How to photograph Downtown Los Angeles

Bank Building Downtown LA

Bank Building Downtown LA

Los Angeles is a fascinating, diverse city of epic size. It is the largest city in California, draining much of the state with its hunger for resources and splendor. Despite its narcissistic style, Los Angeles also offers some gems for photographers. Some of the more interesting areas are the Business District in Downtown, the Grand Central Market, Bradbury Building and the Public Art Sculptures spread among these streets.

L.A. is a major tourist hub (trap). Its immense size makes it hard to navigate to interesting places without getting lost in less desirable areas, but Downtown is easy to reach. The Business District is almost deprived of crowds on weekends, making a photography tour pleasant.

How to get there

In Los Angeles, the best way to get around is still by car. Take the 4th Street exit from Highway 110 directly into the heart of downtown. Finding a parking spot is easier during weekends.

From LAX, take freeway 105 to 110. From the north, I5 and 101 both cross 110, from the south take I5 to 101 to 110.  I recommend that you use a route planner or a GPS.

GPS position

Business District:

Bradbury Building:

Central Library:

Twisted Reflecting Art:

Ulysses Art:

Grand Central Market:

How to photograph Downtown Los Angeles

Business District

The glittering skyscrapers of the business district are visible from far away. They shine like a beacon, guiding the visitor toward the town’s center.

The center harbors the headquarters of California’s banking industry and is once again a tourist attraction. The security guards, who patrol the grounds of these buildings, are not friendly toward photographers. If you get too close, they will shoo you away. That should not prevent you from capturing some detail shots of standpipes, entrances and facades.

I also like to play around with the distortion my wide-angle lens creates when it wreaks havoc on the straight lines of the skyscrapers. I get very close, tilt the lens upwards and create the illusion of infinitely tall buildings.

To gain a realistic perspective, you should use a tilt-and-shift lens to straighten converging lines.

Bradbury Building

Bradbury Building

Bradbury Building

The unassuming looking façade hides an outstanding atrium inside the building. It is the only office building in Los Angeles designated a National Historic Landmark. Security will restrict your movement, but you can still photograph the wrought-iron railings, oak panels and open-cage elevators from the floor. Use a wide-angle lens and include more of the surroundings to leave enough room to correct the perspective, something I wish I had done. You can also use a tilt-and-shift lens if you can afford it or rent one.

Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market

The popular produce market is bursting with colors and life. Grand Central Market is the best place in Downtown for enthusiastic street photographers to practice their passion. The colorful produce stores still provide ample shooting opportunities, even if you are not into people photography. Use higher ISO settings and a wide-angle lens to achieve a good depth of field and fast exposure to capture motion, despite the relative darkness. Avoid shooting the high contrast light near the entrances to the market, to avoid clipping and dark shadows. Shoot the vendors in action, during negotiations or when serving customers. Natural scenes only happen when people are not aware of you. A small unobtrusive camera will be an advantage. Do not use flash to avoid washed out colors and to avoid drawing attention.

Public Art Sculptures

Public Art Statue

Public Art Statue

Downtown Los Angeles is home to an impressive array of public art sculptures. The twisted shapes perfectly complement the straight buildings for a study in shape and design.

Los Angeles Central Library

The renovated 1920ies style building with its beautiful tower and entrance sits amidst the skyscraper landscape of Downtown Los Angeles. The beautifully maintained landscaping and the fascinating light in the atrium add enough interest to warrant a detour for a few photographs.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Although I usually try to avoid the general area during hot summer days, you can take good photographs here any time of the day and any time of the year.

Time required

After you spent an afternoon walking through Downtown, you will be exhausted. I recommend resting in one of the parks, having an ice café or something to eat to recharge your batteries. Urban environments are more exhausting, especially in summer. One afternoon should be sufficient to take in most of the sights.

Equipment

  • Wide-Angle Lens
  • Normal Lens
  • Easy access Photo Backpack (e.g. Lowepro Slingshot)
  • Water (Downtown gets very hot)
  • CP Filter to eliminate the glare and add color
  • Stay light and nimble, cut down on equipment!

Close Locations

Useful Resources


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5 Comments

  1. Posted 2009/07/03 at 18:50 | Permalink

    Great post. I am not that familiar with L.A. and your tips are really helpful. Next time, I will definitely check out the Bradbury Building and the Grand Central Market. Thanks!

  2. Posted 2009/07/03 at 18:52 | Permalink

    Interesting, especially about the Bradbury Building. I guess I don’t know what a tilt and shift lens is. I’ve only heard of tilt-shifts in relation to creating “fake tilt-shifts” and the ones I tried didn’t look all that good. I guess I will read up on tilt and shift lenses.

  3. jpclover
    Posted 2009/07/03 at 21:31 | Permalink

    We did a walking tour of downtown last year and the bradbury and central market were some of my favourites. Here are the pics I took during teh tour (can’t beat a bit of self promotion!!)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpclover/sets/72157606015003827/

  4. Frank DelValle
    Posted 2009/07/05 at 03:01 | Permalink

    Great work Andre. All the pics are great, especially the Bradbury bldg one. Too bad a few places are not photog-friendly.

  5. Posted 2013/05/18 at 10:21 | Permalink

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites
    I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be useful to read articles from other authors and practice a little something from their sites.
    .


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