Known as the “Queen of the Missions”, Santa Barbara Mission is a primary tourist attraction in Santa Barbara, a Spanish style coastal town in Southern California. The parish church is still in use today.
The façade of the mission and the nearby rose garden are popular backgrounds for wedding photography, whereas the mission grounds and the architecture are the main subjects for travel photographers and tourists interested in early California history.
The location of the Santa Barbara Mission sets it apart from all other California Missions. It sits atop a small hill, exposing it to a cool breeze from the ocean. The nearby Santa Ynez Mountains provide a wonderful backdrop for panoramic images while the rose garden is a popular foreground motif for mission photographs.
I highly recommend spending some time around the waterfront to soak up the cool relaxed atmosphere of Santa Barbara before photographing the mission. Take advantage of the location.
How to get there
The mission is located on 2201 Laguna Street in Santa Barbara.
From Highway 101 take the Mission Street exit (99A for northbound traffic, 99 for southbound traffic). Turn north onto Mission Street (right if you came northbound, left if you came southbound). Drive about 1 mile, then turn left onto Laguna Street. The mission will be straight ahead.
How to photograph Mission Santa Barbara
One way to take advantage of the location is by including as much of the Santa Barbara feeling in your photographs. Use the nearby hills, white colored buildings, and palm trees of Santa Barbara to convey a sense of place and southern vacation town feeling.
The mission church is massive and tends to overwhelm photographs. Put it in the background by photographing at an angle, similar to the fountain photograph above, where the church is some distance away. Using a short focal length will further diminish the size of the church and give you enough field of view (how wide the shot is) to include the reflection of the church in the pond.
The rose garden that is located across E. Los Olivos Street is yet another good foreground choice for the mission. There you need to use a longer focal length and step back from the roses and fountain in order to prevent the mission from becoming too small in your picture.
Use high ISO and image stabilization for your indoor shots. A wide-angle lens will help you to achieve maximum depth of field, even with wide apertures required due to the low light. At the same time, the wider angle is useful to include more of the indoor scene. Try to hold your camera straight. If you angle it up or down, you will get distorted images (converging verticals). If you have no other choice, make sure you leave enough room around your main subject to allow distortion correction and cropping on the computer.
The courtyard has a fountain and several tall palm trees, all of which are difficult to fit into a compelling composition. Instead, I chose to focus on the colonnade (below) and other architectural elements (above). The authentic looking roof tiling (above) is indicative of these missions. Don’t forget to capture some detail shots with your telephoto lens.
Best Time of the Day and Best Season
The Mission is open between 9:00am to 5:00pm. If you come early, there will be less visitors and good light on the mission façade, including the fountain.
All seasons are good, but the garden will be most colorful in spring and early summer.
You should plan about 90 minutes for a visit. Anything less than one hour will be too rushed.
- Wide-angle lens
- Zoom Lens
- IS lens (indoor shots)
I prefer to travel light in such locations. A small photo backpack contains only the necessary equipment. This allows me to stay mobile. I often do not even bring a tripod.
Adults pay $5, seniors pay $4 and children between 5-15 pay $1.
- Santa Barbara Presidio
- Santa Barbara Courthouse
- Santa Barbara Wharf
- Santa Ines Mission
- La Purisima Mission
- Nojoqui Falls Park
- Guadalupe Dunes
- Mission San Luis Obispo
- Shell Beach
- Mission San Buenaventura
- Ronald Reagan Library
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