Ah, the city of Brotherly Love. While some snowballs thrown at Santa may have negatively stereotyped the city to some, I am here to tell you Philadelphia is an amazingly beautiful place! Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the country with centuries of history. Some even call her “Philadelphia First” because of how many things were conceived here- the First Bank, the First Library, the First Capitol, the First Hospital, the First Abolition Law- I can keep going, but you get the point. Old City and Independence Mall are home to where the Founding Fathers created our nation. The Philadelphia Art Museum features some of the best art in the entire world and is the location of the famous “Rocky steps” and Rocky statue. Cheesesteaks are a Philadelphia must; but great coffee shops, Italian, Mexican, and more make a Philadelphia a destination spot for the foodies out there.
Yet what makes Philadelphia really stand out to me is how photogenic she is. It’s an incredible place that lends itself perfectly for all types of photography- skylines, cityscape, street, portraits, and reflections to name a few. Below is a list of my favorite spots to create some amazing art of the city.
The “Ben” – Ben Franklin Bridge
If there is one person with a heavy influence in Philadelphia, that person is Benjamin Franklin. He is EVERYWHERE. There are statues, busts, streets, buildings, restaurants, fountains, parks, and more named after the Philadelphia icon. Yet there is an honor bestowed upon the Founder that shines brighter than the rest- the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
The Benjamin Franklin bridge connects New Jersey to Philadelphia, over the Delaware River, and is in the running for one of the most magnificent bridges in the entire country. There are walkways on either side that allows one to collect a multitude of shots. You can face the Philadelphia skyline for a gorgeous sunset or night shot. You can face the traffic for fantastic light trails photos. Or you can look south and capture all the activity on the Delaware River, from passing cargo ships to riverfront staples like the Battleship New Jersey.
What makes this photo spot great is that while the view from the bridge is great, the view OF the bridge might be even better. Head to Race Street Pier morning, day, or night for close-ups of the bridge. Or head straight under the bridge on N Columbus Boulevard for some reflection shots. You can also grab Ben Franklin Bridge photos from anywhere along Penns Landing- it all depends on what kind of shot you want!
For more information on bridge access, visit the Delaware River Port Authority.
Philly Skyline Shots
Spring Garden Street Bridge:
Skyline photography is my favorite genre, and Philadelphia is home to several beautiful vantage points of the skyline. One of the best is from the Spring Garden Street Bridge, near the Philadelphia Art Museum. Walk a few minutes from the Art Museum steps and you’ll be ready to photograph the skyline in all her glory.
What’s cool about this view is that there are several ways to get a nice skyline shot. You can get a reflection of the buildings in the Schuylkill river. You can focus in on just the buildings in Center City, or widen your lens and include some of the buildings on the other side of the river, such as the FMC building. Moreover, walk towards the end of the bridge, away from the Art Museum, and you can get some AMAZING light trails with full view of the skyline in the background. This is another place that is worth visiting for sunrise/sunset, day, and night shots.
South Street Bridge:
If you’ve ever seen a skyline shot of Philadelphia on a postcard or calendar, odds are it was taken from the South Street Bridge. It is the premiere location for the best skyline shot of the city. Connecting the main hub of the city to University City (UPenn and Drexel), you can walk here from either Center City or West Philly.
While finding a unique shot may be tough at this point, this is where you go for the classic Philly skyline photo. You can highlight all the Center City buildings in full frame with a crystal clear reflection off the river. If you want a full-length photo, you can still fit in the FMC building on the western side of the river. The FMC building is an intimidating structure in and of itself, so it makes for a great photo as the main subject of a frame. What I really love here are the Easter eggs in the photos. If you go during the evening, you’ll notice light trails on the Schuylkill Expressway. During sunset, certain window panels on the Liberty buildings reflect gold from the sun, while the rest of building is painted in a hypnotizing teal-green-blue color. And since several buildings in the skyline light up in different, changing colors, each shot can capture the city in a different color- literally!
If you visit at night, the colors of the building reflect beautifully, so make sure you bring a tripod for a long exposure. And on the right night, sunset will paint the sky pink and purple, making for an incredible skyline photo.
Cira Green is a new apartment building located right off the Schuylkill River, on the West Philly side. The 13th floor is an open, public space that is open year-round and from morning to night. When facing east, you have a front-row seat to the Center City skyline buildings. Use a wider lens to fit all the buildings in frame, or use a zoom lens to pick out the details in a specific building. Walk over to the west side for a view of West Philly, which includes infamous Franklin Field.
One really cool thing about this spot is what you can see from here. It may not show up in a photo, but you can easily spot the Walt Whitman bridge in the distance, as well as the sports complex in South Philly.
For information visit Cira Green Online.
Only in Philly: Boat House Row
One of my favorite spots in the city, if not my favorite spot, is Boat House Row. It is so unique to the city and makes for a wonderful photo. Boat House Row is a row of houses along the Schuylkill River, which are notorious for being lit up in lights at night. During the day though, use a zoom lens to photograph the houses from the Spring Garden Street Bridge. Using a tripod and filter can make for some amazing day-time long exposure shots where the river is silky smooth and the colors of the house shine gorgeously on the smoothed out river.
Night time, however, is where the real magic happens. From the Art Museum, walk about 10 minutes along MLK Drive until you’re right across the river from Boat House Row. If you cut off the sidewalk and onto the grass, you’ll see the houses lit up in color. Which again, makes for a fantastic reflection. And the colored lights on the houses change often so you can come back time and time again to get different shots.
This place is so stunning, it’s my goal to capture a whole gallery of the houses during sunrise, daytime, sunset, nighttime, and all the different seasons from Spring through Winter.
For more information visit: http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/boathouse-row/
Street Photography: Italian Market
Maybe this is the Italian bias in me speaking, but the Italian Market is a must-visit spot when in Philly, especially for street photographer. The Italian Market runs several blocks in South Philly and looks like it was lifted straight out of yesteryear. There are produce stands lining the streets, with lots of old-school butcher shops, pasta stores, and pastry bakeries. People from all over the city come here for fresh food, baked goods, and amazing photos.
Some of my favorite shots are of the neon signs hanging in the butcher and pasta shops. But with the street markets and people shopping up and down the area, the Italian Market might just be the best spot in the city for street photography. Snipe a photo of a butcher preparing meat, someone weighing their food on a scale, or two people haggling over prices.
If you work up an appetite taking photos, there are food options galore. Try Anthony’s Coffeehouse, a wonderful coffee shop with great food that’s been a family business for decades. If you want some baked goods, head to Isgro’s or Termini’s for the best cannoli’s in the city. And for those that want to see what a Philadelphia cheesesteak is all about, the infamous Pat’s, and Geno’s are just a couple minutes south of the Italian Market (which are two places that make for great night photos as well).
For more information visit Italian Market Online.
For The “Tourists”: Graffiti Pier
Who here doesn’t love graffiti pictures? A lot of cities have a unique graffiti spot and Philly is no different. Graffiti Pier, a hidden gem in the in the Fishtown/Port Richmond neighborhoods northeast of the city, is the place to go for Philadelphia graffiti. You will need a ride here, but it’s definitely worth the drive.
When you get to the parking lot, follow the dirt path that leads you into the woods. Eventually, you’ll get to an abandoned rail track that has a mini-forest growing around it. This old rail track is littered in wonderful graffiti. You can explore the area all the way down to riverfront, or climb a tree to the top of the tracks for a unique perspective of the pier.
In addition to photographing beautiful art, Graffiti Pier has a stunning view of the city and Benjamin Franklin Bridge. With that being the case, the Pier gets packed with people for the sunset over the city. Which is a must-do if you’re going to visit this spot.
Capture History At Independence Hall
Founded in 1682, Philadelphia certainly has its fair share of history- most notably that pertaining to the American Revolution and the founding of America. Centered in historical Old City (where you can walk down original cobblestone streets), Independence Mall is home to historical buildings and artifacts such as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, Ben Franklin’s house, the First Bank of the United States, and much more.
The colonial architecture makes for grand pictures and the history you’re photographing is a cherry on top. Take a tour inside these buildings or capture them in their glory outside in the elements.
For more information visit Philly Visitor Center
View From Above Philly: One Liberty Observation Deck
At 51 floors, One Liberty Observation Deck is the tallest public space available for photographers in the city. The observation deck has a 360 degree view of the city as you walk around the perimeter of the floor. Bring a zoom lens to hone in on specific buildings throughout the city, such as City Hall and the William Penn statue atop it. If you come here for sunset, face west to capture the setting sun over West Philly.
Tickets are $14.50 except on Tuesday, when they are discounted. Photographers are only allowed a tripod on Tuesday’s as well.
For more information visit Philly From The Top
Bonus Spot In Philly: Delaware River Pier & Yacht Clubs
This could pass for Benjamin Franklin Bridge photos, but I wanted to specifically highlight the piers below the bridge on North Columbus Boulevard, where the yacht clubs are. You can come here during the day, sunrise/sunset, or night and get some great reflection shots of the bridge and yachts in the river. Shots from the piers north of the bridge are few and far between despite how awesome the view is. If you want to capture reflections of the Ben, this is a unique and wonderful place to do so.