Market Square

We explore Krakow, the remarkable Polish city rich in unusual photographic gems

There are many cities in Europe that the avid photographer can visit, yet the further east they are located, it is fair to say, the less they seem to be explored. Ask others if they have been to Tallinn, Riga or even Warsaw and most have heard of them from history or geography lessons, but not much more. Although we are drawn to the capital cities of closer European countries, there are some remarkable places in the east, both safe to shoot and full of surprises. Krakow is one of those gems; a mix of incredible architecture, music, arts and great photography.

Krakow (pronounced ’) is situated in the south of Poland. Not far from the Slovakian boarders, it has a population of around 800,000 people and covers around 120 square miles. As with all historic cities, the centre contains some beautiful buildings, with the modern city expanding outwards into suburbs and industrial areas. Like Russia, there is a heavy industrial presence, but fortunately this is far from the cityhistorical feel. There are many flights available and not just from major airports-with the increase in Polish people living in the UK, the connections have strengthened considerably.

Plan to stay in the centre. The Vistula River winds its way through the old city fringes and there is plenty of great accommodation available all over. Try and avoid the usual modern hotels and choose something with great character. The city has some beautiful old flats and apartments available for rent, to capture a true Polish experience.

Meandering through Krakowback streets is a wonderful experience. The buildings have undergone renovation but have not lost the feel of old Poland. Expect to find all manner of intriguing lanes, with squares and a great cafe lifestyle, should you need to grab a coffee.

Pack the usual camera equipment, including a wide-angle, walk-around lens and a substantial telephoto, as these will all be useful. We would also recommend including or hiring a tilt-shift lens for the trip, as so much more can be made of the images without the irritation of converging verticals. Krakow is a supersafe city, during both the day and night, so donworry about setting up a tripod anywhere at anytime.

Concentrate a visit around the old city centre. Here, youfind some of the most beautiful buildings that Europe has to offer a photographer. Start by heading to the Main Market Square and stand amazed at the huge open space and the life all around. The centrepiece is the Cloth Hall, an old renaissance building with a central tunnel to explore. This is filled with jewellery shops, all containing exquisite amber, should shopping be on the agenda. Itworth paying a visit to the arches in the evening too, for some moody pictures.

St MaryBasilica is a magnificent twin-towered church, with superb views from the top across the Market Square and the entire city. There is a tripod ban inside, with no flash photography either. Try pushing the ISO to 800 and setting to f4, aperture priority; then wedge against a wall, take a deep breath and shoot three continuous shots. You will be surprised how well this works! Check the images for sharpness and retry as necessary.

Expect music in abundance in Krakow. Look out for magnificent organ players who visit the city to make serious money in the summer months, playing Bach fugues in trios. What a soundtrack for taking some great imagery! They are astonishing to watch, but use a long lens to capture some close-ups.


Another excellent place to visit and shoot is Wawel Royal Castle, for some wonderful domes and courtyards to single out. Higher up, situated on a small hill, the westerly views from the top are also very interesting, especially at sunset. The church interior is astonishing, with some of the most incredible stained glass. Use image-stabilised lenses to capture the details.

Krakow has a huge World War II presence in the Jewish Quarter called Kazimierz, but there is an astonishing experience only an hour away. Do not miss the opportunity to visit and photograph Auschwitz. It represents an important education and some sinister photography. Shoot with black and white in mind and visit both Auschwitz and Birkenau, the larger of the two concentration camps.

Think like a reporter; try to make the images really say something. Photograph the electric fences, German signposts, sentry boxes, twisted wire and buildings. They are perfect thought-provoking subjects to question, remind and create compelling reportage-style imagery. Although you are free to photograph outside in the grounds and anywhere in Birkenau, shooting inside Auschwitz isnpermitted.

With such diversity, history and architectural subject matter, Krakow is a superb and often-overlooked photographic destination. Whether youtravelling with the family or with friends, it should be highly regarded as a photographic experience like no other.

City centre

The centre of Krakow is a vibrant and exciting place that requires plenty of time to explore. The Wawel Royal Castle will take up most of a day to shoot inside and out, so make sure you make the most of your time. Wide angles are particularly useful, but crowds will cause a rise in blood pressure. Make sure to shoot using longer lenses, above heads, or back from a distance, so people are not so prominent. The Jewish Quarter is also a brilliant place to spend an afternoon or longer, to take in the beautiful synagogues, churches and winding streets.

1 Take a boat trip along the River Vistula and shoot the castle from the water

2 Travel throughout the city on trams, which are cheap and great fun to ride

3 Try to speak Polish and you will get a lot of respect from the locals, which can earn you some excellent shots

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