How to photograph the Getty Center

Getty Center Cafe

Getty Center Cafe

Resting on a stunning hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center overlooks the vast city landscape of greater Los Angeles. Its exceptional contemporary architecture, colorful gardens and sweeping views are the main attraction for photographers. Meier, the architect, built almost the entire complex with travertine stone. It exerts a sterile, futuristic flair upon visitors as if it jumped straight from a science fiction novel.

The intricate interplay of light and shadows, shapes and architecture provide near limitless compositions. Photographers can get lost in the possibilities and strain the understanding of fellow travelers. Each place seems to change its character throughout the course of the day, making it impossible for you to leave.

The Getty Center captivated me from the moment I arrived. I found it impossible to leave until long after sunset, when I had captured the last fleeting rays of the day and seen the city lights illuminating the entire valley to my feet.

If you have never seen the Getty Center, you should make plans for it on your next trip. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

How to get there

Getty Center Location Map

Getty Center Location Map (click to enlarge)

The Getty Center is located on Getty Center Drive, accessible from Sepulveda Blvd, next to I-405 (San Diego Freeway). Arriving from the south, take exit 57B (Morega Dr.), turn left on Sepulveda Blvd and left into Getty Center Drive. From the north, take Getty Center Drive exit, turn left on Sepulveda Blvd. and then right into Getty Center Drive. Take the Metro (link below) to save the parking fee if you stay somewhere close.

Take the free train from the parking garage to the top of the mountain and the Getty Center.

Getty Center Area Photo Map

Getty Center area photo location map (click to enlarge)

GPS position

How to photograph the Getty Museum

Getty Center framed skyline

Getty Center framed skyline

I marked some of my favorite shooting locations in the aerial view above. However, if you have sufficient time I recommend that you explore the Getty Center on your own, without the help of guides or maps. It is a lot of fun to discover all the hidden terraces and views and find different compositions. Use the available light and craft your compositions to suit your own needs.

The architecture of the Getty Center frames the skyline of Los Angeles and Westwood in the picture above, similar to a panoramic window or very large screen television. Using the center in the foreground and the city in the background, you can find many pleasing compositions. You need to use a very large depth of field to get the foreground and the background in focus. Follow the link to learn more!

Getty Center light and shadow

Getty Center light and shadow

The most important consideration in photography is always the light. With such a fabulous architecture, you have the unique option to bend light to your will, or at least the closest thing to bending light. Find a place that casts an interesting shadow, a reflection (b/w picture below) an opening that lets the light shine through (above) or simply a spot that receives favorable light. Since the light changes constantly, this means you need to remain in motion, often revisiting places you have already seen. This is extremely unnerving for your non-photographer travel companions, friends and family members. Try to interest them in the Getty collection itself, the countless paintings, sculptures and drawings that fill these beautiful halls.

Narrow Stairs

Narrow Stairs

This will leave you free to explore at your heart’s content. The difference between a snapshot and a great photograph is often only the tenacity and standing power of the photographer. Waiting for people to clear (or enter) a scene, for the light to change, a cloud to move and the willingness to try different compositions besides the obvious camera at eye level shot will make you a better photographer.

Try horizontal and vertical compositions to emphasize different aspects of the same scene. Look for narrow ways or wide open spaces, use the lines of the center to lead toward a person, the skyline or any other interesting subject. Use reflections creatively, by only hinting at the presence of something. Just free your mind of anything non photographic and let your creative beast out.

Night skyline from Getty Center

Night skyline from Getty Center

I topped off my visit with a night shot of the Los Angeles valley. Since the Getty Center does not allow you to bring a tripod,  I had to put my camera on a ledge and use the lens cap and strap to give it the right angle and position. I pre-focused and used the live-view to adjust the composition to my liking, since I couldn’t peek through the viewfinder. Again, my patience gave me the upper hand, as I had to wait for a number of people to clear the area and give me room on the ledge.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

The views are best in late afternoon during partially cloudy or sunny days.

Time required

Two hours are sufficient to see the grounds and take plenty of photographs. You can spend an entire day to see all the exhibits.


  • Wide-angle lens
  • Telephoto lens for skyline shots
  • Gorillapod or other mini tripod


Entrance to the Center is free. Parking costs $15.

Difficulty Photographing

Unfortunately, the staff did not allow me to bring my tripod. Since I left my Gorillapod at home, I had to rely on high ISO photography and look for ledges to support my camera for longer exposures.

Close Locations

Useful Resources

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  1. amindfullofblanks
    Posted 2009/12/29 at 05:40 | Permalink

    Great post, I love the Getty!

  2. Posted 2010/01/06 at 17:50 | Permalink

    These are awesome shots of this location. Very well done, your images are getting better and better. I just passed by the Getty on my recent trip and I really wanted to visit. Now you have convinced me I really should have! Way to go.

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