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Things to Do in Downtown LA: A Photographer’s Guide

Updated: Jul 19, 2023


Things to Do in Downtown LA

If you are looking for fun places to take photos and things to do in Downtown LA, then this is the article for you! In this article, I will be discussing one of the most vibrant and diverse locations in the US - Downtown Los Angeles. Bursting with a rich history, eclectic architecture, and a bustling cultural scene, Downtown Los Angeles presents an array of brilliant photo opportunities waiting to be discovered.


I am RayCee the Artist, a professional portrait photographer and event photographer in Los Angeles. If you would like to schedule a photoshoot with me, please contact me at raycee@rayceeartist.com! Also, to learn about some great outdoor photoshoot locations in Los Angeles, be sure to read my article "Outdoor Photoshoot Locations in Los Angeles."


Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram and YouTube!


History and Background of Downtown LA


Things to Do in Downtown LA

The Early Beginnings


Downtown Los Angeles, or DTLA, as it's fondly called, had its humble beginnings as a small Mexican town in the late 18th century. In 1781, the Spanish governor Felipe de Neve founded El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, or The Town of the Queen of the Angels, on the banks of the Los Angeles River. With the end of Mexican rule in 1847, Los Angeles transitioned into a quintessential American frontier town.


The Boom Era


The late 19th and early 20th centuries marked a significant turning point for Downtown Los Angeles. The arrival of the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads ignited the city's growth. This era saw the construction of many iconic buildings like the Bradbury Building, a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of science fiction and Victorian opulence, and the Angels Flight Railway, an endearing landmark that holds a special place in the city's heart even today.


Post-War Changes and Decline


Post-World War II, many residents began moving to the suburbs, leading to a decline in DTLA's prominence. Large portions of the area were left underutilized or abandoned. The Bunker Hill area, once a posh residential neighborhood, became synonymous with urban decay.


The Renaissance


The late 20th century brought renewed interest in revitalizing DTLA. Key to this resurgence was the establishment of the Staples Center and the renovation of the historic Central Library. The old commercial and residential structures started getting refurbished, and new cultural and entertainment centers started cropping up, making DTLA a focal point for arts, food, sports, and nightlife.


Downtown LA Today


Today, Downtown Los Angeles is a rich blend of old and new, a vibrant melting pot of cultures, and a bustling hub of economic and creative energy. The district proudly wears its history on its sleeve, showcasing everything from Beaux-Arts to Art Deco to Contemporary architecture. Yet, it continuously evolves, embracing the future while respecting its past.


Iconic Historical Landmarks in the Area


Certain landmarks in DTLA are more than just buildings; they narrate tales of the city's journey through time. Structures like the Los Angeles City Hall, Los Angeles Central Library/Los Angeles Public Library, Grand Central Market, and Union Station, among others, serve as touchstones of the city's vibrant history and ongoing transformation.


In essence, DTLA is a living museum, a canvas where past, present, and future coalesce to form a unique and colorful tapestry that is truly Los Angeles. This vibrant mix of history and innovation provides a multitude of photographic opportunities for photographers looking to capture the city's spirit.


Photogenic Spots in Downtown LA


The Broad Museum


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Start your visual journey with The Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum that is a visual spectacle both inside and out. The building's façade, a unique honeycomb-like structure known as "the veil," makes a compelling subject for architectural photography. Inside, you'll find a wealth of modern art exhibits that can add a vibrant splash of creativity to your shots.


Walt Disney Concert Hall


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Nearby stands another architectural masterpiece - the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Located on Grand Ave. and designed by Frank Gehry, this shimmering wonder of curvy metallic surfaces captures the light in different ways throughout the day, making each photo unique. Don't miss the hidden rooftop garden for a serene shot of the LA skyline.


Union Station


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Step back in time at Union Station (Los Angeles train station), the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. The station's grand halls, with their blend of Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne styles, offer excellent opportunities for interior shots. The vintage ticket booths, tiled floors, and leather seating make for interesting subjects, while the expansive courtyards provide beautiful exterior shots.


The Last Bookstore


Things to Do in Downtown LA

At The Last Bookstore, an independent bookstore housed in a multi-story building (an old bank building), you're limited only by your creativity. Get lost in its labyrinth of books, shoot through book tunnels, or capture the whimsical sculptures made from old books. The Last Bookstore is a dream for lovers of books and photography alike.


Grand Central Market


Things to Do in Downtown LA

A visit to DTLA wouldn't be complete without experiencing the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Market. This food lover's paradise offers colorful food stalls, neon signs, and a diverse crowd. Grand Central Market a perfect setting for vibrant, energetic shots that capture the essence of LA's food culture.


Bradbury Building


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Just a stone's throw from the market is the Bradbury Building, famed for its striking ironwork and extensive use of natural light. The sun rays filtering in through the roof of the Bradbury Building illuminate the ornate details of the building, giving your shots a dreamy, timeless feel.


LA Live


Things to Do in Downtown LA

A premier entertainment complex in the heart of Downtown LA, LA Live is home to the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater, several restaurants, and nightclubs. It's a bustling hub of activity and energy, particularly during game nights and concerts.


Alameda Street


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Alameda Street is a vital artery running through Downtown LA, packed with historic charm and cutting-edge architecture. It's flanked by industrial warehouses, the Union Station, old churches, and colorful murals, presenting a unique blend of the old and new.


Olvera Street


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Finally, I will discuss Olvera Street, known as the birthplace of Los Angeles. This lively Mexican market with its traditional music, vibrant colors, and historic buildings provides ample opportunities to capture the rich cultural heritage of LA.


Insider's Guide to Capturing Stunning Street Photography


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Understanding the Uniqueness of Downtown LA's Streets


Downtown Los Angeles streets are a unique blend of the past and present. From historic landmarks and vibrant markets to modern skyscrapers and urban parks, there's a wealth of diverse photographic subjects waiting to be discovered. A keen observation of everyday scenes - from a bustling sidewalk cafe to a musician performing on a street corner - can lead to compelling and authentic images that tell the story of the city.


Tips and Techniques for Street Photography


Master the Art of Candid Shots: The best street photographs often capture spontaneous moments. Learn to anticipate actions and reactions, be patient, and wait for the right moment to press the shutter.


Use the Light to Your Advantage: Downtown Los Angeles is a sun-drenched city, and the light can be harsh at times. But don't let that deter you. Morning and late afternoon light can create dramatic shadows and contrasts, while neon signs and streetlights make for interesting night-time shots.


Get Comfortable With Your Camera Settings: Quick adjustments can make the difference between getting a shot and missing it. Learn to adjust your settings without taking your eye off the viewfinder.


Experiment With Composition: Try different angles and perspectives. Shoot from the hip for a unique viewpoint, or frame your subjects using architectural elements like windows, doors, or archways.


Tell a Story: Seek out connections between elements in your frame. Look for contrasts or similarities, sequences of events, or emotions that tell a story about the city's life.


Best Times of Day to Shoot for Optimal Lighting


Early morning and late afternoon, often referred to as "golden hours," are typically the best times for street photography. The light is softer and more diffused, leading to less harsh shadows and more flattering, warm-toned lighting. If shooting in the middle of the day, look for shaded areas or use the strong shadows to your advantage for a more dramatic effect.


Street photography in Downtown Los Angeles is all about capturing the rhythm and spirit of city life. Armed with your camera and these tips, you're well on your way to creating evocative images that reflect the pulse of this vibrant district.


Capturing Downtown LA's Architectural Diversity


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Exploring the Mix of Architectural Styles


Downtown Los Angeles is a melting pot of architectural styles that span several centuries, from the Spanish colonial style of the Pico House to the postmodern grandeur of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It's a city that effortlessly blends the old and the new, offering a rich tapestry of structures and designs that can add depth and variety to your architectural photography portfolio.


Tips for Photographing Architecture


Look For Interesting Angles and Perspectives: Rather than shooting a building straight on, experiment with different viewpoints. Get up close to highlight details, or capture it from a distance to show it in its environment. Use a wide-angle lens to get a full view or a telephoto lens to focus on specific features.


Play With Light and Shadows: Light and shadows can dramatically alter the mood of your shot. Morning and evening light can cast long shadows, adding depth and dimension to your images. At night, buildings can take on a new life as they're illuminated in interesting ways.


Incorporate Elements for Scale: Including elements like people, cars, or trees can give viewers a sense of the building's size.


Consider the Sky: The sky can be a powerful component in architectural photography. A clear blue sky can make a building pop, while stormy clouds can add drama.


Highlighting Notable Buildings


While Downtown Los Angeles is chock-full of photogenic buildings, some stand out more than others. The Art Deco details of the Eastern Columbia Building, the Beaux-Arts design of the Bradbury Building, and the futuristic form of the Walt Disney Concert Hall are just a few examples. Each of these buildings tells a unique story of LA's architectural history and evolution.


By capturing the architectural diversity of Downtown LA, you're not just photographing buildings. You're capturing the city's history, its culture, and its constant evolution - one structure at a time.


Showcasing the Vibrancy of Local Culture


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Overview of Cultural Festivals and Events


Downtown LA is a cultural hub, hosting various festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate its diverse communities. From the Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown and Nisei Week in Little Tokyo to the colorful Day of the Dead festivities on Olvera Street, there's always something happening. These events are vibrant, lively, and full of photo opportunities.


Tips for Capturing These Moments Authentically


Do Your Research: Learn about the event and its significance to understand what elements are important to capture.


Be Respectful: Always respect the participants and the cultural significance of the event. Be aware of any photography restrictions.


Capture the Details: Alongside the broader shots, focus on details that highlight the uniqueness of the event - the costumes, the decorations, the food, the performances.


Look for Emotions: Festivals and events are full of energy and emotion. Try to capture the joy, excitement, or reverence in people's expressions.


Unique Elements to Look Out For


There are so many things to do in Downtown LA! In Downtown Los Angeles, you'll find unique cultural elements that reflect the city's multicultural fabric. Be on the lookout for:


Food: From food trucks to farmers markets, the local food scene is an integral part of LA's culture. Capture the colors, textures, and processes involved in food preparation.


Fashion: Downtown LA is a fashion hotspot. Look for unique styles, trends, and the contrast between traditional and contemporary attire.


Street Performances: Musicians, artists, and performers bring the streets of Downtown LA to life. These performances can make for dynamic and captivating shots.


By showcasing the vibrancy of local culture, your photographs can offer a deeper understanding of Downtown LA and its diverse communities. It's about capturing not just a place, but its people and their stories.


Night Photography in Downtown LA


Things to Do in Downtown LA

The Nightlife Scene in the Area


As the sun sets, Downtown LA transforms into a dynamic nightlife hub. The streets come alive with glowing neon signs, bustling restaurants, vibrant clubs, and lively street performances. Iconic landmarks like the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the City Hall are beautifully lit, offering a different perspective for your photography. The city's skyscrapers against the night sky form a stunning skyline that's perfect for urban landscape shots.


Capturing the City Lights and the Starry Skies


Mastering Long Exposure: One of the key techniques in night photography is long exposure. This allows you to capture motion blur of moving objects like cars or to create light trails. Use a tripod to keep your camera steady and avoid camera shake.


Photographing the City Skyline: The view of the lit-up skyline from spots like the Griffith Observatory or the OUE Skyspace LA can be spectacular. Experiment with different compositions and exposures to capture the city's luminosity.


Astrophotography: While light pollution in the city might limit the visibility of stars, certain spots in Downtown LA can still provide a decent view of the night sky. Combining elements of the urban landscape with stars can result in unique shots.


Safety Precautions While Shooting at Night


While Downtown LA is generally safe, it's always important to be aware of your surroundings, especially at night.


Stay In Well-Lit, Populated Areas: Stick to areas where there are other people around.


Keep Your Gear Close: Be mindful of your equipment. Using a strap for your camera and keeping your gear close to you can deter potential thieves.


Bring a Friend: If possible, bring a friend along. Not only can it be more fun, but there's also safety in numbers.


Night photography in Downtown LA offers a fresh perspective on familiar places. By understanding the basics and taking necessary precautions, you can capture the city's nightlife in all its glowing glory.


Exploring Downtown LA's Art Scene


Things to Do in Downtown LA

Mural and Street Art Photography


Downtown LA is often referred to as a giant outdoor art gallery. It's home to numerous murals and street art pieces that reflect the city's diverse culture, history, and contemporary social issues. The Arts District, in particular, is a treasure trove of street art.


Tips for Photographing Street Art: Treat the art as part of a larger scene. Look for interesting juxtapositions between the art and its surroundings. Try to include people in your shot to provide a sense of scale and to add an extra dynamic element to your photo.


Visiting Art Galleries and Events


Beyond the public art displays, Downtown LA boasts a variety of art galleries featuring local and international artists. The monthly Downtown Art Walk is a great opportunity to discover new artists and work, and it's an event teeming with photographic opportunities.


Photographing in Art Galleries: Remember to be respectful. Many galleries have restrictions on photography to protect the artworks. Always ask for permission before taking photos.


Techniques for Capturing the Essence of Art in Photos


Capturing the essence of art in your photographs can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. Here are a few tips:


Focus on Details: Instead of trying to capture the whole piece, focus on interesting details. This can reveal a different perspective of the artwork.


Play with Lighting: How light interacts with art can drastically change how it appears. Look for interesting light and shadow play on sculptures, or how the changing natural light affects an outdoor art piece.


Tell a Story: Use your photos to tell a story about the artwork. This could be through capturing people's reactions to the art, or how the art interacts with its environment.


By exploring and documenting Downtown LA's vibrant art scene, you're not only preserving the ephemeral nature of street art and capturing the city's artistic pulse, but you're also creating art with your photographs. It's a creative cycle that adds to the richness of LA's cultural tapestry.


Responsible Photography Etiquette in Downtown LA


Things to Do in Downtown LA

As photographers, we have a responsibility to respect the people, places, and cultures we capture. This is especially important in a diverse and bustling area like Downtown LA.


Respecting Local Communities


Ask for Permission: If you're photographing people, particularly in a close-up or intimate context, always ask for their permission. A respectful approach can go a long way.


Respect Public and Private Spaces: Always consider your impact on a location. Don't trespass on private property, block sidewalks, or disrupt businesses.


Be Aware of Cultural Sensitivities: Downtown LA is culturally diverse. What might be acceptable in one culture may not be in another, so it's important to research and be aware of cultural norms and sensitivities.


Legal Considerations and Obtaining Necessary Permissions


Know the Laws: Familiarize yourself with the local laws concerning privacy and photography. This is particularly important if you plan to sell or publish your images.


Photo Permits: Certain locations in Downtown LA may require permits for commercial photography. Always check and obtain the necessary permissions beforehand.


Environmental Consciousness While Shooting


Leave No Trace: Follow the Leave No Trace principles. Don't litter or damage the environment. Respect wildlife and maintain a safe distance.


Promote Sustainable Practices: Use your platform to promote sustainability. This could be by showcasing eco-friendly businesses or raising awareness about environmental issues through your photographs.


Remember, photography is not just about taking images but also about giving back. By practicing responsible photography, you're respecting the communities and environments you're capturing, and you're also helping to ensure that they can be enjoyed by future generations of photographers.


Conclusion


There are so many things to do in Downtown LA! Downtown LA is more than just a location; it's a photographic experience that brings together history, culture, architecture, and much more. So, grab your camera and get ready to explore DTLA and all the things to do in Downtown LA! I hope that this guide on things to do in Downtown LA serves as a valuable tool in your photographic journey and inspires you to document the beauty of Downtown LA through your unique lens.


I am RayCee the Artist, a professional portrait photographer and event photographer in Los Angeles. If you would like to schedule a photoshoot with me, please contact me at raycee@rayceeartist.com! Also, to learn about some great outdoor photoshoot locations in Los Angeles, be sure to read my article "Outdoor Photoshoot Locations in Los Angeles."


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