How to photograph Venice Beach and Canals

Venice Beach Skaters

Venice Beach Skaters

Venice Beach Boardwalk is the funkiest, hippest place in Los Angeles. Street vendors set up shops, interrupted only by street food shacks and street performers. Venice Beach is an assault on your senses. Music booms all around you while weird looking creatures and vendors compete for your attention.

Venice Beach exemplifies Los Angeles’ stereotypical mantra of seeing and being seen. People here are mostly out to enjoy themselves and each other. For street photographers, the bustling Ocean Front Walk is a heaven send. People here are either happy when you photograph them or don’t notice you at all.

Venice Beach’s origin as an amusement park and the original Venice Canals were all part of the vision of Abbot Kinney, a wealthy developer. Most of the Canals are gone but a few survived lined by houses in an upscale neighborhood.

How to get there

For a short visit to Venice Beach, you can drop your car off on Windward Avenue, between Pacific Avenue and Speedway. Here you can find parking meters with affordable rates. If you want to stay longer, you either need to circle the roads and hope for a free spot or pay at one of the parking lots in the area.

For a first glimpse of the Canals, drive along Dell Avenue between S Venice Boulevard and Washington Boulevard. On my last visit, I was lucky and found parking on Ocean Avenue. Drive around in expanding circles until you find a spot.

GPS position

Venice Beach:

Venice Canals:

How to photograph Venice Beach and Canals

Handrail skater

Handrail skater

There is no lack of subjects at Venice Beach. No matter where you hold your camera, something worthwhile will be there. The difficulty is not what to include but what to exclude. There is so much going on, pictures easily get confusing and overloaded with information. Although I like the subject of the handrail skater, a shallower depth of field would greatly enhance the picture and isolate him against the busy distracting background. Creating a shallower depth is not hard to do in post processing.

Most street performers are so absorbed in their activity, they hardly notice you. That makes it easy to snap some pictures and get over our anxiety of photographing strangers.

Big Daddy Pizza and Burgers

Big Daddy Pizza and Burgers

The actual beach takes a backseat to the Ocean Front Walk, a common presence in popular culture. Movies, TV shows, songs and books have the walk as their main theme or refer to it in some way. It is thus not surprising that Venice is at the top of the short list of many tourists to California.

Don’t forget to experiment. Photograph details like graffiti, Baywatch towers, funky signs, colorful storefronts or whatever draws your attention.

Besides the Ocean Front walk, Venice is also famous for the remnants of the canals. Today the area is a posh neighborhood with unique houses. There are no more gondolas, but the palm-lined canals are still worth the small detour, if you can find parking.

Venice Canals

Venice Canals

Walk around and investigate the area before you start shooting. Although it is legal to stay as long as you want, most of us would find it concerning if strangers roam our neighborhoods with cameras and meticulously photograph every inch of our private life. Consider that this is a residential neighborhood. Residents are used to some amount of exposure, and maybe even like it, but we cannot assume this, so please be courteous.

I assume the canals should look good at night, with the light of the houses reflecting in them or with sunset clouds. Use a polarizing filter to remove or enhance the reflections.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Any time of the day is good at Venice Beach and the Canals, as long as it is not raining. Years ago, I made the mistake of going to Venice Beach at night. I am still glad I got away unharmed.

Time required

I spent about one hour at each location. You can easily stay much longer at Venice Beach, provided you find a good, cheap parking spot.

Equipment

  • Wide-angle lens
  • Normal lens
  • CPL filter
  • Backpack lock (I use those in dense urban environments to prevent theft)
  • Sun lotion

Close Locations

Useful Resources


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16 Comments

  1. Posted 2009/12/22 at 21:01 | Permalink

    As an additional suggestion, if you’re walking around with professional quality gear, you should talk to the street vendors before taking their photo. Some of them only allow you to photograph them if you’re willing to cough up a few bucks.

  2. Posted 2009/12/22 at 22:29 | Permalink

    Thank you for your insightful comment Rob. Getting (or buying) someones permission is certainly the sensible choice. Try to avoid conflict whenever you can.
    However, you do not need permission to take somebodies photograph in a public place, even if that person does not agree. Some candid shots benefit from speed. Taking the photo before your subject notices you often yields better photos.
    You can find out more about the photographers rights at my post on Street Photography at Fishermans Wharf.
    If people get upset, move on. They won’t leave their shops behind just to follow you. Even better would be to ask and pay. Once you pay, try to get a model release signed, your clients may demand them.

  3. Posted 2009/12/23 at 14:17 | Permalink

    ‘an assault on your senses’ – awesome! seems like a place i would detest by default but find incredibly interesting at the same time

  4. Posted 2009/12/27 at 06:01 | Permalink

    So it’s dangerous at night? I was there a couple decades ago when it was mostly hippies and muscle men but it was still very interesting then.

  5. Posted 2009/12/29 at 11:04 | Permalink

    I have warm memories of Venice Beach. I spent almost a week out there on business a while (long while) back and it was just such a fun place to be. The only “negative” that still lingers in my mind was the veritable city of homeless that filled the greenway between the big street paralleling the beach and the beach from Santa Monica down to Venice. I do remember thinking that if you HAD to be homeless, this might not be a bad place to be so.

  6. Posted 2010/01/11 at 04:42 | Permalink

    The new skate park down on the beach, fantastic location!

  7. Posted 2010/12/04 at 03:56 | Permalink

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    chinese sign sisters,

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