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Istanbul is a beautiful city. The grand scenic shots can be absolutely breathtaking. When you step in and focus in on the macro details, you reveal a world of textures. A combination of exceptional light, people and history make Istanbul a must visit for any photographer. These Things to do in Istanbul were given to me by locals and will help you make the most of a short stay.
Note: When photographing people in Istanbul, they are generally happy to oblige. Just don’t be a dick! The rules are the same for any street photography. Always smile and wave to them afterwards. Otherwise, you ruin it for everyone.
Visiting Istanbul (Our Experience)
Istanbul is a city rich in culture. It is the world’s 5th largest city and straddles the border between Europe and Asia. The population is over 15 million people. Two-thirds live in the historical and economic (European) side, with the remaining population on the Asian side. The two are connected by a bridge, but I recommend taking the ferry! You can read more general facts about Istanbul here.
My recent visit to Istanbul was not for photography, we were there to meet the family. If I ever travel somewhere for photography, I tend to use the majority of my time for shooting. With little sleep. Here I was with my partner and limited to the amount of time I could spend dissecting each scene. This is typical for most people though. We are usually travelling with families or friends that may not be into photography as much as we are.
“Enough with the excuses for shitty photos!” I hear you say. Let’s get down to it. Here are 5 Quick tips for people travelling to Istanbul. If you want to get as much (partner friendly) photography in as possible this is for you:
Top things to do in Istanbul
Itinerary: We were lucky enough to be given with an itinerary from locals. This consisted of Istanbul’s biggest sights. I only had it written (in Turkish) on a napkin. So here it is recreated this as best as possible for you to check out.
What to do in Istanbul?
Feel free to add or subtract as many as possible, but this itinerary is great for a one/ two-day power sightseeing trip:
Additional places mentioned by readers:
- Reddit user loki racer suggested a visit to the city walls.
If you have any other suggestions let me know in the comments section below. Help give people an optimum list that we can refine over time. If you follow the list let me know how you get on!
How to travel around Istanbul
To get around I recommend using the trams as often as possible. They run through the majority of the tourist areas and can be used with the Istanbul travel card. They are relatively empty and very clean. Do not top up too much on this card as you will struggle to spend 20TL over a couple of days in Istanbul. Also, multiple people can use the same travel card!
The busses are insane. There are no stops you just wave to the driver, get on then stand up to get off. I had no idea what was happening when we got on them. Like anywhere just say the name of the location and the driver will say yes or no. Listen to his answer and yes means get on, no means get off. Just keep your phone navigation on so you can see when you are close enough to your location to get off the bus.
I like to travel with a local sim as the majority of my phone use is through data now. It is important to note that in Turkey you must register any new sim with your phone. This process is both costly and time-consuming. Therefore, try to get a data package arranged before you leave home so that you can have some roaming data for maps etc.
Best Travel Photography Gear for Istanbul
Try to cut down on your photography gear to attempt to travel as light as possible. Especially when travelling with non-photographers. More lenses mean more weight. In fact photographers never really want to carry lots of gear, we just do it “to get the shot”. Fact is you will get most of the shots with one camera and one lens. So pair it down to the bare minimum.
For this trip I took the following:
- Canon 5d Mark iii (Available Cheap now on Ebay!)
- Canon 24-105 L IS f4 (I think the best canon travel lens)
- Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Wide-Angle Lens (almost as sharp as the 1.4 L – less than half the weight and cost)
- 3 Legged Thing Carbon Fiber Tripod
- Variable ND Filter and Polarising Filter
- OP/TECH USA Utility Strap
- Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash
- Cleaning Supplies and a ton of batteries and storage media.
Probably still too much for most people, but I was primarily out during the day with the 24-105 and at night the 35mm. I would have my filters in my pocket (or girlfriend’s purse). The tripod stayed in my carry on and only came out when I had some dedicated time for photography (a few evenings). We have a list of the best mirrorless cameras for travel here.
How to Hide a Camera in Plain Sight
This tip is a little bit controversial. It is important to remember that when you travel anywhere foreign you should always be on guard. This will help you minimise the risk of pickpocketing and theft happening to you. I took this one step further with some nifty camera camouflage.
Why ruin your camera you ask? Well in no way did I ruin my camera, lens or anything. After the fact, I removed all the tape and it is back to new. I have seen a lot of people doing this with black electrical tape, which would work better. However, my duct tape looked nice and ghetto.
Who wants to steal a camera “held together” with tape?
Common Turkish Phrases
Learn some local words to help you connect with people better. The most common words/phrases that I can recommend you write down are:
“What is your name?”
Bir bira, lütfen
[Beer, beer-aah lootv-ven] “One Beer please.”
With these five words/phrases, I was able to have an awesome time! Just remember to smile and be nice to people. Manners cost you nothing but can help you achieve anything! It’s human nature.
Photos of Istanbul
Here are some of the photos of Istanbul that I was able to get while there. Next time I will take a little longer to ensure some more dedicated photography time. But for now, both my head and memory cards are full of experiences that I will never forget!
Thanks for reading! If you liked this essay please don’t hesitate to share it with your friends by clicking share below. I would really appreciate it!
Ben Kepka – Cultured Kiwi
New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!