If you know what you’re looking for, the colors of Helsinki are as bright as a 64-crayon box. In fact, photographer Omar El Mrabt has a passion for capturing the Finnish capital’s vivid cityscapes, and he proudly displays them on his Instagram feed. We recently caught up with Omar to learn about his photographic style, ask about his inspirations, and pick his brain for must-know Helsinki photo tips. Here’s what he shared with us.

If you limit your exploration of Helsinki to the area around the Central Railway Station, you might leave under the (false) impression that the city is gray, drab, and bleak. But, as Omar El Mrabt will remind you, nothing could be further from the truth.

Omar — a half-Finnish, half-Moroccan photographer who grew up elsewhere in Finland and moved to Helsinki seven years ago — joined Instagram on a bet that he could gain more followers than a friend. He quickly realized that most local photographers were posting black-and-white or overexposed shots of the city, without ever showcasing its vibrant buildings, blue skies, or golden sunsets. Omar’s Moroccan heritage inspired him to emphasize the city’s color and light, and the rest is history.

After all, he had plenty of natural advantages on his side. Since Helsinki is located so far north, Golden Hour often lasts longer than an actual hour, and midsummer days are extremely lengthy. Believe it or not, the city experiences a whopping 19 hours of daylight on the summer solstice!

What’s more, Helsinki’s brilliant seasons ensure that its mood and tones change often throughout the year. In winter, brightly colored buildings stand out against the gleaming snow, and people can even venture onto the frozen-solid sea for sweeping city views. In spring, everything turns green, and cherry blossoms decorate many of Helsinki’s streets. In summer, the city’s blue waters and abundant green spaces make perfect subjects for photographers. And, in fall (Omar’s personal favorite season), Helsinki plays host to rich reds and yellows, all on on gorgeous display in settings like Töölönlahti Bay and Kaivopuisto Park.

Of course, some neighborhoods are brighter than others. For his part, Omar recommends that photographers and rainbow-chasers visit the Vallila and Eira districts, both home to plenty of multicolored wooden villas. He also loves the nearby Ullanlinna district, where Huvilakatu (the city’s most vibrant street) brings an extra dose of color to Helsinki. 

Even if you’re near the city’s major tourist attractions, such as Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki Cathedral, and the Design District, Omar says you should keep your eyes peeled for soft pastels and vivid shades. He’s found plenty of them in those districts, too.

For a quick survey of the city, Omar suggests checking out the panoramic view from the 12th-floor bar of the Hotel Torni, or taking Tram 3 to find eye-catching, off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.

Want to make Omar proud? Just remember to post your best photos! For him, that’s what it’s all about — brightening people’s days and making social media a more colorful place.

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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.