How to photograph Pasadena

Roses at Wrigley Mansion

Roses at Wrigley Mansion

Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena is a suburb of Los Angeles with its own distinct flair that is in stark contrast to Los Angeles. The affluent community of large mansions, an old yet hip downtown and great outdoors attracts wealthy residents and visitors. The City of Roses is home to the Parade of Roses and the football game in the famous Rose Bowl arena. Residents take their rose gardens serious, keeping the rose theme alive and the city a vibrant colorful jewel.

Pasadena is a pleasant community to retreat from a hectic day of photography in Los Angeles and offers plenty of shooting itself. I made Pasadena my base for my recent visit to Los Angeles, since it offered a sanctuary from the overwhelming city landscape, plenty of dinging options and views of the mountains comforting my city anxiety. Under the protection of the rose police, I felt safe to walk on the streets of downtown at night, in pursuit of culinary highlights, finishing my hectic city days in peace.

How to get there

Take the Pasadena Freeway (110) from Downtown Los Angeles and follow it, as it becomes S. Arroyo Parkway. Turn right on E. Holly St. and you will see City Hall in front of you. Retrace your way to S. Arroyo Pkwy and turn west on E. Del Mark Blvd until you reach S. Orange Grove Blvd. Turn left and after about one block you will see the white Wrigley Mansion (Tournament House).

From the north, take I-5 to CA-134. Take Fair Oaks Ave exit and turn left onto E. Holly Street.

The Metro Gold Line connects Pasadena to Downtown Los Angeles (Union Station). However, I strongly recommend using your car, since Pasadena is clearly embracing America’s car culture.

GPS position

City Hall:

Tournament House:

How to photograph Pasadena

City Hall

Pasadena City Hall reflection

Pasadena City Hall reflection

Befitting its feudal heritage, Pasadena’s city hall is a gem. The magnificent Beaux-Arts style building features a colonnade, a courtyard with fountain and many fine classical details, all of which make it a fantastic photography subject. Most photographs you see on the net are from E. Holly Street taken during the afternoon.

Fortunately, Dani discovered a reflecting pool on the east side of the building, across N. Euclid Ave, which I could use favorably with the palms and the city hall in the background. Placing the dome in the center of the pool worked best to enhance the inherent symmetry of the architecture.

Using my wide angle Tokina, I was even able to include the dome in a photograph of the colonnade. The sun casts interesting shadows of the pillars in the morning, yielding some good shots from here as well. At the corner of E. Holly St. and N. Garfield Ave, you can find two giant heads and a tree that you can incorporate into your foreground composition for some unusual views of city hall. I managed to squeeze the tree into the picture with my Tokina as well, giving the impression of a nature location.

The city hall is a pleasure to photograph and a forgiving subject. Only one other couple explored the site with me during my holiday visit, leaving me to explore the building without obstructions. It would have been perfect if it weren’t for the bawdy drunk homeless occupying the benches on E. Holly Street.

Pasadena offers many more sights that are fascinating. The Gamble House, a Craftsman-style mansion, constructed in 1908, the Rose Bowl stadium, the famous Huntington Library and the Tournament House are among the most prominent. I already covered the Huntington Library, so let’s move on to the Tournament House. After all, we are in the City of the Tournament of Roses.

Tournament House

This house is constructed of Wrigley’s chewing gum, or at least the gum financed it. The former winter residence of William Wrigley Jr. is the permanent home of the Tournament’s headquarters.

As with city hall, we had the grounds to ourselves. The mansion is a testament to the wealthy influence that founded Pasadena.

Walk around the house to see the Centennial Rose Gardens, featuring a selection of award-winning roses. You can photograph the white mansion with a foreground of roses from the far corner of the garden, or use the crescent shaped colonnade to frame the garden itself.

The small fountain pavilion, south of the mansion, is also surrounded by award-winning roses (see picture at the top). Although a fascinating place, I didn’t spend too much time here since I am not drawn to splendor.

I also investigated the Colorado Street Bridge (from below) and the Court of Appeals, but did not find them photogenic. Skip them and see the Gamble House if your time permits it.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Summer can be hot, but still more pleasant than in Los Angeles. During New Year’s Day, Pasadena hosts the famous Rose Parade, which can provide excellent shooting opportunities. However, the crowds will make it tough to get a good spot. Some people secure their spot far in advance.

Morning light and late afternoon each are good, but favor different viewpoints. I shot my pictures on two consecutive mornings.

Time required

You need about one hour to photograph the civic center and another hour for the tournament house. If you wish to cover the parade or see more of the city, you need to plan accordingly.


  • Wide Angle Lens
  • CP Filter
  • Hyperfocal Distance Chart

Close Locations

Useful Resources

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  1. Posted 2010/01/24 at 06:13 | Permalink

    Looks pretty. Glad you didn’t get into any scuffles with the Rose Police.

  2. Posted 2010/01/25 at 07:57 | Permalink

    Hi Andre, I am amazed how much you have done with your Blog since I have visited the last time. I also visited your website and discovered some great prints for sale. Overall you continue to create and compile the fantastic resource center for photographers. Great work…

  3. Posted 2010/01/25 at 19:42 | Permalink

    As a Pasadena photographer who often photographs folks around city hall, I’m impressed that you found that reflecting pool next to All Saints Church. Most people would never notice it …

  4. Posted 2010/01/25 at 19:50 | Permalink

    Thanks Rob. Credit for finding the pool goes to Dani who patiently works with me on all my trips. I couldn’t do it without her, since all our free time turned into scouting missions since I started the blog.
    BTW, your website looks great!

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