Photographing New Orleans is easy as it’s one of the most photogenic cities in the United States. I will take you through the 15 things I think are musts when photographing New Orleans from a photographer’s perspective.
I tend to always look at things with a creative eye finding beauty and things worth capturing in so many places. Below, I will take you through my thought process, share photo tips, and some other helpful tidbits along the way. If you are planning your trip to New Orleans you’ll want to make a list as you definitely don’t want to miss these things. Throughout the post, I will leave my notes from a photographic perspective in this format. Keep an eye out for the little camera icon!
Photographing the Colors of New Orleans
1: Colorful Doorways and Architecture
As you stroll through New Orleans you’ll notice that almost every single building is bursting with colors. Most notable are the beautiful doorways on homes and businesses. This is part of the heart and soul of New Orleans and something you’ll want to remember.
As you make your way through photographing New orleans, look at the textures of the paint chipping, the worn iron, and keep an eye out for the unexpected bursts of colors
2: Pink, the unofficial color of the city
One thing you will notice if you know to look is there really is a lot of pink buildings in New Orleans. I’m a big fan of a lovely shade of pink/coral so I am completely here for this. If you are a pink fan, too, keep your eyes peeled and you will see it everywhere. If pink isn’t your thing, challenge yourself to find a few buildings in the color you like best and then focus on the most unique element of each building.
3: Mardi Gras beads draping on everything
Another detail you will notice when photographing New Orleans is that Mardi Gras beads draped on everything. This is more prevalent in the Spring during Mardi Gras season, but often the beads linger in hard-to-reach places and with those who embrace them as a form of permanent decoration around town.
You’ll see beads in all kinds of places. Try to get in some background for context so you remember where the beads were hung. You can always have fun with close-up shots, too.
New Orleans has an eye for detail
4: Ceramic Street Name + floor Tiles
These are some of my favorite things to take pictures of throughout the city! I love how each one has its own character and unique look to it. It’s also fun to get your feet in here so you can remember what type of pants and shoes you used to wear, for posterity, of course!
“Shoe-fies” isn’t everyone’s thing and that’s OK. You don’t have to be in the shot at all. You can also challenge yourself to find unique angles to photograph street tiles to show a little more context into the area. If you do choose to photograph your feet in each shot, try to take photos on different days so you have a variety of shoe and outfit styles in each photo.
5: Wrought and cast Iron Details
From wrought iron finials on top of fences to the balconies and galleries, you will find iron details all over the city. Keep an eye out, some of the detail is spectacular and makes for great photos that are distinctively New Orleans.
Fun Fact: What you think is a balcony may actually be a gallery! A BALCONY is a narrow platform that juts out from a building with no supporting beams. A GALLERY comes out over the sidewalk and often wraps around the building with support beams that reach the ground.
Learn more about the hidden history of the French Quarters balconies with this great article from Atlas Obscura
I love shooting fences like these with a shallow depth of field to get a nice bokeh effect in the background. This is great when you want to put less emphasis on the background and more on the textures and colors of the iron piece. If you are shooting with your phone, try it in Portrait mode, it’s not perfect but sometimes it works. If shooting with a DSLR you’ll achieve this look with a lower F-Stop or by using a fixed focal length lens like a 50mm.
6: Swampy Situations
You know, I’ve been to the city nine times and my last trip was the first time we explored the swampland. Crazy, I. know, but I am so glad we did! Visiting the swamps will often be a drive just outside of the city but are tied into the culture and plans of many visitors so I added them to the list.
Want to know what it was like to be SO close to all this wildlife? Check out my post on Barataria Preserve where I share our experiences and see what it’s like to be so close to an alligator!
The swamp is very busy visually and I found focusing on an object or creature helped make my images feel more dynamic and visually interesting. Sure, get some overall shots but then try to focus. Use the reflections of the water for balance. The curving lines break up the symmetry. Don’t be afraid to crop later on. Sometimes you just have to shoot to capture the swamp animals before they disappear.
7: Huge, live oak trees
We visited these trees in Audubon Park and were blown away by how huge and knotted they were with large, draping trunks and moss hanging. These are not unique to New Orleans but definitely part of the nature experience and make for beautiful photographs.
There is so much beauty within the trees, try photographing them up close for a more macro approach. Look up from beneath, focus on the long, winding branches.
8: Plant life in the city
Sometimes I forget that New Orleans is a sub-tropical climate with palm trees and other tropical-climate loving plant life. Mixed in with these tropical plants are beautiful trees and flowers and the combination makes for a wide variety of beautiful plant life and trees throughout the city. Keep an eye out for unique looking plants and trees with swirling branches reaching in all directions.
The juxtaposition of plant life in the city makes for the perfect subject. Don’t be afraid to show the building or structure next to the plants as it can help balance and make your photo really stand out. Challenge yourself to find a creative perspective on the greenery and plant life – like this view framed perfectly by the arched door and windows below.
Memorable architecture and Interiors
9: Beautiful exteriors, funky interiors
Just about every building you see in New Orleans is going to be striking weather it’s old and peeling or new and trendy. Photograph your favorite spots to remember them always.
Taking great photos in dim light isn’t always easy. If you don’t have a tripod (and I’ll be honest, I rarely ever do) you’ll want to rest your camera and arm on something to hold it steady when taking your photos. Because your camera’s aperture will be open longer, any movement can potentially cause blur. This isn’t always a bad thing! Notice the bartender above is a blur while everything else is in focus? This gives your image movement and helps tell a story. Some editing would be needed to really make your photos pop.
10: Spooky Alleys and Dreamy Courtyards
Perspective can help make an alley shot great. You can be perfectly symmetrical with it, or try to move at an angle to make it more dynamic. Shoot between fences but include the fence. Think of what you want to remember most and use that as your guide. I always want to remember the overall vibe of the place so I try to include elements to add context.
11: Cemeteries like you’ve never seen before
These cemeteries are more than likely going to be extremely unique to you as not many other places in the world bury their dead this way. What about these cemeteries caught your eye? For me, it’s often all of the color and textures from the aging brick and concrete to the offerings left behind.
New Orleans is delicious
For me, experiencing the food scene is a huge part of travel. Many destinations have food that is very tied to their culture and who they are as a city. That’s why food is on this list. Sure, many people take food pictures but here are my tips on taking appetizing, beautiful food photos using your phone or cameras.
When photographing food it’s best to photograph it in bright, natural light. Especially if shooting with your phone. Regardless of how good the light is, sometimes your photo will turn out a bit too warm or cold. This is where you’ll want to do some editing before posting to make your food photo as appealing as it was when looking at the food itself.
12: Red Beans & Jambalaya and so much more
Looking at these photos I just want to be back in New Orleans sitting at my little outdoor cafe table savoring the cajun flavors and spices. There are lots of ways to photograph your food and while some may find this an obnoxious trend, don’t worry about them, they don’t care about memories as much as you do.
Tip: Be polite to those around you, not everyone wants to watch you stand on a chair to get the best shot of your food. My process? Take a few quick shots then put my phone away. This is really important if you are eating with someone and want to include their dish in your photo, don’t make them wait. Take a quick shot or two then let them eat their meal.
One thing I try to do when photographing food is to put emphasis on a detail I thought was special. For example, how cool is it to get served cookie dough on a blender attachment with your plate of cookies and milk? I also try to make sure the name of the restaurant is visible. Is it on the coffee mug, the napkin ring? If you don’t feel like standing up and taking photos is an option, try to shoot at the level of your food and capture some background of the restaurant.
13: Beignets for days
I love beignets! Fluffy clouds of dough served over a pile of powdered sugar, what’s not to love? These make the list because it’s such a distinctive New Orleans experience that you should document eating them, at least once.
Document the mess! Eating beignets is messy and that’s ok. Sometimes it makes for funny results – an extremely messy table, clothing covered in powdered sugar, the aftermath of the sugar piles. What about eating a beignet was memorable? Focus on that.
14: Silly Novelty Drinks
Ahhh, sugary sweet novelty drinks. I don’t spend a lot of time on Bourbon Street these days but it’s a must for everyone to experience at least once. While you’re there you will notice people walking around with silly drinks. Fishbowls, aliens, Jesters, hand grenades, Fleur de Lis shaped containers and so many more. These drinks are fun and some of them pack a punch so be careful as you may not realize how much you’re drinking through the sugary goodness. Okay, these aren’t always that good but they can be fun to drink when hanging out with your friends or walking around and people watching.
My first trip to New Orleans, I tried to take home my novelty glasses. Now I opt to just take fun photos of them. Way easier to cram into your suitcase at the end of a trip!
Tip: Not into alcohol? No worries. Some of these places offer alcohol-free versions. Just ask or look into it ahead of time so you know where to go.
15: Classy cocktails
New Orleans is known for so many drinks from the classic Hurricane to the Sazerac and so many more. Cocktails always make great photographs as they often get a very stylish treatment to them before they are handed to you. Who doesn’t want to remember that pretty drink?
Are you in a dimly lit bar? Cameras and phones these days have better low-light capabilities but if you’re struggling, try these things: Move a nearby candle closer to your drink, use a friends phone flashlight feature to light (read the room here, don’t disturb other patrons!), or sometimes just moving as you may be blocking a light source. As always, if in dim light hold your camera or phone absolutely still to avoid blurry photos.
Bonus: Photograph it even if you’re not sure it’s photo-worthy
Unless you are shooting with film, you should have an almost limitless amount of photographs you can take so don’t be afraid to take a few weird and random photos, especially if it helps you remember something about your trip. After all, photographs and memories are what you’ll bring back. I could keep making categories of things for you to photograph but I’ve covered some of the unique things New Orleans has to offer and hopefully it’s got your creative brain thinking of ideas and feeling inspired. Keep your eyes peeled as you never know what interesting things may pop up.