With its three Gothic towers, 30 intricate Baroque statues, and 16 beautiful arches spanning the Vltava River, the picturesque Charles Bridge is a hotspot for tourists armed with cameras. Everyone wants a shot of this brilliant cobblestone crossing, so if you’re hoping to create an image that will truly stand out, here are six tips for capturing the historic bridge.
Early Bird Gets The Shot
Though it stretches over 1,640 feet (500 meters) long, by 9 a.m. the entirety of the bridge is packed with vendors and throngs of visitors eagerly jostling for a slice of its medieval brilliance. This can make it difficult to locate a good spot to set up a tripod or capture a clear view — not to mention the bridge often becomes a hotbed for pickpockets. Therefore, if you don’t want to break out your cattle prod — *ahem*, selfie stick — you should aim for a time when the tourist tide has ebbed a little. Your best shot? Dawn. Not only will the crowds be lighter in the early hours, but at that time, the beautiful golden light of the sunrise will paint the bridge in a majestic glow. If you can conquer the early-morning alarm, this is your best chance to get an unforgettable shot.
Feeling Blue Hour
While the pre-dawn hours are perfect for early-morning bliss, nightfall at the Charles Bridge is equally ethereal. The lamp posts along the walkway, coupled with the distant glow of the Old Town, cast a magical illumination across the bridge, making it an exceptionally captivating setting. Not only will the crowds be thinner at this hour, but in the dim light of Blue Hour (just after the sun dips below the horizon), the bridge looks especially spectacular, seemingly transporting you back to medieval times when it was lit solely by flaming torches. If you’re visiting during the winter, you might get lucky and have the opportunity to visit the bridge after a snowfall. Blanketed in a fresh sheet of fallen powder, the Charles Bridge at Blue Hour is simply unbeatable.
Experiment with Exposure
The crowds at Charles Bridge can be annoying, sure, but as long as you’re there and a part of the excitement, why not make the most of it? One option is to make the hustle and bustle part of your subject matter. To do this, try adjusting your camera settings for a long exposure shot and using the crowd to create an intriguing blurred look. First, find a somewhat clear spot where you’ll be able to set up your tripod and then experiment with different shutter speeds (we recommend anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds) to see which produces the best effect. By using the tourists to your advantage, you’ll be able to create a shot that captures the vibrancy and energy of a day on the Charles Bridge.
Take the Over/Under
Everyone wants to be on the bridge, but some of your best shots will actually be taken from afar. By taking a step back and capturing the bridge in its entirety, you’ll be able to produce an image that will remind you exactly why this structure is so spectacular. One way to do this is to use a high vantage point. An easy option is to climb the 138 steps to the top of the Old Town Bridge Tower, a Gothic gateway on the eastern end of the bridge that overlooks the busy walkway. To get an even wider shot, trek to the top of the hills of Letna Park. The hike might wear you down a bit, but once you catch your breath, the sprawling view of the bridge and the city beyond will take it away once again.
Another option is to grab a shot from under the bridge. Not directly under, of course — your camera probably wouldn’t fare too well 20 feet below the Vltava River. All jokes aside, if you can set up your tripod along the western banks of the river, or on the outdoor patio of the beautiful Café Lavka, you’ll be able to capture an image that highlights the stone arches beneath the bridge.
It’s difficult to plan for this phenomenon, but if it’s dawn or dusk and a heavy mist begins rolling through town, drop whatever you’re doing, grab your camera, and head to the bridge. There’s nothing more enchantingly eerie than the Charles Bridge cloaked in a gray fog. Especially when silhouetted against a rising or setting sun, the ornate statues and the towers in the distance take on an extra chilling quality, the kind of image that invokes shivers but commands attention. When photographing this moody scene, make sure to keep a single subject in the foreground to emphasize color and contrast, and plan a vantage point that highlights rays of light from the lamp posts or the sun.
Lights, Camera, Action
While the Charles Bridge is an architectural marvel, part of what makes it such a fantastic photo subject is the people who stand atop it: the tourists, locals, and vendors, who set up shop along the lengthy crossing to take in the beauty of the city. One option, as we’ve mentioned, is to use long exposure to capture the energy of the scene, but you should also try to stand back for a moment and keep an eye out for quiet moments of inspiration — couples gazing out over the river and skyline, families gathered for group shots, vendors playing music or selling trinkets to eager visitors. Of course, you’ll need to ask permission before taking someone’s portrait, but don’t overlook the exciting everyday scenes unfurling around you.