10 of the best North American cities that every photographer should have on their bucket list
North America has no shortage of incredible photography locations. There are the grand National Parks and the wonderfully diverse range of natural enviornments that pull in the photographers. But there is also a wealth of cities dotted all over the continent that are perfectly suited for photography.
Here are 10 of the best North American cities that every photographer should have on their bucket list.
1 New York City, New York, USA
The “Big Apple” needs no introduction. The sheer volume of different photo opportunities makes New York one of the best cities in the world for photography. It’s impossible to photograph the whole of NYC in one visit, so aim for a handful of locations instead. For cityscapes of Lower Manhattan, head across to Dumbo or Brooklyn heights (or even shoot from one of the bridges). The top of the Rockefeller Center also provides unmatched views of the city and the Empire State building.
Other great locations include Harlem, Chinatown, Little Italy, and Chelsea for street photography. Central Park for both street photography and the skyline and Times Square for the quintessential New York shot. For the best shots of the Statue of Liberty, catch the Staten Island Ferry or even splurge on a helicopter ride.
2 Chicago, Illinois, USA
Like New York, Chicago is as iconic a US city as they come, and there are tons of photo opportunities for every type of photographer. North Ave Beach provides the iconic skyline views, while the Skydeck at Willis Tower offers 360-degree views of the city (and dizzying views of the city beneath you from its glass ledges), only equalled by the views from the John Hancock Centre. Lower down, the multitude of bridges across the Chicago River provides plenty of different compositions of the city skyline.
Try also to allow time for a slow exposure night-time shot of the iconic Chicago Theatre complete with streaking lights from passing cars and a visit to photograph the iconic “Bean” sculpture in the foreground of the city.
3 Los Angeles, California, USA
L.A might not be first on most people’s North American photography bucket list, but don’t let this misconception deter you from shooting this city. Like most US cities the “City of Angels” has a multitude of photo locations that will have you filling your memory cards quickly.
Start at the various beaches that are so synonymous with L.A. Venice Beach, Santa Monica, and El Matador Beach in Malibu all offer potential street and coastline photo opportunities. Then spend time in Beverly Hills to capture the glamorous side of L.A.
Or maybe head to the Arts District in Downtown L.A where the colourful street art provides a wonderful background for your street photos. No wonder that this is one of those “Instagramable hotspots” that photographers flock to. And seeing as you are in Downtown L.A make a stop at the gorgeous Disney Concert Hall – an architectural marvel that offers some fantastic abstract photo compositions.
If you want to capture the city skyline in all its glory, head up to the Griffiths Observatory Park which will make you feel like you are soaring above the city.
4 San Francisco, California, USA
Perched majestically on the West Coast, there’s more to photograph in San Francisco than just the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure, this is the symbol of this city and has been photographed millions of times. But the great thing about the Golden Gate Bridge is that the conditions can still combine to offer completely unique photos, especially from Baker Beach.
Other classic shots include the “Painted Ladies” which are a row of Victorian houses in Alamo Square and provide a juxtaposition of old with new skyscrapers in the background. The curves of Lombard Street are another classic spot for photographers, but this is a difficult place to photograph as it requires height for the perfect composition.
For those stunning cityscape shots, head to Twin Peaks, Coit Tower or arguably the best (and least visited) Treasure Island, which is in San Francisco Bay and offers panoramic views of the city skyline. On a clear day, you can also see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
5 New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
The unique city on this list must be New Orleans. This is a city to simply explore on foot to discover hidden streets, kerbside bars, and restaurants, not to mention the famous jazz musicians. The most renowned place to experience this city is the French Quarter which rests along the Mississippi River. Stroll along Bourbon Street with camera in hand and ready to shoot the architecture and people.
Make sure you stop in Jackson Square to photograph Saint Louise Cathedral (a blue hour shot here will look great). Finally don’t forget to visit a Jazz Club or two and more importantly take your camera with you. Your photography skills will be put to the test in the low light clubs, and you may just end up with some superb photos.
6 Austin, Texas, USA
There is a charm about this Texan city that you won’t find in many places. Like all American cities, the customary skyline shots are easy to come by, especially from Zilker Park and along the Colorado River. The State Capitol is an architectural marvel that deserves some of your photography time. And since you are in Texas, it would be unthinkable not to visit some famous barbecue restaurants, and street food stands to photograph the sumptuous food on offer.
But arguably, the real photographic treasure chest of Austin lies on South Congress Avenue. Start at one end and work your way to the other end photographing the interesting personalities here and the weird and wonderful shops. The highlight is Allens Boots, an Austin institution that can provide some classic shots of cowboy boots.
If you want to get away from the city, visit McKinney Falls State Park to photograph the beautiful waterfalls on show.
7 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The epitome of a coastal North American city, the only thing that will disappoint you about Vancouver is that you don’t have enough time there. First, should be a visit to Stanley Park for those beautiful sunrises and sunset shots of the city skyline. Travel a bit further west, and you’ll reach Lighthouse Park, which feels like you are out in the wilderness.
Within the city itself, the Science World building provides an excellent subject day or night. Another spot which you are sure to share with Instagramers is Alley Oop. An alleyway filled with coloured murals on the walls and floors. Arrive early morning to get the place to yourself, or you’ll need to work out how to incorporate people in your compositions. And be sure not to miss the incredible vertigo-inducing suspension bridges of Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
8 Miami, Florida, USA
As you might expect from a city that is synonymous with beach life, most of the photo opportunities in Miami are around beaches. First up on your shot list should be Ocean Drive and its Art Deco buildings that look great day or night. You may even see some old cars to add interest to your photos.
South Beach, South Pointe Park and Pier are also great places to capture beach life with locals and surfers. Don’t miss the opportunity to work in some of the lifeguard stands in your composition as well. Once you’ve exhausted the classic beach shots, visit Little Havana which provides wonderful street photography opportunities especially Domino Park where you’ll usually see people playing dominos.
If you have time and means of transport, Everglades National Park is a great place to visit for wildlife and landscape photos.
9 Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Sin City may not be an obvious photography destination, but it should be. There are so many fantastic photo opportunities that once you have discovered them, you’ll wonder why you didn’t visit Vegas sooner. Let’s start outside the city with two amazing locations for landscape photography which are the Valley of Fire (just an hour away from Vegas) and Red Rock Canyon.
In Vegas itself, it’s all about the casinos, so don’t be ashamed of ticking off these shots. The casinos are what make this city so special and you should photograph the outside and the inside. From the fountains of the Bellagio to the Trevi Fountains of Caesar’s Palace. From the Canals of the Venetian to the garish looking castle of Excalibur, all are a must for your Las Vegas shot list.
For shots of the strip from above, the best spot is from one of the rooftop hotel pools or the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris Hotel and Casino.
10 Washington DC, USA
The political heart of the United States can provide some of the most spectacular and iconic photographs that a travel photographer might wish for. There is of course The White House, the U.S. Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pools. But don’t stop once you’ve ticked these iconic landmarks off your shot list.
Pay a visit to the Library of Congress which has one of the most beautiful interiors of any building in this city. And best of all, photography is allowed inside (but no tripods). Union Station and the National Portrait Gallery also offer interesting interiors for anyone interested in architectural photography.
For those who want a grand view of the city, the best spot is from the observation deck of the Central Plaza skyscraper. From there you’ll be able to capture the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol Building in one photo.
Other notable cities
The list above is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to North American cities great for photography. There are so many more that you could easily write an entire book on this topic.
But a few other notable ones that you should photograph if you get the opportunity are:
Savannah, Georgia, USA
This gorgeous coastal city is famed for its rich history, beautiful Georgian mansions and striking moss-covered oak trees. Some of the main photo sites to shoot here include Wormsloe Historic Site, Rainbow Row, Tybee Island (especially its picturesque lighthouse) and a plethora of the Georgian mansions in the city.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Founded in 1610 as a Spanish colony, you can imagine exactly the type of photos that will be on offer in the capital of New Mexico. The main photo opportunities in Santa Fe will be based around the old “mission” style buildings that are present everywhere such as on Canyon Road. Outside of the city, the Rio Grande Gorge and bridge also provide good photo opportunities (in the right conditions) as does the geological formations of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and Bandelier National Monument.
Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Beautiful Charleston is just about the epitome of a “fairy tale” city. The pastel-coloured houses are the main draw in this city. If you are patient enough you may even be able to add a horse-drawn carriage into your composition as well. And a visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens should be a must for any photographer visiting Charleston.
St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, St. Johns might just be the most picturesque place on this list. The highlight for many photographers is the brightly coloured houses that are dotted around the city (especially downtown). There are also plenty of lighthouses to photograph including the one at Cape Spear which is situated on the most easterly point in North America. Add in the abundance of birds, one of the largest whale migrations in the world and icebergs that flow through its waters, and you’ll soon discover why this is such an amazing photography destination.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
When wandering around Quebec City you’ll be forgiven for thinking that you are in a Parisian city. Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site complete with cobblestone streets. There’s no doubt that the mighty Château Frontenac is the main highlight of this city. Other great photo spots include the Quebec Parliament Building (compose with the Fontaine de Tourny in front as a point of interest), Rue du Petit-Champlain (night-time shots look great here) and Montmorency Falls which are taller than Niagara Falls.
San Antonio, Texas, USA
This Texas city is draped in history. So much so, that its beautiful five Spanish Missions were added to the World Heritage List in 2015. The most famous of all is The Alamo which is best photographed early morning to avoid the crowds. Although it’s the most famous, it’s arguably the least pretty. That award would surely have to go to Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan Capistrano or Mission Espada. Aside from the “Mission Trail”, you should make time for the Riverwalk especially during the blue hour where the bright colours of the umbrellas on the riverbank pop.
Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Mention the word Texas and the first image that pops into people’s minds is cowboys. And there’s arguably no better place to photograph them than the Fort Worth Stockyard District. Yes, it might be touristy but the whole area is incredibly photogenic day or night. Make sure you don’t miss the daily cattle drive through streets featuring the Texan Longhorn cows.
So there you have it. A list of some of the most photogenic cities in North America that should have you reaching for your camera.
- AuthorKav Dadfar
Kav is a full-time photographer and author of 400+ articles. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Magazine Photography of the Year competition and leads small group photo tours around the world.View all articles