Why finding the best photography locations in Sydney is not an easy job? Because Sydney is a rare example of beautiful city made of 6 million people and there are really many spots that can be highlighted as the best around. I do live in Melbourne but, as photographer, I visit Sydney on a regular basis for my work. I just can’t stop myself waking up early in the day and visit a new corner of the city before starting my day shooting, or why not at sunset time!
Few of these sites were inspired by my friend, and great local photographer, Alfonso Calero. I love his work. If interested, he runs regular photography workshops. You may have a look here and remember to use the promotional code “MEL365” for a $10 discount on any booking.
If you are in the city for just few days I would probably suggest to stay around the harbour bridge, the Botanical Garden, have a bus trip to Bondi Beach and take a ferry to Manly. You are almost sure that you will cover a great deal of sites and you will visit some of the best photography locations in Sydney
There is definitely not a ranking in the below list. The numbers are not related to a visiting order either. It is all based on what you are looking for, as a subject, and the type of photography. #1 is probably one of the most hidden place in my Sydney experience
At the end of the post there is a summary map with all the locations. You can save it or print it and use it as a reference in your Sydney photography walk. Wherever applicable I describe also how to reach the location, best time of the day to make a photo and close-by sites worth a visit.
Always try a different corner for the best result and don’t forget to post the result on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or Instagram account (#mel365). We love to hear from you. Looking forward to it 😀
Just the last note, if you are still planning your trip to Sydney, and maybe Australia, and thinking to buy a camera, you may be interested to the review on the Best Travel Camera, updated monthly through 2016
15 Best Photography Locations in Sydney
#15: Botanical Garden – Art Gallery Road over M1
What I love the most of this location is how the light trails take your eyes straight to the city. It’s a great site, not too far away from Sydney CBD, just next to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Pavilion Restaurant
When: the blue hour after sunset gives the best result. The blue sky creates a definite contrast to the city lights
How: check the quick Three steps to shoot light trails free tutorial. The long exposure is the key setting
Setting: 13sec at f/10, 24mm, ISO 100 (Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4)
#14: Botanical Garden – Farm Cove
This is a beautiful small bay right in the middle of the Botanical Garden. Come over in the early morning and just after sunrise you will have the sun shinning straight on the Sydney CBD. Use the walking path as lead-in lines to your main subject, the city
When: 30 minutes after sunrise be there ready to start shooting. The sun will quickly illuminate the sky scrapers
How: check the free tutorial How to use lead-in lines in landscape photography. The eyes need to be helped to move around our composition.
Setting: 1/30sec at f/10, 25mm, ISO 100 (Canon 40D + Sigma 18-200 f/4)
#13: Architecture and interior photography in Central Park
This is quite a new area of Sydney. I was not extremely happy when I heard that new construction was started but honestly the result is very good. Just wander between the building for some architectural photography. Take your time, either before or after your photography session, for a tour at the White Rabbit gallery. You can visit here some amazing temporary collections from Chinese artists, a real eye opener, surely one of my favourite galleries in Sydney
When: during the day, no need of sunset or sunrise light. Planning together with a visit to the White Rabbit Gallery on the back of these buildings, after the green area
How: play with your composition. Did you find anything strange in this photo? It is upside down, although it does not look like, isn’t it?
Setting: 1/320sec at f/7.1, 65mm, ISO 100 (Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4)
#12: Sydney Opera House
It must be surely the most visited place in Australia and without any doubt one of the most photographed building in the world. There is obviously a good reason, it’s a beautiful piece of engineering/art. Can you find a different corner, a side which was not photographed before? Very unlikely.
I can only suggest to try to use different techniques or a close up that can take the Opera House outside of the Sydney bay contest
When: Sunrise may be a good time as there will not be too many people (but don’t bet on a small number either). Above photo was taken at sunset time, with the sun almost covered by the Opera House.
How: The place was pretty busy so I decided to go for a long exposure of almost 5 minutes. In this way only the stationery people would appear in the photo. This is another creative way to make your picture. There is still some ghosting effect (you can still some shadows). Probably the best would have been to keep the exposure even longer with an ND filter
Setting: 299sec at f/18, 24mm, ISO 100 (Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4)
#11: McMahons Point Wharf
You can come to the McMahons Point Wharf by ferry, take one at Circular Quay, direction Balmain and it’s the second stop. Ideally the best time is sunrise however I was there in the morning and I was happy with the result as well. There are few nice cafe around Bay View Street, perfect for a brunch 😉 The view of the city is quite spectacular
When: Sunrise is the best time. You can also reach this place by train, get off at North Sydney station and have a 15 minutes walk
How: If you are not there during the magic hours I would suggest to use the HDR technique with 3 exposures bracketing (or more if available with the camera). So I did with my photo above. In this way I was able to have an higher range of shadows and colours
Setting: 1/100sec at f/16, 35mm, ISO 100 (Canon 40D + Sigma 18-200 f/4) – HDR with 3 exposures bracketing
#10: Hickson Road Reserve
This is another popular place with tourists. You can easily walk here from Circular Quay. This is the spot where you can probably have your best photos of the Harbour Bridge and the iconic Luna Park in the background
When: There are so many photos at sunrise, sunset and day light that I personally suggest to come another time of the day, which is during the night or after sunset, when it’s already becoming darker.
How: Try a long exposure photo to give a milk effect to the bay area. Also black and white works quite well. Bridge close up is another option
Setting: (above photo) 170sec at f/18, 24mm, ISO 100 (Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4)
#9: South Head Walk – The Gap
This is such a lovely walk that should not be missed either ways, both for photography but also for the pleasure to visit an amazing coastal site.
When: Sunrise is again the best time. You can reach this point by your own transportation, by ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay or by bus (train to Bondi Junction and bus #324 or #325 direction Watsons Bay). You will have the sun rising in front of you and the beautiful orange colours illuminating the coast walk
How: How to make a photo here really depends on the time of the day you arrive, how is the sea, clouds….so many variables
Setting: 1/500sec at f/13, 63mm, ISO 400 (Canon 40D + Sigma 18-200 f/4)
#8: Newtown Cemetery
Yes, this is quite a quirky place to visit. Don’t think it as the usual cemetery. It’s actually a very old one, in the backyard of the St. Stephen’s Anglican Church. It’s an unusual corner of Sydney to visit, beside a unique site to make few photos. If you google this location sure you will not find it as popular as the Opera House LOL.
When: During the day will work fine. You may want to avoid the hours right in the middle of the day when the sun is too harsh and the shadows become too dark. I was there just after an early breakfast. Exploring it by night can be another “horror movie” option. There are no gates and you can access from the street, same entrance as for the church
How: I played here with the depth of field and focal length (see free tutorial Understanding focal length). Black and white works best
Setting: (above photo) 1/500sec at f/13, 63mm, ISO 400 (Canon 40D + Sigma 18-200 f/4)
#7: A walk in Darlinghurst
Do you have a free morning? Maybe before breakfast or brunch? Have a walk around Liverpool Street from Hyde square up to Darlinghurst Road. This is a lovely area to experience the old Sydney architecture. Most of the building are dated back to the 18th century. Lots of glamour.
When: During the day will work fine. However as early as possible to avoid the harsh hours. Before breakfast is ideal as you can have a break in the many cafes around after your photography “work”
How: I played once again with the depth of field and focal length (see free tutorial Understanding focal length).
#6: Ferry from Manly Beach
You have probably already read about Manly beach as the place to spend an afternoon sunbathing and, why not, having a swim. Organise your ferry back to the city around sunset time. The colours of the bay will change magically and you will have one of the best 30 mins ride in your life
When: definitely sunset time. Try to take a place on the front of the ferry to have the best view of the bay, the opera house and the harbour bridge
How: Pump up your shutter speed, at least 1/250sec (I decided to go for a 1/500). You are on a moving object, the ferry, that is navigating on a moving surface, the sea. The only way forward is to use an high ISO as well, 400 or more. Silhouette photography works great as well
Setting: 1/500sec at f/7, 35mm, ISO 400 (Canon 40D + Sigma 18-200 f/4)
#5: Bondi-Coogee walk
This is another famous walk that takes you from Bondi to Coogee along a well signed walking path of 9km. You can do the lot or just a section of it. You can go back to the city from Coogee with a bus ride, easy. What are the highlights of this walk? The many small bays that you will encounter along the path, just amazing. Sometime I felt I was in Europe, other times in Malibu….but I was always in Sydney 😀
There is also a unique site in the world I believe, a huge cemetery that lies on the coast, you will be surprised (no photos here, it has to be a surprise 🙂
When: start the walk as early as possible. This will give you the best chance to have great colours and to avoid the mass of people along the route, especially in the sections close to Bondi and Coogee
#4: Bondi Beach
This is an iconic location you do not want to miss. This is the most famous Australian beach. At the start of the walk to Coogee you will find also the Bondi Icebergs Club. Another world famous place where you can often see celebrities. Beside the people concentrate on the outdoor swimming pool, a good site for some cool photos
When: sunrise is definitely a good time for a great light. Try also on a bad day with lots of black clouds for a dramatic effect
How: take the tripod with you and stitch few photos together for a great panorama image. The one above was actually done with a mobile and I quite like the result
#3: Bare Island
We are getting closer to the end of this post and here it is another hidden place of Sydney. Well, as I said, there are no hidden places in Sydney but sure this location is not that popular despite its beauty. It’s not a short walk to come here, not even actually a short bus ride (50 minutes) however you can easily take a direct bus, number 391, at the main front door of the Central Station (the front, not on the side) that will take you to La Perouse parking space. From there it is a 5 minutes walk.
By the way, this island was also used in Mission Impossible II as the stage for the final battle with the motorbikes. You may be able to google the video
When: The sunrise and early morning is definitely the best time of the day. The issue may be with the transportation system that is not available that early. I did ride here however Sydney is not that friendly cycling city I must say. Be aware.
How: Look for a different corner. There are already many photos from around the bridge. I had a walk along the coast and used an ND10 filter to capture the water movement (see the free tutorial Three easy steps to capture running water)
Setting: 10sec at f/18, 24mm, ISO 100 (Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4)
#2: Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
You will not be alone here at sunset time. Expect other photographers. The view of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the Sydney bay is magnificent. It is not a crowded spot but sure a known place by the Sydney photographers
When: The sunset is the best time. Arrive here around 30 minutes before to see the location, understand where you want to be and organise your setting.
How: You can either walk here through the Botanical Garden or ride your bike, easy. There is a main site where you will probably meet few other photographers setting the own tripod (essential). I walked down straight on the rocks (it was a calm warm night, don’t do that on a stormy day, it can be quite slippery) and I was alone with another photographer (always look behind the usual places). It was definitely the right time and place for a long exposure photo
Setting: 118sec at f/18, 27mm, ISO 100 (Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4)
#1: Sydney Observatory view
I started this article with 6 spots, than I though I should add another couple, and one more, and….at the end here we are with most hidden site of the 15 best photography locations in Sydney.
This is still may favourite place and I have definitely to revisit it on a more stormy day to give a bit of drama. The bench gives that nice dimension to the background. Just what I wanted, an unusual view of the Harbour Bridge
When: The sunrise is the time to go, although it has to be said that the best results you will have it in winter as the sunrise in summer is way too easterly. Before I visit a location I spend a great time investigating the best spot, time etc. If you need more information with free reference websites check the Reference guide to travel photography and when travelling with your mobile you may want to look at the Best travel photography apps 2015 (All free to download)
How: You can walk here from Circular Quay through The Rocks. You will be alone (I was there few time and I never met anybody). Take your time and a hot coffee, you will need it in a winter sunrise
Setting: 1/125sec at f/13, 18mm, ISO 100 (Canon 40D + Sigma 18-200 f/4)
Accommodation I used in the last few years
Yes I changed few hotels in Sydney. There are different reasons for that. I wanted to try a different location, my favourite one was booked out, I was travelling as a single or as a couple, I was looking for few alternatives.
The common thing is that accommodation is expensive in Sydney and quite often booked out, which pushes the prices even higher
Located in Surry Hills, the Shakespeare Hotel is still one of my favourite because of its quirky style. It’s one of the cheapest option too in the central area. It’s above an old style pub but it closes around 11pm, therefore do not expect much noise.
City Crown Motel
Very central hotel, again in Surry Hills, the City Crown Hotel is another economical option in this funky area. It’s quite basic I must say, do not except much. It’s a clean room to spend the night
Best Western Plus Hotel Stellar
The Plus Hotel Stellar is more expensive than the previous two options however it offers a much higher level of service and quality. It is right next to Hyde Park and the Museum Station which makes it great if you want to stay in the city centre. It is also very close to all of the cafes that Surry Hills offers which is a nice plus for a break. This is another of my favourite options when I visit Sydney
I have already been here few times and I will keep returning. The Billabong Gardens are located in Newtown, one of my favourite areas in Sydney, lovely cafes around and some of the best restaurants. It’s also quite close to the Airport and therefore very convenient for a taxi ride. Here is the best tip. The Billabong Gardens are based in two buildings. The first one more for backpackers and the second one more for a quieter environment. Book in the second building, called “St.Kilda”. You can always use the swimming pool of the main premise 😉
If you have read till here you have probably realised how beautiful is this city. So many places to visit. Of the above best photo location in Sydney I am quite attached to the Observatory and Bare Island. These are the sites with great photo potential and “less competition”.
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Map – 15 Best Photography Locations in Sydney
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