Santorini is one of the most photogenic places in the world. Blue and white dominate the scenery of the Greek island. It is not surprising that it is so popular and is literally overrun by visitors especially in the high season. Each visitor wants to capture a photograph of Santorini – whether with a mobile phone or a camera. Nobody walks through the streets without a camera. I took a closer look at the place Oia (spoken Iia). Here’s my Santorini photography guide and your tips for urban photography. 

Urban photography is a complex subject. We tend to find it easier to photograph in a city new to us than in the one we live in. Naturally, in a city where we have never been before, everything is new and seems to be impressive. It makes it much easier for us to find a subject that looks great on our photos.

When I photograph a city, I start with a closer look at its characteristics. How is the city built? What are the special buildings in the city, the landmarks? Then I think about what makes the city so special. Is there a feature that stretches through the whole city? What makes it so special and how can I capture this special atmosphere? Of course, I also search for vantage points to photograph the place as a whole. The blue hour before nightfall is the best time to do this. Last but not least, I concentrate on the details. Maybe the city has particularly beautiful gates, stairs, fountains or ornaments on the streets.

Let’s have a look at urban photography using the example of Oia in Santorini.

Oia is a coastal village on the North coast of Santorini with an alley leading along above the crater rim. Oia is popular for its breathtaking sunset – people even clap their hands as soon as the sun has set behind the horizon. Yes, clapping … hundreds or rather thousands of tourists watch the spectacle and then fall into cheers and applause. I’ve never experienced that before. 

Santorini view sunset

Let's have a look at the most beautiful sunset of the Cyclades.

The most beautiful sunset of the Cyclades should not be missed. But notice: who does not arrive very early at the most popular place, the Byzantine castle ruins at the end of the island, will have trouble finding space. I was there at 6pm (the sun went down at 7.45pm) and was able to get just one tiny little spot. There are too far too many people on a limited amount of space. Above all the setting up of the tripod turns out to be difficult.

My tip: Be there at least 2 hours before sunset and find a place where you can set up the tripod. Note that many people will be there and might stumble over your tripod. The old wall is good, but the places up there are very popular and you don’t have much space for the tripod. 

Santorini sunset
Santorini sunset

After sunset

The sunset is beautiful to watch – especially the clapping at the end I thought was very funny, but for shooting I rather recommend the time after the sun has set – the blue hour. Many people leave the old ruin and suddenly you have much more space to take pictures. I can recommend the old wall, let someone help you and sit down with a tripod to photograph the houses built into the hillside and the windmill in the magical blue hour.

AFTER SUNSET - THE BLUE HOUR

The landmarks of Oia

There is no doubt that Oia’s classic postcard images should not be ignored. I belong to the group of photographers who also like to take pictures of these subjects, as well as those who are a little off the beaten track and not as well known. 

There is the white chapel at the beginning of the main street of Oia. With the blue sea and sky in the background and the huge white flower pot in the foreground, it shouldn’t be missed in the Santorini album.

Santorini white chapel

The white churches with the blue dome and the pink bell tower also rank among Oia’s classics. The picture looks beautiful if you take the narrow staircase into the picture and not just a section of the towers.

The two windmills with the white houses in the foreground and the sea in the background also represent the typical Oia photo scenes. Even if this view spreads its full charm in the evening, it is also worth a photo during the day.

THE "LANDMARKS" OF OIA

The bell towers of Oia

There are countless bell towers in Oia. Simple or multi-row towers can be found in many corners. Almost all of them are white and have blue accents. They are so characteristic for Santorini and the small town of Oia that you usually don’t have to include where the photo was taken. When you walk through your city, what are such characteristics? 

My tip: Use negative space as a stylistic element. Large, empty areas support the image effect and the main subject is emphasized more strongly. 

Blue and white

You don’t have to hunt for the colour combination on Santorini for long. In a way everything is blue-white. For two hours I focussed only on details in these colours. The bright blue sky in the background intensifies the effect and gives the minimalist photos the right touch.

My tip: Do this once in a while when you’re taking pictures in a city. Concentrate on just one detail, one characteristic, and spend an hour or two photographing just that. This will train your eye and keep you from being distracted by other things.

BLUE AND WHITE

Details

Another exercise to train the eye: See the little things, the little details that you normally pass by. You can do that in any city: Door handles, structures, shapes. If you look consciously for small things, you see them too. The challenge is not to be distracted by the big things. 

DETAILS

Minimalism

Less is more. The principle also applies to photography. I love minimalist photos in black and white. These pictures often seem dreamy and awaken the longing – mostly for more journeys. In Santorini I discovered some staircases that are excellent examples of minimalism. It’s about concentrating on one or very few pictorial elements. The photographer is challenged, because the selection must be radical. Whether you choose a strong contrast between black and white or a soft one is entirely up to you. It’s your photo, you decide what you like. 

MINIMALISM

THE CAMERA SETTINGS FOR URBAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Program mode

If you are not shooting in manual mode, use the aperture priority mode instead. You can find the setting on the main dial of your camera. Select the letter A (or Av on Canon cameras). A stand for aperture. With this mode, you choose the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed automatically to expose the image correctly. 

Details

If you want to photograph details and play with depth of field, choose a large aperture. This is a small f-number. An aperture of 4 or larger delivers a shallow depth of field.

Everything in focus

If you want your entire image to be in focus, such as the view over Oia or the bell towers, select a smaller aperture. With the f/8 you are well served. 

Make sure that the exposure time is not shorter than 1/60 of a second when taking pictures out of your hand. 

ISO

ISO controls the brightness of your image. Always try to keep it as low as possible to avoid image noise. If the sun is shining, choose 100. If you take pictures with a tripod, leave the ISO value at 100. If you take pictures in darker light, you have to increase the ISO. Test the value up to which your camera delivers an acceptable result for you. With some cameras, it is already limited at 1600, with others you still get good quality at 4000. 

White balance

The white balance controls the colour temperature of your image and is expressed in Kelvin (K). Usually, the automatic white balance of your camera is pretty good. If you photograph in JPEG, constantly check whether your pictures have a strange colour cast. Then it’s time to change the white balance. You can choose between daylight, shadow, cloudy, artificial light, fluorescent and manual. The lower the Kelvin number, the cooler the colour. Choose cloudy or artificial light with caution because the images will quickly become either too yellow or too blue.

Autofocus fields

Select the autofocus fields manually and don’t let the camera automatic chose them for you. You never know where the sharpness will be when you let the camera select the focus points. Use the autofocus but select the focus points manually. 

PS: Avoid Santorini in peak season. It is crowded. Like crazy crowded. Thousands of cruise ship passengers stroll the narrow alleys. It’s not fun. 

PPS: Please respect other people’s properties. Do not step on roofs, terraces or chapels. I saw so many people doing this. Hey, do you want tourists to step into your garden and take a selfie? Nope!

Need a hotel recommendation* for Oia?: Santorini is expensive. If you want to stay in a hotel with pool and great location, you need to spend $$$: Filotera Suites

Pool but a 20-minute-walk to Oia for $$: Sophia Boutique Hotel

The $ No pool and walk to Oia option but very clean and a nice host: The Palm Tree Hill Apartment 

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links marked with *. It means I will get a small commission if you book/buy via my link. This is at no extra cost for you.