A Photographer's Guide to Istanbul

Maureen Jones-Ergün
05 July, 2015

Istanbul is one of the most photographed cities in the world and with very good reason. It is a city overflowing with an abundance of characters, colors and juxtaposition. The size of the city alone means a variety of photographic possibilities for any level of shutterbug. I asked a group of seasoned photographers in the Photo Club of Istanbul for their preferred places, subject matter and general suggestions. 


It was quickly unanimous amongst the group that photographing Istanbul locals is a favorite. Capturing a second of someone’s life, even in the most mundane tasks, but with the right elements can create a striking image.  There is a flurry of activity in each of the city’s numerous pazars (markets), offering a range of faces full of emotions and thoughts as well as countless interactions amongst those in the crowd. Another go-to is taking a ride on the ferryboats that crisscross the city. They provide photos with a great atmosphere as well afford a great view and are ridden by an assortment of people. 


It may take time to become confident interacting with them, but people in Istanbul generally enjoy having their photos taken. Permission is usually not necessary; however use discretion when photographing people in personal moments such as prayer. There can be an instance were more traditional or very religious women may prefer to not have their photo taken and will simply make a gesture to let you know they’re not comfortable.  

Also highly recommended and just a short trip up the Golden Horn from Eminonu is Fener and Balat. These two neighborhoods have retained the charm of their unique pasts and have become popular with history buffs and photographers alike. Fener is still home to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and is dotted with centuries old churches, synagogues and schools. Just like its neighbor, Balat, it is also experiencing a recent revival with old homes being restored to their former glory and painted in a myriad of colors. It is still a very traditional, working class area, full of tradesmen, families and colorful laundry drying between the buildings. It is a wonderful area to relax with a coffee or lunch and photograph locals, life and architecture alike. 

Fener Rum Lisesi

Istanbul’s rich architecture is a character itself. While it may not be as cohesive and protected as in other cities, the diversity alone makes up for that. Rich with history, a photographer can climb amongst weathered Roman and Byzantine ruins bringing them alive again. There are endless photograph opportunities in Sultanahmet with its numerous houses of worship and historic sights. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace always impress and each have details such as tiling and domes that are always worth photographing. 

golden horn

The inside is always fascinating, but recently there appears to be a lot more visitors to the roof Grand Bazaar than before, and with good reason. These once secret passages to the top that were reserved for the likes of James Bond, can now be accessed by almost anyone and offer some spectacular views of the city. 

Hagia Sophia - Saint Sophia

For slightly more contemporary architecture, any one of the Prince Islands has endless rows of gorgeous homes built at the turn of the century. Often used as summer homes, these houses are decorated with ornate, wood details and some still maintain their original Greek influences. The islands are free of cars and anyone can rent a bicycle to ride around or explore by taking a horse drawn carriage. The latter may be better if you’re trying to balance a camera, as the roads can get full of fellow bike riding day visitors. 

Yazdan kalma foto :( #Kalpazankaya #Burgaz

Istanbul does lack in nature photography, but if you are lucky and quick with the camera, you can get a shot of a pod of dolphins jumping in the Bosphorus  or one of a ubiquitous napping cat in any of the city’s cafes. 

One thing Istanbul is able to do is looks absolutely stunning early in the morning. It can be challenging sometimes to set an alarm just before dawn and head out while the streets are still empty, but it is absolutely worth it. Pick a spot and catch how the sun gives the whole city a different look and feel as it bathes it in gold. Photograph people as they start their day; the rush to work, the opening of shops, the delivery of food. If you prefer to sleep in, sunset will not let you down, especially around the banks of the Bosphorus. 

Overall in Istanbul, it’s important to relax and go with the flow of the city and it wants nothing more than to inspire you. The size and chaos of what it going on can be overwhelming, but good photos will come from patience and a willingness to explore. 

I would like to quickly thank the talented members of Photo Club of Istanbul for answering my questions. If you’d like to be inspired by some local photographers, please check out:

Linda Caldwell at www.delikizinyeri.smugmug.com

Julia Cooke at http://www.arockandasoftplace.com/blog/

Fay Magnusson at http://www.faymagnusson.com/

Hilaneh Mahmoudi at http:www.instagram.com/hila_neh/

Photography History Neighborhoods
Maureen Jones-Ergün

Accidently wound up in Istanbul 6+yrs ago and stayed. Openly obsessed with street cats, dipping borek into honey and happiest with a cup of coffee. My Daily Istanbul Cat Blog

comments powered by Disqus