Frankfurt stopover: DIY walking tour of Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt stopover: riversideGot a stopover in Frankfurt?

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 

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 (Track 1 which is the one for 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. 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

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).

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.

Hungry?

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. 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…

Finally, 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.

 

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.

MOCA

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

How to take better sunset photographs

If you want to take better sunset photographs – and who doesn’t, particularly when you’re on a trip? – it helps to know a few tips. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned over the years on how to take better sunset photographs.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - San Gimignano sunset

Don’t make the sunset the star. Have other objects – buildings, trees, birds, people, etc. – be the main subject of the photo. Let the sunset be a nice background addition. Or even better, look behind you. Sometimes the best images at sunset aren’t of the sunset but what the sinking sun illuminates in its warm, glowing light and colors. Always ask yourself, “What story am I really trying to show?” or “What’s the real subject here?” or and then pursue that story or subject incorporating the sunset but not fixating on it.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset MonteverdeFrame the sunset. Even when the sunset itself is the main attraction, use other elements – trees work particularly well – to frame your image. If you want to take better sunset photographs, concentrate on composition and lighting as much as on just that big orange ball that’s quickly sinking. The worst sunset images (and the most common) treat the sun like a target you’re centering in on with nothing else in the frame but the sun, the horizon and maybe some waves.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset at ArchesAdd lens flare. This one is subjective. Some photographers see lens flare – those rainbow-like blocks or circles created by shooting directly into the sun – as a distraction or a mistake. For me, I like the added visual element…in moderation. To increase your chances of capturing lens flare, shoot toward the sun at a high F-stop (like F11 or higher if your camera allows aperture priority settings). Higher F-stops (and thus depth of field) can also make the sun’s rays more pronounced as in the above image.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - sunset and pierUse a tripod. This is critical if you want to make a better sunset photograph by the ocean and you want the waves smoothed out via a long exposure. You can also make images long after the sun has set when the light is often at its best.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset and Fountain

Apply the rule of thirds. Don’t shoot with the sun in the center of the image and the horizon in the middle of the picture. That’s just boring (see point 2 above). Try to locate the sun either a third of the way up or down and a third of the way from one side. It’s more visually dynamic and interesting. One of the best ways to understand this is to go online and look at how others have taken sunset photographs. You’ll quickly see that the most compelling shots are not symmetrical images of the sun alone.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset and grassKnow your camera and filters. Learn how to bracket your shots meaning, for example, you take one photo at the correct exposure, one a stop overexposed and a third a stop underexposed. Then, on your computer, use software to merge the three so that your foreground subject isn’t too dark you’re your sky isn’t too light. Many cameras today even allow you to do this by making an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image in the camera itself. Or go old school: Use a graduated neutral density filter on your lens that darkens the sky without making your foreground too shadowy.

 

The light at the end of the day: Post sunset

In many ways, this image is too underexposed and dark. But it is still more interesting than if it had been too light.

Underexpose. If none of the previous point made any sense to you, don’t worry. Just try and make your sunset shots darker than normal. They tend to “read” better and our eyes accept a sunset image where the sun isn’t too bright and the surrounding scene is darker than usual in a photograph.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - rock climbing at sunsetPlan ahead. You usually only have about 30 minutes of great light during and after the sunset. You can get apps for your phone that tell you exactly when sunrise and sunsets occur wherever you are. Use them to be there and be set up knowing the scene you want to capture before you miss your moment. You want to be set before the sun does.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Piazza after sunset

This technically isn’t a sunset photograph…but it is. Note the luscious light right after sunset.

Wait. Similarly, once you are there, don’t be in a rush to leave. As noted, the best light usually occurs after the sun has set. Wait for it. You may not have the actual sun in your photo, but you’ll have a better photo.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Purple cloudsFollow the clouds. This is probably the most important tip of all: sunsets are pretty boring without clouds. Some of the best sunset photographs occur right after a storm or on really cloudy days. Clouds are the secret to making better sunset photographs.

That’s a start. How about you? What’s your secret to taking better sunset photographs?

This ends my three-part series on sunsets. The other two are The Light at the End of the Day and Why Sunsets Move Us.

 

10 reasons why paying attention matters

The value of paying attention

Not far from my house sits a field. A small trail runs through it. I rarely see anyone on it because the trail, like the field, is both ordinary and out of the way. The other day, as my wife and I walked our dog through this field, I was struck by the beauty there, suddenly aware of the stunning flowers that I rarely notice. It made me wonder.

Why do I let the world around me fade into a blur of familiarity and under-appreciation? Usually it is because I’m too busy, preoccupied  or simply apathetic. I let the cares of life blind me to the joys of it. But on this day I decided not to miss out on the little details that add so much to life.

What follows are 10 reasons why paying attention matters. Not in some abstract, philosophical way, but to you and me personally. I’m accompanying each reason with a photo I made in that field, a reminder to all of us of the beauty that lies around us if we but take time to notice.

Paying attention - Foxglove

 1. Paying attention adds value to others.

It used to be that money was our most valuable commodity. Then it became time. Now? It’s our attention. We give it so rarely to others. But when we pay attention to people, it shows we value them. Not for their words or the cleverness of their comments, but for who they are.

 

Paying attention - Oregon Grape

 2. Paying attention adds value to you.

A client told me that he reminds his sales people all the time to, “Be more interested than you are interesting.” In other words, pay attention and listen to your customer rather than showing how fascinating you are. For when you do, they notice and appreciate it. Best of all, you learn so much more when you listen than when you talk. And that makes you wiser.

 

Paying attention

3. Paying attention enhances your creativity.

Last time we looked at how creativity is this combination of collecting, connecting and sharing. Simply put, the more you notice, the more you collect. You gather a greater amount of raw material for creative ideas. And the more you collect, the more you’re able to make connections that others don’t. Maria Popova at Brain Pickings compares collecting and connecting to working with LEGOs: “The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become.” Read her insightful piece on this here.

 

Paying attention - Red Hot Poker

4. Paying attention provides focus.

Rather than filling your mind with needless worries, pay attention to your surroundings. Concentrate on useful matters and sharpen your observation skills. Even if your looking around produces no aha discoveries this time, you’ve built your capacity to focus and observe for the next time.

 

Why paying attention matters: California Poppy

 5. Paying attention gives you purpose.

When you go out into the world noticing, every trip becomes an adventure. Even a neighborhood walk can become a treasure hunt for what is new, interesting or useful. You’re never bored when you’re open and looking.

 

Paying attention: Dandelion

6. Paying attention fosters gratitude.

Probably the most important aspect of paying attention is that we value what we notice. “Out of sight, out of mind” applies to virtually all the important things in life that we simply cease to appreciate. I guarantee that if you begin to give your full attention to even the most common object or familiar person and seek to see it or them as for the first time, you can’t help but appreciate them more.

 

Paying attention to wonder: Poppy stem7. Paying attention reveals wonder.

We plan expensive trips to pursue novelty and wonder without realizing that wonder is all around us. Paying attention makes us aware of the mysteries of people, places and things that, if displayed in a museum would likely awe us. But familiarity reduces wonder to the level of “so what?” The photo above may not be wonder to you, but I’d never realized before that poppies leave this little ring or cup on the stem after the petals have fallen. It may not rival the aurora borealis, but wonder comes in all shapes and sizes.

 

Paying attention - coreopsis

8. Paying attention encourages curiosity.

I didn’t care about any of these flowers’ names until I made photos of them. Now, I want to know more about them. I also want to understand why the flower above has water drops on its petals whereas no other flowers around it are wet. The more curious you are, the more you will likely see and the more you see, the more connections you will make.

 

Paying attention - Primrose

9. Paying attention expands your perspective.

When you pay attention, you see a different side of things. You make unlikely connections you didn’t before. For example, in the photo above, I never before realized how the petals look exactly like crumpled paper or fabric. It makes me want to try out some new art projects based on this in materials I’ve barely worked with before. In short, paying attention broadens your possibilities.

 

Paying attention - Daisy with bugs

10. Paying attention reminds us that little things matter.

I used to think that with all the big issues going on in the world, why bother paying attention to the small things? But if I can pull away from the distractions that hammer me, I come to realize that the small things ARE the big things. The taste of a favorite food. The smell of fresh coffee. The touch of a loved one’s hand or the sound of their voice. Another sunrise. Another breath. Paying attention helps us value the small moments and realize that they matter far more than we normally realize.

 

How to use textures in Photoshop for better photos

Istanbul - Texture 3

A photo from a trip to Istanbul becomes something completely different when you add textures.

Learning how to use textures in Photoshop has been one of the best ways I’ve found to add interest to some otherwise so-so images. In particular, applying textures in Photoshop to travel photos can add depth and meaning to your trip images. How? Because you’re able to add associations to the image that may convey more of how you felt when you captured the image than the photo itself reflects.  Or, you might add new meanings – associations with nostalgia or historical references or simply create something of great beauty.

So what do I mean by “textures?” Textures are essentially the same thing as many of the filters you’ll find on Instagram and other photo apps. These filters or textures change the nature of the photo by blending in a secondary image, usually one of some texture. Common examples for texture backgrounds are photos of old parchment, painted surfaces, weathered wood…anything that adds visual interest.

In future posts, I’ll explain how different textures can create different emotional effects. For now, however, let’s jump in and learn some basics so you can try this for yourself.

Knowing how to use textures in Photoshop starts with knowing Photoshop

You can do this in Photoshop Elements or any program that provides you with the ability to blend layers. I’m using Photoshop CS5 for this example, but any version should work.

I’m going to assume you know at least the basics of Photoshop. However, I will try and explain the process step-by-step since there are some important tips I’ve found to make it work well and fast even if you’re just a Photoshop novice.

Istanbul - Hagia Sophia

Istanbul – Hagia Sophia: This is the original image with no texture.

 

Textured border photo

This is the texture image we’ll be blending into the photo above

The concept is simple: Open both images in Photoshop, move the texture onto the original photo (in this case, the image of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), then select one of the blend modes (more on that in a moment).

How to get started with using textures in Photoshop

You need to start with a textured background. You likely don’t have one just lying around if you’ve never done this before. So where do you get a textured background? Try this highly technical maneuver: Google “free textures for photoshop.” Here’s a screenshot of the top results under Images:

How to use textures in Photoshop: List of texture images

How to use textures in Photoshop: List of texture images from a Google search

You likely won’t run out of choices. For my style of photography, I prefer ones with darker borders so they have sort of a built-in vignette. But the best way to learn is to try a half dozen different ones and see what works for you. And remember: You can actually use multiple textures for a single blended photo. Your file size gets pretty huge, but the results can be stunning.

The particular texture I used in this example came from here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hanne_exurban/4304057519/in/set-72157622112724335 or go here for H. Adam’s full range of textures.

Once you download your textured photo, you’ll need to open it and your original at the same time. Do this by using File > Open for each. Then, I select Window>Arrange>Tile to get both images on screen at the same time like this:

How to use textures in Photoshop: Floating tiles in Photoshop

 

Unfortunately, the images aren’t the same size. So do you rotate the texture image and hope it will fit? Resize each image? Crop the larger down? You might get those to work, but there’s an easier way.

Start by dragging the texture image onto the main photo. When you try that, you may get this message:

How to use textures in Photoshop: Depth difference message

It means that my original photo was taken as a 16-bit image but the texture is only an 8-bit image. You don’t need to know about bits to get around this. Just go to Image>Mode>16 Bits/Channel and check that (assuming your texture image was only 8-bits and your main image was 16. In one case, I had the reverse situation, but the process is essentially the same). If you’re lucky, both images will be the same depth and you will never see this message.

Once you drag the texture image over on top of the original (and you always want to make sure the original image is the background or base image NOT the other way around or this won’t work as well), you should see something like this:

How to use textures in Photoshop: Moving texture image onto background image

If you have trouble doing this, be sure you’ve got the move button highlighted (it’s the top button on the left side menu on my screen) AND you’re holding your mouse down as you drag and drop the texture onto the main image. When you do, you’ll see you now have a new layer on top of your background image layer.

At this point, I either close the texture image that is now floating all alone over there to the top right or just maximize the original image so as not to be distracted by the texture file if I want to use this texture for another photo after this one.

Back to the size difference, here’s the easiest way I’ve found and it works great. Just do this: click on Edit>Free Transform. You’ll see the little “handles” appear the textured image. Just drag each side until each aligns and covers the main background image. In the screenshot below, I’ve dragged the bottom left corner into place and am in the process of dragging the top right to cover the background image. When done and it covers, select the check mark at the top of the screen to confirm.

How to use textures in Photoshop: Using Free Transform

 And now it gets interesting…

All the hard work is now done! Now it’s time for some fun. It’s the closest you’ll come to magic without a wand and white rabbit…

All you do now is experiment with the blend modes. If you’ve never used them before, they are located over above your layers with the default “Normal” mode showing. Click on the the little drop down arrow next to “Normal” making sure your Layer 1 (the textured image) is highlighted. You can rename it if you want with something completely original like “Texture 1.” This really only matters when you have multiple texture files in place and you need to differentiate between them at a glance.

My “go-to” choice is Overlay. It works probably 70% of the time. But not in this case, I don’t think:

How to use textures in Photoshop: Using Overlay blend mode

How to use textures in Photoshop: Using Overlay blend mode

It’s just not very interesting as is. But check this one out when I use “Multiply:”

How to use textures in Photoshop: Using Multiply blend mode

How to use textures in Photoshop: Using Multiply blend mode

Much more interesting. I won’t show you all the variations here, but try each of the blending modes out and see what works.

A few last pointers:

  1. Use the Opacity and Fill sliders (to the right of the blend mode drop down) and adjust those. Normally, I find just changing the Opacity is enough. And sometimes, what looks horrible at 100% can look spectacular when dialed down to say, 45%. So be sure to play with those extensively.
  2. You may have to make other adjustments to fine tune your blended image. In particular, I usually have to play with the Color Balance adjustment (it’s the one with the hanging scales as an icon directly above the blend mode area) if the textured image has a color cast like this one does. In this image, I like the yellow cast because it looks like old parchment, but often you’ll want to adjust that and perhaps your saturation, levels or curves as well.
  3. You may want to crop the final image. I like the crop on the original, but the heavy black in the Multiply version above is too much but if I try to lower the black by lowering the Opacity, it turns light gray and that looks funky. So instead, I’d likely crop out the main part of the border above so it isn’t so heavy. But that’s just me.

That’s it. When you’re done, save the new file as a TIFF, PSD or JPEG (if you don’t plan on working on it any more and want a smaller file).

My final word of advice: You only appreciate the power of textures by trying them and experimenting…a lot. I do find this general rule of thumb, however. My best images don’t always work well for textures. In fact, textures take away fine details. Instead, the best images to use with textures, to me, are ones with blah looking skies or open areas where the texture adds that…texture…to an otherwise bland background. But try a bunch of different types of photos and see.

Examples of how to use textures in Photoshop

Just for fun, here are some of the variations I tried using just the above two images and different settings. You begin to see the possibilities of using textures in Photoshop…

How to use textures in Photoshop: Using Overlay blend mode

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Overlay blend mode

In the image above, I did go back and use Overlay, but I lowered the Opacity to 90%, adjusted the saturation down and also cropped off the blue sides to make it cleaner.

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Linear Burn blend mode

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Linear Burn blend mode

The one above uses the Linear Burn blend mode with Opacity at 96% and Fill at 83%. I also adjusted Saturation, Color Balance, Curves, Levels and even Vibrance. I probably didn’t need to do all those, but I was just playing…and that’s how we learn.

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Multiply blend mode and Hue adjustments

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Multiply blend mode and Hue adjustments

I love the purple color of this one. It feels like a storybook image. This was done on Multiply with Fill at 90% but I lowered the Saturation and adjusted the Hue to get the purple tint.

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Multiply blend mode and color adjustments

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Multiply blend mode and color adjustments

Here I used Multiply, kept Opacity at 100% but lowered Fill to 90% and did some adjustments to Color Balance, Levels and Curves.

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Difference blend mode

How to use textures in Photoshop: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul image using Difference blend mode

In the above, all I did was use the Difference blend mode and changed the Fill amount down to 77%. It reminds me of an illustration or something. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the colors, but I like it a lot. I especially appreciate how it looks like a dreamy illustration except for the cars near the bottom. Interesting juxtaposition.

So there you have it. How to use textures in Photoshop to create several very different feeling images all from the same two photographs blended together in different ways.

Have fun with this and remember to try all kinds of combinations. You never know what will happen…

Also, if you want another take on the process and see what it looks like using textures on people shots, take a look here.