Photogenic Istanbul

You may be a diehard photographer whether you come to Istanbul for pleasure or on business. But time is still money no matter how you look at it.

İzzet Kehribar, Merih Akoğul, Arif Aşçı, İbrahim Zaman and Timurtaş Onan are all professional photographers who have been photographing the city for years. We asked them about the tricks of the trade. The sights you can’t leave without recording, the best itinerary for a week-long stay, the hidden corners that nobody knows, the best times for capturing the major landmarks…

If a Photographer is Skilled and Curious - İzzet Kehribar
Those who come to Istanbul for a couple days have little choice but to stick to the classic itinerary: Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, Yerebatan Cistern… They take one day. That leaves the morning of the second day for the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar and the Eminönü area and the afternoon for Ortaköy. And in the evening the Galata Tower and the sunset.
Being here for a week changes everything. You can tour the above sights to your heart’s content and then explore other areas, like Eyüb and its environs, Balat and the Greek School area, Kariye at Edirnekapı, and Çarşamba (and don’t miss the remarkable mosaics in the chapel next to Fethiye Mosque). I especially recommend the little ferryboats that depart from jetties along the Golden Horn and go to Üsküdar (best on a sunny morning). One morning should be set aside for Kuzguncuk and Beylerbeyi, with lunch at one of the restaurants next to Beylerbeyi ferry landing. Take a Bosphorus cruise, keeping in mind that the European side gets the morning sun and the Asian side the afternoon sun. And then a day on the islands.
In Beyoğlu it’s a good idea to stroll from Tünel up to Taksim, ducking into the side streets along the way, and have a bite either at the Çiçek Pazarı (Flower Market) or on Cezayir Sokak. The best time for taking pictures is at evening when the lights start to come on. There aren’t many places left that nobody knows, but if a photographer is skilled and curious, he can get some fabulous shots in the back streets of Tarlabaşı or of the old houses along the train track at Samatya.

Everyone Seeks His Own Adventure - Arif Aşçı
For a photography buff who’s come to Istanbul for two days, the best shots, apart form the Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet Square, would be sunset from the Galata Bridge and the Historic Peninsula. The fish sandwich vendors on the Eminönü side of the Galata Brdige and the Karaköy fishmongers at Perşembe Pazarı should definitely be photographed too. At a certain hour of the evening, the fishermen deposit their fish waste in crates right next to the bridge as crying gulls by the thousands hang in the air overhead. Cats keep watch with the gulls over the fishmongers’ tarpaulins. You have to be in the neighborhood of the Galata Bridge at evening to capture these images, which are not available anywhere else in the world.
If you have a week, then you can add Beyazıt Square, the Secondhand Book Bazaar and, next to it, the Grand Bazaar, the slope leading down from Mahmutpaşa to Tahtakale, and Fener, Balat, Eyüp and Ayvansaray on the shores of the Golden Horn. Üsküdar Square, mosque, market and ferry landing are well worth a day, including a meal, and Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, Bebek and Rumelihisar as far as İstinye Bay are worth another. A Bosphorus cruise is de rigueur. There is a ferry departing from Eminönü every morning at 10:35. It gets to Anadolu Kavağı in an hour and a half and starts back after lunch. The route from Karaköy to Kuledibi (below the Galata Tower), the Galip Dede Slope down to Tünel and İstiklal Caddesi up to Taksim Square, including a meal at Balık Pazarı (Fish Market), is worth a day as well. And if you have one more day, Fatih Mosque, Süleymaniye and Zeyrek (including the Kariye Museum) make a fabulous strolling tour. There are some upscale restaurants near Kariye, but my own preference is for Turkish white bean stew (don’t forget the pickles and pilaf) in front of Süleymaniye.
For the human aspect, my recommendations are as follows: the area with the mussels vendors and the boat repairmen at Rumeli Kavağı, the fishermen’s cafes at Menekşe Station on the Sirkeci-Halkalı suburban train line, the courtyards-cum-workshops near Büyük Valide Han, and the entire area along the city walls from Yedikule to Ayvansaray.

Capturing The Unexpected - Merih Akoğul
Besides straddling two continents, Istanbul also harbors an indescribable mélange. Wherever you go, it’s possible to get incredible shots at unexpected moments. And being in those places in the different seasons and at different times of day means getting unusual photographs as well.
The first itinerary I’m going to recommend is the route that runs through Yenikapı, Kumkapı, Sultanahmet, Cağaloğlu, Eminönü, the Galata Bridge, Karaköy, Salıpazarı and Beşiktas all the way up to Rumeli Kavağı. The Golden Horn area through Karaköy, Galata, Beyoğlu and İstiklal Caddesi to Taksim is another ideal itinerary for taking photos. And both these routes can be done on foot without using any transportation.

Photographing The Istanbul Skyline - İbrahim Zaman
For the skyline, Moda, Harem, Üsküdar, Anadolu Hisarı, the Golden Horn, Pierre Loti, Ulus Park, the Technical University Social Facilities over Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, Ortaköy, the Khedive Palace, Galata Bridge, Tepebaşı and Eminönü Bridge… Any time from sunrise to 11 a.m. and between 3 and 6 in the afternoon is good for normal shots in these areas; for shots of the skyline, 6 to 8:30 in the evening is preferable. Moda, Harem, Üsküdar, the Khedive’s Palace (views of the European side and the historic peninsula from its courtyard) all give excellent results. Some other places that few people are aware of are the Wednesday market at Yeşilköy, Tuesday market at Kadıköy and Beyazıt flea market.

The Aphrodisiac Route - Timurtaş Onan
Some simply must-photograph places in Istanbul include the Historic Peninsula, the Golden Horn, and Beyoğlu, or Pera, as it used to be known. The Mısır Apartment Building, Tokatlıyan Han, Narmanlı Yurdu, Hazopulo Arcade, St. Antoine Church and the Suriye Pasaj are some important venues chock full of memory. With the historic tram that operates between Taksim and Tünel in the foreground and the urban fabric of Beyoğlu in the background, these are images any tourist would want to take home. At the lower end of Beyoğlu, the area between the Galata Tower, Azapkapı and Tophane with its wonderful architecture (Doğan Apartment Building and the Greek, Georgian and Armenian churches) are worth photographing. And you can go up the Galata Tower in the early morning hours or just before sunset for views of the Istanbul panorama.
The Historic Peninsula and the Golden Horn are a phenomenon in their own right. The boats on the Golden Horn with Galata in the background yield beautiful views at first light. And in the Fener-Balat area with its multicultural diversity of architecture ou can also capture the neighborhood life of the Turkish people who have migrated to the city from Anatolia. Besides the touristic sights on the Historic Peninsula, there are the back streets. Vefa, for example, and the surrounding area. And quarters like Samatya and Kadırga are a gold mine for those seeking stories. With their seagulls, their people catching fish, their people just gazing spellbound at Istanbul, and their historical backdrop and general layout, the Galata and Unkapanı bridges, at dusk especially, are views no photographer would want to miss.

With its waterfront mansions and pavilions, tea gardens and boats, the Bosphorus offers magnificent landscape shots. My favorite thing is to get chummy with the boatmen at Beylerbeyi and Çengelköy and take their pictures, or to park myself at one of the little ferry landings and shoot the human landscape with the sea and the historical texture as backdrop. Morning’s first light and sundown are ideal here for landscape photographers. And shoots made from the hills of Ortaköy or Beykoz give especially good views with the Bosphorus Bridge.  And of course the Maiden’s Tower should not be forgotten when it comes to sunsets.

As for the aphrodisiac route, that means crossing the Unkapanı bridge and, starting from Zeyrek Mosque and environs, strolling through Cibali, Fener and Balat all the way to Eyüp. Human interest stories, landscapes, documentary shots… All are possible any time of day.