This is the third installment of “Instagram-Worthy Places to Shoot in Los Angeles.” My first tackled great long-exposure night photography spots. The second went after the “quintessential Los Angeles” locations for those looking for the defining images of the city. Today, I’m listing out some of the spots that you don’t often think of when you head out to shoot, but house tons of less-touched photo opportunities in this large, sprawling city.
For most Angelenos, or visitors thereof, San Pedro seems to be evocative of almost nothing. Difficult to reach (though beautiful to do so), and a highly-utilitarian but unromantic shipping port history keep this town entirely out of mind for most. This also serves to make San Pedro enormously underrated as a photography spot. Geographically speaking, it jets further out into the ocean than most of LA’s coasts but is also very accessible, which means a breathtaking wider angle of view of the ocean from any given location. And it has high access cliffs and low access beaches, kind of like La Jolla.
But also, San Pedro has a handful of shoot locations that are totally unique. Some of my favorites are at Angel’s Gate Park which has arguably the most picturesque outdoor basketball court on the face of the planet.
The court is oddly, but nicely, situated right next to what is called the “Friendship Bell,” a Korean stone pavilion that is also very picturesque.
It would be worth the beautiful (but long) drive down the coast just for the basketball court, but explore the town and you’ll find nice hilly streets, gorgeous ocean views at Point Fermin and the oddity that is the San Pedro breakwater that protects the beach from the water turbulence of one of the busiest sea ports in the world. These stones were placed by cranes a hundred years ago and together with the lighthouse that sits at the edge of it all, it’s a unique set of materials, shapes and possibilities for any photographer.
And then there’s the port itself, of course — picturesque and odd in its almost erector set-like layout. All told, San Pedro is box of treats for a photographer that opens up like one of those containers, with sustenance galore for the hungry image-taker.
And as if that weren’t enough, San Pedro features the nicest bridge in all of Los Angeles — the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
Like any Chinatown in any big city, it’s a cultural departure and, therefore, can seem like leaving a city more than capturing it. But LA’s Chinatown turns out to be more integrated into the overall culture than most Chinatowns. More like a great collaboration. This is due in large part to the proximity of Union Station, Olivera Street, and even Downtown Los Angeles, all of which are so iconic, and different, that right off the bat the whole thing feels like a mash-up.
But even more, Chinatown in Los Angeles famously plays by its own rules. There was a movie about it, you might recall. What makes this great for photographers is that it creates an unpredictable environment with secret alleyways, hidden upstairs malls, covert art galleries and rogue eateries. And then, of course, there are the lanterns.
You can walk the whole area pretty quickly and discover gems for yourself, but I’m partial to the train stop, which sits above ground and provides for some picturesque views. Also, find your way up to higher ground for some incredible views of downtown LA.
And then there’s the new plaza with a more modern take on the cliché Chinatown lanterns.
You can search and search the big Instagrammers and be hard-pressed to ever find a shot of Beverly Hills. It’s counterintuitive to a street shooter because it isn’t gritty, but to me its golden glow of opulence and finery is a fantastic backdrop to some unique characters, cars and compositions. And if you really care about Los Angeles’ history, Beverly Hills is as iconic and storied as it gets.
Favorite spots to hunt for me are at the Saks Fifth Avenue building, which was built in the 30’s in the Hollywood Regency style that perfectly captures old school luxury. Besides great lines, it glows in light from building reflections in the late afternoon. It’s an immediate throwback to another era with tons of old school characters walking by to complete the scene.
Also, with more money than 90210 knows what to do with, the big fashion brands create large, conceptually-driven walls to their stores that provide great, often twinkly, backdrops for shadow play and street portraits.
The history of Los Angeles is intertwined with the history of gas stations. So, for a special treat, head over to one of the better-designed gas stations you’ll ever see — the Union 76 at 427 N. Crescent Dr. The height of Googie design, this was originally meant to compliment the LAX airport, but ended up tucked away in Beverly Hills instead.
Beverly Hills is pretty flat, which allows the iconic City Hall building to stand tall over it, the way it was meant to. If the last time you saw this structure was in Beverly Hills Cop, it’s worth another look.
I hope you enjoyed the read. Feel free to follow along for daily images at instagram.com/joshsrose