shown to the left of the bridge in the photo below).

Museum and bridge at nightThe collection at the Staedel, while not huge, is good with works from the Middle Ages to contemporary pieces and changing exhibits.

Frankfurt stopover - Staedel MuseumPhotographically, I found their interior galleries and bookstore interesting and wished I’d had more time there. Pop into the bookstore or the adjoining cafe even if you don’t want to pay to visit the museum collection itself.


From here, if you’re hungry, there’s a wonderful Greek and seafood restaurant, Parthenon, a few blocks away from the river from the museum. UPDATE: This restaurant now shares the space with Kennedy’s, a steakhouse. Locals tell me the food is still good but the prices have gone up and the service isn’t what it was. But see for yourself if you’re in the area. 

You’ll find a wealth of cheaper eats down around the train station, but I’ve had a few excellent seafood meals here at Parthenon in case you want something a bit nicer than your DIY meal at the Kleinmarkthalle (i.e. china plates, cloth napkins and few if any other tourists yet actually reasonably priced compared to other fine restaurants in town).

Time to head back

Either way, cross back over the Hobeinsteg (bridge) and note: If you’re here in the evening, you can get some wonderful night shots of and from this bridge of the river and surrounding buildings. I’ve stuck to using only black and white images for this piece, but the color photos of the river at night can be beautiful.

Frankfurt stopover - Bicyclist on bridge

You can head straight up Moselstrasse from the bridge then turn right on Kaiserstrasse and you’ll be at the train station. There are additional photo opportunities here, both day and at night.

Frankfurt stopover - train stationGlance around the train station then look for the “S” sign for the S-bahn which is the train you’ll take back to the airport if you go this route. If you do the city tour and end up back at Hauptwache, be aware that several trains leave to the airport from there. If you get confused, just asked one of the many security or station police in the area. Most people will speak enough English to point you to the right train for the airport.

Back to the airport

Once you return to the airport, you won’t go back from the train station the way you came (if you’re flying out of Terminal 2). Instead of the bus, all the signs direct you to the inter-terminal train. Just follow those signs, get on the short shuttle ride then once at Terminal 2, look for the signs to know where to check in for your flight since there are two main areas, D and E. It’s actually quite easy.
That’s it. I hope you enjoy your stopover in Frankfurt and get some wonderful photos even in the short time you have there.

Final thoughts

Trees at nightFrom a photography standpoint, I know I could have done better with more time there in Frankfurt. Thus, I think of my stopover trips as reconnaissance for next time. The shots you see are actually from two stopover trips, the most recent in February and the other in June a few years back. There are many other things you could see beyond what I’ve covered here such as going up for a city view in the Main Tower or sitting outside quaffing apple wine (a bit of an acquired taste) in Sachsenhausen.

For me, if I did have more time and went back, here’s what I would photograph: The cafes. As you walk through the downtown area, look inside (or better, stop inside) one of the many cafes. They are gorgeous. They make the average Starbucks here in the States seem like a 7-11 in comparison. The people, the ambiance, the whole cafe culture is something I’d love to capture. So if you think about it, take a look yourself.

Frankfurt stopover - typical restaurant

Of course, you could just hang out at one of the typical German restaurants/pubs instead of touring the city on your Frankfurt stopover…

Also, if you want tips on how to make better photos on your trip, check out my Beginners Guide to Making Awesome Travel Photos. It’s free and can be helpful to all levels of photographers.

Finally, if you’re looking for things to do on other stopovers, check out Layover Ninja.




The photographer’s DIY walking tour of downtown LA

See – and photograph –  downtown Los Angeles in a new way

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA: Downtown Skyline

I call this the photographer’s DIY walking tour of downtown LA, but you you don’t have to be a photographer to benefit from this self-guided tour of the highlights of downtown Los Angeles (DTLA). Here I offer you a route with stops along the way at some of DTLA’s most popular locations. At each one, I’ve included some shots to give you a visual sense of what to expect.

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - city streetAs a photographer, I always wonder before a trip about what I’ll find in a new location from a photographic perspective. It’s fine to read about where to visit, but actually seeing it ahead of time helps clue me in as to how to spend the precious time I have in a place. Hopefully, the following shots will help you as well. At the end of this piece, I’ll include a list of some specific photography tips to consider for shooting the places on the walking tour.

Downtown Los Angeles offers travelers and photographers of any level (and yes, if you have and use the camera on your phone, that includes you) a wide range of subjects. DTLA’s still in an ongoing phase of renewal (some might say gentrification). As a result, you’ll find homeless shelters and million dollar condos all within a few blocks of each other. For the street photographer, this means an endless variety of faces, scenes and activity.

For landscape photographers, you won’t find unspoiled vistas. This is, after all, the second-largest city in the US. But you’ll find cityscape opportunities that combine the California vibe with one of the most exciting street mural scenes around. And if architecture is your thing, you’re surrounded by over 100 years of various styles.

Getting around LA

The following walking tour can be done in a half day or you could take a full day, go at a slower pace, and spend more time at the museums. I’ve based this tour on one I did the week before Christmas (hence the holiday decorations in the photos). My two sons and I started around 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday and ended at 4:30 p.m. Your mileage (and pace) will, of course, vary. The following map shows the whole route starting at the “A” near the center of the map near 3rd and Broadway. The lettering repeats itself after “I” since Google Maps only allows ten stops on the map. Thus, you’ll end the first half of the tour and begin the second half at The Millennium Biltmore Hotel. In general, you’re following the map roughly in a clockwise direction.

LA Map


In terms of getting there, LA is known as a driver’s city. Most people therefore expect that without a car, you can’t do much. They would be wrong. If you don’t want to drive, check out this helpful article on public transit and other options for getting around LA.

Since we had a car, we parked at a garage on the corner of Hill and 2nd Streets. It’s very convenient and the rates weren’t bad ($10 maximum versus a few open lots we saw later for as little as $8 or as much as $24). It’s just a few blocks to our first stop on the tour, the Bradbury Building.

The Bradbury Building

Start your walking tour at (the first) Point A on the map, The Bradbury Building on 3rd and Broadway, the oldest existing commercial building in the downtown area. This iconic building has shown up in numerous films and TV shows. Unless you have business there, you’re limited to the ground floor and the first set of stairs. There are tours, however, that will explain the history and show you more.

Before you enter one of the two entrances, look across 3rd Street for this mural. It’s one of many enormous works of art you’ll encounter on your tour.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - wall mural

Check out this wall mural across from the Bradbury Building.

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Bradbury Building

Look familiar? You’ve likely seen the Bradbury Building in movies like “Blade Runner” and many others.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - the Bradbury Building

Look up! There’s much to see here at the Bradbury Building.

Grand Central Market

Cross Broadway from the Bradbury Building and you’ll see one of the entrances to the Grand Central Market. If you can, time your visit so you end up here for lunch (or breakfast or dinner or…). The market sells produce, spices, baked goods and even has a dollar store in the basement. But most people come here for the food stalls throughout. The variety of food choices can be daunting from Asian, to Italian to plenty of great Mexican and even a German place thrown in for cultural breadth.

Wander the place first to see your choices, then grab your food and find a table anywhere in the market. When we were there, I had two tacos from Ana Maria and they gave me extra tortillas since there’s enough meat in each for 2-3 normal-sized tacos. Exceptional.

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Grand Central Market Sign

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Central Market Ramen

Ramen bar at the Central Market

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Ana Maria's

Behind the scenes at Ana Maria in the Grand Central Market

Photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Ana Maria's

Ana Maria’s at the Grand Central Market. A single taco could easily be enough for lunch.

After the market there’s a quick side trip you can take. On Hill Street almost across from the Grand Central Market is Angels Flight, the little funicular railroad that travels a whopping 298 feet up Bunker Hill. I haven’t included it as a stop on the tour since it has been closed since 2013 due to an accident and some safety concerns. The first photo below is from March 2011 when Angel’s Flight was still running. The photo after that was shot in December 2016 showing what it looks now in its suspended state. It’s worth taking a look if you have time even if you can’t ride it.

Angel's Flight in 2011

Angels Flight back in its running days, March 2011

Angels Flight

Angels Flight, December 2016

The Last Bookstore

Depending which exit you use from Grand Central Market (there’s one on Broadway and one on Hill), walk down to 5th then head south on 5th Street to the corner of 5th and Spring. There you’ll find The Last Bookstore (point C on the map) on your left. Opened (in a smaller venue) in 2005, the name derives from the apparent fate of independent bookstores at the time. They’re doing something right here as it has now grown to be the largest independent seller of new and used books and music in California.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - The Last Bookstore art books area

This is the area for the art books at The Last Bookstore

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Last Bookstore stairs

Stairways and navigation all in one at The Last Bookstore

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - The Last Bookstore

View from upstairs looking into the main area of The Last Bookstore

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Book Tunnel

The book tunnel at The Last Bookstore

Downstairs, you’ll find their art books in a separate room. Upstairs you’ll want to wander through the photogenic stacks to see the book loop, old bank vault and book tunnel. In addition, there are three art galleries upstairs. I loved the recycled almost Steampunkish work of Dave Lovejoy. He’s got a killer studio/gallery overlooking 5th and Spring Streets below. We talked about his work for a while and he gave me some suggestions for less-well-known places to see in LA including MorYork and The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Great advice and very cool art.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Lovejoy Art entrance

The entrance to Lovejoy Art

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - wall in Lovejoy Art

One of the many interesting areas of Lovejoy Art

Spring Street

On our trip, I relied on memory rather than the map, so instead of just heading back up 5th Street to Pershing Square (our destination), we wandered down Spring Street. It turned out to be a good mistake, so I’ve included it on this walking tour. As you head south on Spring from The Last Bookstore, look for the various murals on the sides of buildings. These are captivating in their own right and can make great backgrounds for people shots.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - mural The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Mural The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Mural

Along the way, if you get hungry (hey, it’s likely been at least an hour since The Grand Central Market!), here are two options, both in the courtyard at 541 S. Spring (on your right). First, if you didn’t get your fill of Mexican food at the market, try Guisados. We didn’t eat there ourselves, but at 3 p.m., it was packed while every other taco place we passed (and there are many in this area) was empty at this time of day. Second, for a sweet treat, try Gelateria Uli (Point D on the map). Remember: In Italy, gelato isn’t a desert. It’s a snack. Need any other excuses?

FloydsKeep going south then turn right on 7th Street. Take in a whiff of aftershave and shampoo as you pass Floyd’s 99 Barbershop (Point E) – or maybe get a quick haircut or shave if you’re in the mood. From a photographer’s perspective, you could get some interesting shots of the place and people getting their hair cut.

St. Vincent’s Court

Keep heading west up 7th and you’ll come to an alley past S. Broadway known as St. Vincent’s Court, (Point F on the map). It’s one of those places you won’t likely find on any tourist map, but it was, for us, a fun discovery of shops and Mediterranean cafés with outdoor seating and interesting signage tucked away from the main drag. The map, by the way, shows you going up to Hill, turning right and then making another right to get to St. Vincent’s court. That was a Google Maps issue. You could go that way but you’d be retracing your steps so just turn into the court as you pass it going west on 7th. There’s no signage, but it will look like the following photo.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - St. Vincent's Court

St. Vincent’s Court from 7th Street

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - St. Vincent's Court

A scene inside St. Vincent’s Court

Follow the court to the end and make a left working your way through valet parkers with some fancy cars. You’ll emerge on Hill Street. Turn right and go down to W. 6th Street. From that corner (Point G), you have a nice shot of Pershing Square (see photo at the top of this page) and the downtown skyline. Cross over to Pershing Square (Point H).

Pershing Square


A photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Pershing Square

Pershing Square (at the bottom of the photo) and surrounding buildings. You can buy tickets to go to the top of the one on the left (see details later on).

This mini oasis of green in the heart of downtown LA offers you a quiet respite or, in our case during Christmastime, the chance to do some ice skating. We passed on participating but watched kids struggling around the ice rink. You could see the ice melting in the 60+ degree weather three days before Christmas. From a photography perspective, look around at the various buildings. To the north, there’s an interesting roof garden. As we watched, a helicopter landed on one of the buildings to the west. Just another day in downtown LA.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - ice skating in LA

Ice skating in LA

The Millennium Biltmore

Your next destination is just across Olive Street from the west side of Pershing Square. Enter the Millennium Biltmore Hotel (Point I and also Point A of the second part of the tour) through the entrance on Grand and marvel at the entry lobby.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Biltmore lobby

The Rendezvous Court (once the lobby) of the Millennium Biltmore is a great place to rest, grab a drink or take photos.

If you want to take a break, this is a good place to do so. You could order a drink or just sit and watch the people and marvel at the ornate architecture. Photographically, there are multiple options throughout the public areas of the hotel. It’s fun just to explore and see what you find.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Biltmore hallway

One of the many decoroated hallways at the Biltmore, in this case, all decked out for Christmas

The LA Central Library

You can exit the way you entered the building on Olive and then turn left or find the north entrance of the Biltmore on 5th and go out that way. Either way, you want to end up on 5th Street heading west (uphill). As you do, you’ll go about one block and will find LA’s Central Library (Point B on the second half of the tour). The newer Tom Bradley wing with its gorgeous atrium (where even the escalators are designed to represent waterfalls in this lofty space) will be your first stop if you take a quick left on Grand and enter there. Otherwise, if you keep going up 5th, you’ll enter into the main Art Deco building. Once inside, take time to explore, but here are some of the highlights of the art and architecture from our quick time there:

Central Library Rotunda

This is the rotunda of the library with beautiful murals and decorative ceilings

A photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Children's Department

Pay attention to the details here in the children’s department including the murals, the ornate ceiling and even the carpet, where seemingly abstract patterns turn out to be figures found in the adjacent rotunda.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - Central Library Atrium

The atrium’s vast space and colorful chandeliers make it a wonderful area to stop and take in.

The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - International languages area

The international languages area has some amazing murals from the scenes of Ivanhoe.

OUE Skyspace LA and Wells Fargo Banking Museum

Be sure to check out the Maguire Gardens at the west end of the library before heading out and crossing 5th Street where you’ll go up the stairs (with the waterfall in the center) to the OUE Skyspace LA (Point C on the second half of the tour) ticket booth. We didn’t have time to go to the top of the U.S. Bank Tower building for views of LA. It’s also not cheap, but many people find it worth the price for the views and the chance to slide in the clear tube-like slide high above the city. From here, keep heading north and proceed up Hope Street till you get to W. 3rd where you’ll turn right and proceed down to Grand Avenue. If you’re a banking fan or want a quick glimpse into one aspect of California history, you can pop into the free Wells Fargo Banking Museum (Point D) there in the bank building on the corner of Grand and 3rd.

MOCA and The Broad

Turn left on Grand and at this point, you have some choices to make. Down Grand a half block or so and across the street you’ll see The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA, Point E). If you continue a block north on Grand, you’ll hit The Broad (Point F). Both are excellent contemporary art museums with very different displays. But here’s the challenge: The Broad is relatively new and thus, it is currently extremely popular. The good news is it is free. The bad news is that if you want a guaranteed entry time, you need an advance reservation and right now, the dates are booked about three weeks out. You can just show up, but you’ll need to wait in line (which could take well over and hour or two). If you go this more spontaneous route, arrive as early as possible. That might mean doing this whole walking tour in reverse so that you’re starting here and ending at the Bradbury Building, but that won’t matter.

Here are some shots of the interior of The Broad:


The photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA - The Broad The Broad The Broad the Broad

Here’s the outside of The Broad:

The Broad

The alternative is to pay for your admission to MOCA and get in any time they are open. Check out both websites first for details on times and shows, but do plan ahead if you want to visit The Broad. Also, The Broad is closed on Mondays and MOCA is closed on Tuesdays. Here are some exterior shots of MOCA:

MOCA sign

Reflections of the nearby fountain caught in the MOCA sign.


The pyramid on the left is an icon of MOCA and the large sculpture on the right sits outside the main entrance.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall

Finally, keep going another block up Grand and you’ll see the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (Point G), home of the LA Philharmonic. Tours are available daily, both guided and self-guided audio tours. Or better yet, time it so you arrive and can attend one of the many concerts here.

the photographer's DIY walking tour of downtown LA

Because of the reflective nature of the exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the light dramatically affects how the building appears. Thus, if you can and are interested in photographing the place, visit it several times throughout the day for different angles and a different feel.

Disney Concert Hall Interior

This was taken at a Christmas concert in 2013 but it gives you a sense of the inside of the hall.

Additional Sights

This concludes our photographer’s DIY walking tour of downtown LA. But if you have additional time, here are some other highlights that are all within walking distance from here that are all popular and photogenic. You’d be hard pressed to do all these together with the above walking tour in one day, but you could do the above tour on one day along with a few of the following and then do the rest a second day.

Final Thoughts

We have looked at the popular spots in downtown LA, but these should just be your starting points for further exploration. There is much to see and do.

In terms of specific photography tips, here are a few that might help:

  • Bradbury PanoramaTake your time. As you can see from the above photos, some are better than others. That’s because many were taken hastily, more as snapshots than well-planned images. Taking your time allows you to view a subject from multiple perspectives and to figure out how you might capture it in a fresh way.
  • Bring a wide angle lens if you have one. I came with a 28-280 mm (equivalent) lens. I would gladly have foregone the telephoto for a wider lens since you’re in tight situations.
  • Use panoramas. The shot of The Broad, the interior of the Disney Concert Hall and the Rotunda at the Central Library were all stitched together from several shots. This allows you to make up for not having a wide angle lens in some situations. Just remember that you can shoot panoramas vertically too, as shown by the image to the right of the Bradbury Building.
  • Plan on low-light scenarios. Most of the interior shots shown here were shot at ISO 3200. My camera starts to show noise if I go higher than that. Just be aware that you’ll need a fast lens, good image stabilization, a great low-noise sensor or possibly even a tripod to get clean images in these low-light conditions. Flash won’t help because you’re likely too far away from the subject matter for it to work.
  • Time your exterior shots. By this I mean realize that in sunny LA, you’ll get a lot of shadow and glare during the height of the day. The only benefit to the bright midday sun is that for some buildings, the shadowy areas between buildings light up when the sun is directly overhead. Otherwise, save your outside shots for late in the afternoon if you can.
  • Don’t worry about the people. Obviously, you want to be respectful when taking photos of people. But there are enough tourists around that the locals are used to seeing cameras. There are also enough people who live and work downtown so that you rarely feel like you’re taking photos of other tourists. You decide if you want to go for stealth mode or for asking people before you take a photo. Both have their place, but asking opens the door for some great conversations and additional insights as to places to see.
  • Have fun. This is LA after all. Explore. Discover. Ask questions. Try new things. And most of all, realize that while millions of people have been here and taken shots of this city before you, this is still a discovery for you if it is your first time. So enjoy it. Make it yours.

Finally, if you’re new to photography, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Making Awesome Travel Photographs. It provides everything you need to know to improve your travel photography.

Rethinking the art of collecting

Collecting, particularly on a trip, looks different to different people.

For some, collecting is an end to itself. You travel in order to find objects that you tote home and add to some existing collection (or that start a new one). For others, collecting is only a means to an end. They find that the best things to collect aren’t things per se but sparks of the imagination, relationships, possibilities or experiences.

Photographer Christoffer Relander seemingly does both. He creates photographs that appear to collect in mason jars not objects but images of places, moments and even feelings. And he does this all through non-digital means: He makes double exposures with a film camera and never touches Photoshop or other computer programs.

Read about Christoffer’s amazing works and see additional examples of it here at Lightstalking.com or visit Christoffer’s site itself. Take a look at a few of his images below and be sure to watch the video at the end to see how he goes about creating such beautiful photographs.

But don’t stop there. Let his unique approach challenge you to think differently about collecting. Especially as you travel, what might you collect? How might you do it in a different manner? How might you rethink how you present what you collect?

Personally, I just love it when I find an artist whose work I love but also whose approach inspires me to rethink my own.

OK, now for the good stuff…

Collecting - Great Grandmother's House by Christoffer Relander

Great Grandmother’s House by Christoffer Relander

Collecting - Jarred Lone Tree by Christoffer Relander

Jarred Lone Tree by Christoffer Relander

Collecting - Jarred Childhood Home by Christoffer Relander

Jarred Childhood Home by Christoffer Relander


Watch the following video to see how Christoffer makes these wondrous jarred images:

Jarred & Displaced from Anders Lönnfeldt on Vimeo.

Finally, here’s another of Christoffer’s images from a different series of his which also uses double exposures. It too will hopefully inspire you to think in new ways about how you capture and collect images and blend them together to not just make a photograph, but evoke an emotion.

Collecting - Miranda Donkey Farmer Resting Under a Cork Tree by Christoffer Relander

Miranda Donkey Farmer Resting Under a Cork Tree by Christoffer Relander