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A photographer's guide to BarcelonaMay 15 2008

First of all let me make clear that this is not intended to be a tourist guide and I will not write much about monuments or museums to see. There are millions of guides around, writing about Las Ramblas and La Pedrera.

Dali MuseumI am writing this guide to document my experience as an amateur photographer at the city of Barcelona, trying to avoid as much as possible the classic postcard photos that most tourists shoot. Sure I got many photos of classic monuments and streets, but these won't be included here. So if you are interested in shooting something different keep on reading, otherwise you could visit this or this which are certainly much better written and explain more of places you should visit during your stay at the city.

First things first:

Where to stay
I wanted a place that is close to the city center. For obvious reasons something around Las Ramblas or the Gothic Quarter is the best choice since it allows you to visit many places around and is very easy to use the Metro. However it all depends on how much you are willing to walk and how much money you want to spend.

Barcelona StreetsEquipment
The truth is that in Barcelona you will walk a lot, you have to walk a lot if you want to find something different and that means carrying light equipment. I would recommend taking your camera and a good single lens or maybe a second fixed one. I used the Canon 40d mounted with a 17-85mm IS USM lens which pretty much covered most of my needs. There were times I wished I had my 70-300 and some other times (inside Dali museum) I would love to have the 50mm F1.4 but a single lens saves time and effort. One important point here if you decide to travel with you big photography bag and your bulky lenses remember that in Barcelona especially in tourist and isolated areas there are many actually too many small thieves who would love a new shinny MKiii with a big lens. Always take care of your bag and hold firmly on your camera and in general try to avoid people who don't look good to you. I have to mention here that I've walked in many areas and small streets late at night and I didn't have any problem at all but there were times especially at Las Ramblas and at Barceloneta that you just get this feeling someone is looking at you and what you carry.

One important reminder here is to take with you a large memory card or lots of films if you shoot analog. I did the mistake of carrying only a 2gb with me and in 1.5 day I run out of memory. If you do need to buy storage the best place is Fnac. They had the best prices around in memory cards (I bought a Sandisk Extreme III 4gb for 50 euros)


Barcelona - Gothic QuarterGothic Quatrer
The gothic quarter is definitely on of the best areas to visit. Is is basically the old city of Barcelona and every corner, every shop is a photographic opportunity. The houses are old, the streets very narrow and in every corner you will see some Gothic statue or symbol. This is an incredibly nice area to photograph late at night but you will need a good fast lens since there isn't a lot of light. Try to shoot the windows, the old chimneys the wires connecting one house to the other were people hang their clothes to dry. Some times if you have a wide enough lens it's good to sit down and shoot towards the sky making the building look bigger.

Barcelona - Gothic QuarterTake a look at the old shops, especially when their gates are closed, they a full of graffiti which will give your photo a feeling of abandoned and destroyed. If you are comfortable enough try to take some photos of people. Remember you are allowed to shoot photos of anyone if he is in a public place without asking for permission, but try to follow the simple rule of being polite and as less invasive as possible. At the Gothic Quarter there are also many museums and monuments especially old churches that are favored by many visitors. They are usually crowded with long queues and is really difficult to shoot a good photo. The first day I arrived at Barcelona it was raining a lot and I had the chance to visit some very popular destinations like the Picasso museum or the Church Englesias and get a few photos as I would like them to be. My advise is to visit these places at times when people are out for lunch and never at weekends. Late at night before they close is also a good time but not very good value for the money that you pay for the entrance fee.

Barcelona - BarcelonetaBarceloneta
Barceloneta is the area were the fun is. It's the sea side area on the south east of the city. The very long beach with the palm trees on the side create a fantastic oportunity. Fit in you wide lens and capture the seaside. Zoom in and take some photos of the surfers or the relaxed people on the beachbar. Remember there is a lot of sun in this area and you will need a lens hood and a good filter to avoid flaring. The best times to visit the area are 6pm to 8pm, there are fewer people and light is just perfect!

Barcelona - Barceloneta Barceloneta has also some very nice streets and interesting shops. You will find here the small neighborhoods with the narrow roads where kids play football on the streets. Walk down the coast line past Villa Olympico Station. You will find out some great images of very tall scyscrapers standing next to the small graphic port. There are roads lined with palm trees and people taking an evening run or couples kissing under the moonlight.
You should take a break and shit for a nice coctail at a beach bar. They have this very big couches where you can lie down and enjoy your drink. Beleive me even then there is a great photographic oportunity shooting the people walking down the street or the patterns of the flower shaped candles on the bar.

Barcelona - Rooftops Rooftops
A good place to shoot some nice landscape photos is at the top of a rooftop. In my case the hotel had a nice small bar with a pool on the 6th floor of the building but you could find some vey tall buildings like the Pedrera or the some old gothic temples where you can see the whole city. A very good destination is also the Montjuic mountain which you can access walking or by using the teleferic. For my photos I didn't have tripod so I used a steady area and shoot 3 photos of the same subject by changing the metering by 2 stops: -2..0..+2 then in Photoshop or Photomatrix pro, you can join the photos to create HDR versions. The result is really impressive and you get some really interesting and very powerful photos of the city.


Article listed in "Photography"

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