Photographing St. Augustine can be an incredible experience but quite daunting for anyone not familiar with the city. In fact, for many it is difficult to know where to begin.

So Many Photo Subjects to Choose From:

For starters the following is a list of just a few photographic subjects in St. Augustine: 

  • Beautiful old Spanish architecture
  • Cobblestone and brick streets 
  • Old gates and hidden courtyards 
  • Historic buildings
  • An old fort
  • A famous bridge and 
  • One of the most beautiful churches in the United States
  • World famous bird rookery

And if the above list is not enough, let’s not forgot about St. Augustine’s lighthouse, pier, sand dunes, beautiful beaches, salt marshes, Alligator Farm and wildlife. Lastly, for those who visit during the holidays, St. Augustine also produces one of the world’s top holiday light displays.

The best way to photograph St. Augustine is to:

  • Do research that is focused on your main photographic interests such as architecture, cityscapes, coastal images or wildlife. 
  • Develop a shot list around your interests then add other subjects as time in the city permits. For instance, if your main interest is historic buildings and Spanish Colonial Architecture, I would focus on all the old Spanish buildings first before moving to other subjects such as birds or lighthouses.  

For purposes of this post, we are going to start with historic architecture and citiscapes followed by coastal subjects then wildlife.   

History of St. Augustine

St. Augustine is located in Northeast Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.  It was established in 1565 by Spanish explorers and is known as the oldest city in the United States.  Therefore, the Spanish influence is evident throughout many of the city old buildings.
 

Map of Downtown St. Augustine:

Visit St. Augustine has a wonderful map that includes all the major downtown attractions at: Downtown St. Augustine Map.  I strongly recommend referring to this map when attempting to located photography destinations in downtown St. Augustine.

St. Augustine General Photography Tips:

  • If possible, bring every piece of camera gear you own.  This includes bringing both a tripod and monopod if you own both. If you must leave one home, leave the tripod.  Okay, I can hear the gasps!  But before you yell at me, know that I am someone who rarely photographs without a tripod. My reason for this recommendation is that a monopod is more flexible in small interior spaces than a tripod. 
  • Begin your photo outings in the early morning and head out again in the late afternoons to evenings. Not only will it be cooler with better light but parking will be much easier.  Spend the middle part of your days enjoying restaurants, shopping and naps..
  • Parking can be difficult but not impossible since the city provides large public parking garages. Just be prepared to walk a lot and pack gear accordingly.
  • If possible allow at least 3-4 days to photograph St. Augustine.
  • Photograph subjects geographically if possible.  For example, work all your downtown subjects, then proceed to all destinations on Anastasia Island the following day.  This will prevent you from wasting time in traffic. Believe me you can spend hours driving back and forth from downtown to Anastasia Island  and back. We don’t want to waste shutter time do we?
  • St. Augustine is a place where a local photo guide can be very helpful in getting you to the right place at the right time. If you would like a recommendation, please contact me. 
  • Lastly for photographers interested in architecture, rent a tilt shift lens if you do not own one.  I can’t stress enough just how valuable the lens will be in this city. 

Downtown Photo Spots

Castillo de San Marcos Fort

Morning

The Castillo de San Marcos Fort in downtown St. Augustine can be photographed both in the morning and evenings, with both times providing different views.  In the morning I recommend arriving an hour before sunrise and composing elements of the Fort that include the rising sun.  

Once sunrise is over spend time photographing the towers and other elements that glow in the eastern light but be sure to compose tightly and block cars and other distracting elements to the west.

Evening

Late afternoon light is my favorite time to photograph the overall Fort grounds. Now I can include the beautiful river in the background as well as the Bridge of Lions. Wide expansive views of the Fort are now possible without the distractions of a highway in the image.

Best Time:  Sunrise, late afternoon, and blue hour

Historic District/St. George Street

The historic district’s main attraction is St. George Street with many beautiful old buildings that can keep a photographer entertained for hours.  The early to mid mornings and also afternoon to evenings are the best time to capture St. George Street.

Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

One of my favorite buildings is the oldest wooden school house in the United States which is a morning shot.  

After photographing the schoolhouse be sure to take time to work the small details on St. George Street. 

Best Times:  Early Mornings, Late Afternoons, and Evenings

St. Augustine City Gates

These coquina pillars were erected in 1808 and served as the only entrance to the city.  The pillars are on the north end of St. George Street, close to Orange Ave.  Since they face north, it is best to photograph them during summer months when the sun is in the northern skies.  If you are visiting in the winter months, I recommend dawn and dust times and using HDR.  

Best Times:  Early Morning and Late Afternoons.

St. George Street Windows and Shutters

St. George Street along with other historic areas in St. Augustine are filled with interesting old coquina buildings, windows, doors, and balconies.  Take time to capture some of these cool features as you stroll the streets.

Bridge of Lions

As I travel across the country I find most cities have at least one “don’t miss” image that captures the essence of the city.  An evening photo of the Bridge of Lions is my “don’t miss” image for St. Augustine.  The Bridge of Lions is a walkable double leaf bascule bridge that connects the historic downtown area to the coastal sections of St. Augustine. 

For a blue hour image of the bridge, I recommend photographing it from the western side along the downtown bayfront. The bridge can also be photographed from the eastern side with dawn and early morning being the best times. When photographing the bridge from the western downtown side, I recommend getting parking directly at the waterfront sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. I have always found parking during this time.  When photographing the bridge from the eastern side, plan to walk across the bridge as parking is almost non existent.

Best Time:  Sunrise, Sunset and Blue Hour

Memorial Presbyterian Church

This stunning church is located a couple blocks off King Street and slightly west of the historic downtown.  This is hands down one of the most beautiful churches in the Southeast, if not the country.  For travel and architectural photographers, photographing this church is a must.  The church offers two main viewpoints, each equally beautiful.  The eastern facing side of the church is best photographed in the morning, while the southern facing entrance to the church can be photographed both in the morning and evening depending on the time of year. Be sure to work a variety of compositions on the east side of the church as options are quite plentiful.

 Also photography is allowed inside the church.  

Best Times:  South Facing Entrance– Evenings,  East Facing Entrance– Mornings

Lightner Museum and Casa Monica

Two of St. Augustine’s crown jewels lie just west of the main tourist street of St. George on King Street.  

The Lightner Museum

The museum is listed on the historic register and contains a wonderful collection of items from America’s golden age.  Prior to becoming a museum, the building was the site for the Hotel Alcazar that was built in a Spanish Renaissance style. For an architectural photographer, the building itself offers much to photograph but is especially wonderful during the Nights of Light Festival.  

Case Monica Hotel

This is one of the oldest hotels in the United States and listed on the Historic Hotels of America. The building was built in a Moroccan style of architecture and is another architectural photographers delight.  I have to admit that I wish the hotel was a bit more isolated from streets and other buildings. Due to all the nearby buildings, the best way to photograph this hotel is in the late afternoon and evening hours. 

Best Times:  Late Afternoon to Evening 

Flager College

Flagler College is another beautiful historic building directly across from the Lightner Museum.  Take time to photograph both the outside of the building as well as the inner courtyards.

Most Photographed Garden Gate

This old garden gate and doorway from the late 1800’s off Bridge Street is known as the most photographed garden gate in St. Augustine. It is best photographed in the early morning hours just before sunrise when contrast is not an issue and crowds are small.

 Coastal St. Augustine/Anastasia Island Photo Stops 

St. Augustine Lighthouse

The St. Augustine Lighthouse is located on the east side of the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Island.  Since the best views of the lighthouse face east, this is usually a morning shot.  In fact, if you can be the first one in the gate before the crowds arrive, there are opportunities to photography the lighthouse without visitors.  However, don’t worry if you are late, just park in the lot on the east side of the Lighthouse and walk out on a dock toward the water. Here the trees will create a nice frame for the lighthouse while obscuring visitors.  But don’t forget to go inside this lighthouse and photograph the interior.  

Best Times:  Mornings

St. John’s County Ocean Pier

The pier is located at the end of beach and AIA in St. Augustine Beach.  It is a very popular gathering location for locals as well as a great place to begin a day of coastal photography.  

Anastasia Island Sand Dunes

After photographing sunrise at the pier, walk north on the beach and you will find yourself in the pristine sand dunes that are part of Anastasia island State Park. These dunes are some of the prettiest dunes on Florida’s east coast and make wonderful photography subjects in the early morning hours.

St. Augustine Wildlife

St. Augustine Alligator Farm

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm features an amazing collection of alligators well worth a stop any time of year. To learn more check out: St. Augustine Alligator Farm However, in late winter through May, the gators take a back seat to nesting birds. In fact, the farm becomes a premier birding destination for photographers from all over the world. Here great egrets, roseate spoonbills, cattle egrets, and many other wading birds gather to mate, build nests and raise their chicks.  The rookery action begins in February with peak season running from March through May. 

The Alligator Farm provides a discounted admission for visitors with a Zoo pass and also offers a photographers annual pass which is good for admission an hour earlier than the public.  This pass also allows photographers to stay later in the evening past closing time for the general public. I recommend photographing birds both in the morning hours and again, late in the evening as the lighting will be very different.

My gallery of BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY includes a number of birds that I have photographed at the Alligator Farm.

Best Times:  Spring- Mornings and Evenings

Summary:

I have barely scratched the surface on what St Augustine has to offer a photographer but I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  

Lastly, nestled throughout the city of St. Augustine are beautiful salt marshes and palmetto hammocks for the nature photographers.  Take time to explore areas both south and north of downtown especially around Moultrie Creek which is south of St. Augustine’s downtown on US 1.

Thanks for joining me on a photographic tour of St. Augustine and I hope to see you down the road at my next Road Trip Friday location.

 

 

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