I’ve always wanted to travel to Greece. I’m not sure when, but I remember seeing pictures of the white walls and blue roofs with the bright sun and colorful sunsets from the islands. Recently, as I’ve gotten more into photography, I’ve seen pictures of the amazing monasteries and geological features from Meteora. I knew Athens was also a must, not only because the major airport is located there, but also for the history. I just wasn’t as excited about it being a photography destination.
Steps for taking the best pictures in Athens
1. Pick one site a day
Pick one site where you want to get the best pictures. You can go to more than one, just know there will only be one you can visit within 30 minutes of closing time when the light is best. The sites all seem to close within 15-30 minutes before sunset, even if the website says something different. The first day when we arrived at the Acropolis around 6pm, we were told it was closing at 6:30. The website (and Google) said 8pm, but it was wrong. You can still get pictures during the day at the other sites, but they won’t be your “wow” shots. We only had two nights, so we chose to the Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
2. Arrive at least 1.5 hours before closing time
(longer for the Acropolis), but not too much earlier if you tend to get tired being on your feet in the hot son or your kids get bored/cranky. When you first arrive, walk around and take it in. You’re at some of the most interesting historical sites that exist, and you want to know why you’re there. Seek out the angles that you like.
3. Practice your sunbursts!
If you don’t know how to do these, here’s an easy guide. They work best with specific lenses, but it’s not necessary. My husband was able to get this effect with his iPhone. If you can, set your camera on a small aperture (large number, such as f13). Mine was generally set on f11. You might have to increase your ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed, but you might not. Find where the shadows are falling. Stand on the edge of those shadows, and when you bring your lens up, make sure the sun is partially blocked by the structure creating the shadow. Play around with exact placement of the lens, and where in the shadow you stand, and have some fun!
4. Be patient.
Sometimes these sites are insanely crowded, and it’s nice to have a picture without other people in it. You will notice the crowd doesn’t move at the same pace, so you’ll have moments (but not usually long!) when there will be no people in your shots. Try not to let yourself get annoyed with the crowds, like I do sometimes. Luckily my 5 month old let me sleep (relatively) well the night before, so I was less cranky and able to let myself be patient.
5. Put your family in the shot
Get one posed, but try some more natural ones.
6. Practice backlighting
Take advantage of the warm light and practice your backlighting with your family. Place your subject between you and the sun, and make sure you increase your exposure, otherwise your pictures will be very dark. My husband loves to FaceTime his family when we travel, so I decided to capture that.
7. Take pictures of other people
It’s always interesting to people watch while traveling, and sometimes you get some great pictures of other people being in the moment with the impressive sites in the background. I haven’t yet done this but I should, you could always get their email address and send them the picture.
8. Get creative
Walk around and get the different angles. Put a different lens on and try a different perspective. Look for puddles that might make a good reflection, or stand behind foliage and frame the structure with the plant.
9. Don’t forget the other views
I sometimes get so fixated on the ‘main’ site that I forget to look around me. This also includes views from the site, not of the site.
10. Find a spot to watch sunset.
Great sunset locations don’t just include pictures with the sun hitting the horizon. If you turn your back to the sun, you’ll see great light the other direction. There are many places to watch sunset in Athens. Just do a quick google search and you’ll get many ideas. Try to find one as close to where you’re going to be right before, so you won’t miss it. Our first night I decided to climb Filopappos hill, but we missed sunset. I forgot my tripod at our hotel, and our baby got hungry. A quick stop turned into a long one, and sunset happens pretty quick in Greece (unlike Northern Europe). The second night we decided to try Areopagus (Mars Hill), directly next to the Acropolis. We did fight for a spot, but it wasn’t too difficult, and it was worth it.
What are your favorite pictures you’ve taken in Athens?