Vancouver appeals to a multitude of travelers: mountain enthusiasts, forest fanatics, ocean oglers, and urban dwellers. But it’s also a favorite among photographers. If you’d like to see what all the hype is about, visit this coastal city with your camera in tow. We’ve outlined Vancouver’s most photo-friendly locales.
Seawell Walking Path
While Vancouver is home to a host of attractions, few are more striking than its famed seawall. Measuring in as the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path, the Seawell Walking Path is the perfect destination for runners, bikers, walkers, and photographers. From the six-mile (nine-kilometer) promenade around Stanley Park, you’ll sight ocean views with mountain backdrops, playful seals, and small-but-mighty seaplanes taking off and landing in the harbor.
For this excursion, you’ll want to bring a wide-angle lens. Use long-exposure photography to capture the flow of foot and bike traffic on the path or the gentle movement of the water. Consider visiting during the early morning hours or late in the afternoon for dreamy, soft lighting — which is easy if you walk over from the nearby Marriott — and put down your camera on occasion to enjoy the fresh breeze and the friendly passersby.
If you’ve ever seen New York City’s Flatiron building, you’ll recognize its twin in Vancouver’s Hotel Europe. Its striking facade is best suited for a vertical shot, so bring along a wide-angle or fixed lens to capture the height of the historic homestead. Set up a tripod and capture the bustle of Vancouver’s historic Gastown neighborhood against the facade using long-exposure photography.
As an added challenge, you may even come back at nightfall to photograph the taillights of traffic that appear as colorful threads on long-exposure shots. To do this, be sure you’re utilizing a tripod, set your focus to manual, turn off your gear’s automatic image stabilization, use a two-second timer to take the photo (minimizing shake), choose a low ISO and a middling aperture opening, and experiment with different exposure lengths until you achieve your desired effect.
If you’re staying at one of Marriott International’s properties offering harbor views (The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel, and Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre), train your lens toward the waters of the harbor, where colors from the sunset bounce off of the undulating waves.
If you’re inclined, wrap your camera up and take the Seabus just across the harbor to Lonsdale Quay — you’ll notice immediately that the Quay provides a fantastic vantage point from which to photograph views of the Vancouver skyline, complete with barges in the foreground. The Lonsdale Quay Market is right at the ferry stop and provides a wealth of opportunities to utilize a macro or fixed lens to capture vendors, shoppers, produce, and other knick knacks. And the lookout tower from LQ Market is a must-visit — just don’t forget your camera! The area provides panoramic views of the modern city with sights of the North Vancouver mountains behind and Lion’s Gate bridge just to the west, which connects the two worlds. For distant shots such as these, a zoom lens is a good decision, as is a refresher on the basics of landscape photography.
If you need a respite from the excitement of Vancouver’s unique, colorful, and diverse neighborhoods, escape to the serenity of Stanley Park, which the city calls its “first, largest, and most beloved public park.”
The 980-acre (400-hectare) expanse embodies North America’s West Coast rainforest and hosts a variety of trails and bike routes throughout its vast sprawl. Whether you’d like to photograph the forests, meadows of wildflowers, or First Nations’ totem poles, you’ll want to use a wide-angle lens. Experiment with the widest angle you have and photograph in portrait mode to capture the enormity of the rainforest boughs, as well as the majesty of the totem poles. Consider bringing along a macro or zoom lens to capture shots of Vancouver’s wilderness, as well.
A complex city full of twists and turns, Vancouver has a lot of alleyways. Fortunately, it’s been working to revitalize these passages to be functional, friendly, and fun. Nowhere did this city-wide initiative pan out more beautifully than at the South Granville Rainbow Wall. A Vancouver favorite and an Instagram mecca in the making, the wall features a series of multi-colored diamonds that appear to extend outward in three dimensions. It’s a destination in and of itself, and one that both visitors and locals love to pose in front of. To avoid crowds, try to photograph it in the early morning or later in the afternoon. But no matter when you arrive, be sure to use a wide-angle lens and bring a tripod if you want to snap photos of yourself. Or, if you’re in the mood to try something new, consider using long-exposure photography to capture the flow of traffic in front of the colorful mural.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Despite Vancouver’s laid-back attitude and slower pace of life, one landmark you’ll want to hustle to is the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This uber-popular adventure destination fills up fast — admittedly, it hosts 800,000 visitors per year — so get there before they open to be the first one inside for a shot of the empty bridge.
Opened in 1889 and rebuilt in 1956, the bridge spans 460 feet (140 meters) and swings 230 feet (70 meters) above the eponymous river. Once there, experiment with photographing both vertically and horizontally — you’ll find that it will achieve different effects. But regardless of your camera orientation, be sure to utilize a wide-angle lens for all-encompassing shots.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden
Tucked away in Vancouver’s Chinatown and surrounded by unassuming plain white walls, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden is a can’t-miss. Its entrance is marked by majestic red doors. Inside, you’ll find a gorgeous interplay between architecture and nature — as the tour guides note, it is “more than just a pretty place.” The garden windows are framed in a way that allows rays of light to flow in at playful angles, so take note and capitalize on that whimsy in your photos. Lily pads blanket the opaque jade waters (which are purposefully clouded in this color as a symbol of wealth and purity), while Taihu rocks (limestone boulders that resemble sculptures) invite you to use your imagination and see shapes and creatures within.
Needless to say, there are endless angles for photo opportunities here. Its bamboo forests and natural dirt paths provide locations to set up a tripod or reposition a shot, so stroll to your heart’s content. But no matter what you choose to focus on, take your time and photograph the area from a variety of perspectives, keeping in mind that you can either litter your photos with “easter eggs,” or hone in on a specific detail or plant, depending on your chosen lens. In post-processing, try to emulate the tone and hue of the light and make your photos reflect the magic you experienced within.
If anything will give you a sense of Vancouver’s grandeur, it’s the view from the Marriott Pinnacle Downtown. When you travel to the top (you’ll need a keycard, so ask the front desk), bring along your camera and visit during early or evening hours to avoid the intense glare from the spotless glass windows on nearby buildings. Train your lens out at the vistas and snap away, though you’ll be best served by using a wide-angle lens.
From here, capture scenes in the bay, the crests of the surrounding mountains, and the bustle of the city as it ebbs and flows. Utilize a time-lapse exposure or experiment with animating your images with apps such as Cinemask or Cinemagraph.
Want to dive deeper into the various regions of the city? Check out our neighborhood guide!