If you know what you’re looking for, the colors of Helsinki are as bright as a 64-crayon box. Luckily, photographer Omar El Mrabt has a passion for capturing the vivid cityscapes in the Finnish capital, and he proudly displays them on his Instagram feed. We caught up with him to learn more about his photographic style, inspirations, and advice for photo-centric travelers. Here’s what we learned.
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 and drab. But, as Omar El Mrabt contests, 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 photographers were mainly posting black-and-white or overexposed shots of Helsinki, but none of the city’s 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. (The city experiences nearly 19 hours of daylight on the summer solstice!)
In fact, Helsinki’s brilliant seasons ensure that its mood and tones change often throughout the year. In winter, brightly hued architecture stands out thanks to the contrasting snow, and people can even walk on the frozen sea for a fresh perspective and a sweeping view of the city. In spring, everything turns green, and cherry blossoms decorate many of Helsinki’s streets. In summer, the blue sea and greenery found throughout the city make perfect subjects for photographers. And, in fall (Omar’s favorite season), Helsinki plays host to rich reds and yellows, which are displayed most notably in settings like Töölönlahti Bay and Kaivopuisto Park.
Of course, some neighborhoods are brighter than others. Omar recommends visiting the Vallila and Eira districts, which are home to colorful wooden villas. While photographing Eira, be sure to also explore the nearby Ullanlinna district, and try to find the city’s most vibrant street. Hint: its name literally translates to “Villa Street.”
But you don’t have to venture off the beaten path to find the colors of Helsinki. While taking in major attractions such as Uspenski Cathedral and Helsinki Cathedral, or wandering through the Design District, keep your eyes peeled for soft pastels and vivid shades. Omar has found plenty of them in the districts surrounding the most popular tourist hotspots.
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 other eye-catching neighborhoods that aren’t as frequently explored.
Want to make Omar proud? Just remember to post your brightest photos! For him, that’s what it’s all about — making social media a more colorful place, even if that means brightening just one person’s day.