I don’t like excessive planning. While travelling, more often than not I prefer to let things run their own course and see where they take me. But that approach doesn’t work so well with photography. Getting good photos requires some preparation, so ever since I got more serious about the images I take, location research has become a part of my routine trip planning. I always try to identify the best places beforehand, imagine how the light is going to be at different times of the day, see if there is anything I should be particularly aware of. This information is not always easy to find, making such preparations quite time-consuming. And Prior to going to Italy I tried looking for some photography tips for shooting Milan and couldn’t find anything comprehensive. So in this article I will sum up what I could find together with my own personal experience on location and provide some photography tips for Milan. Hopefully, this will make somebody’s life a little easier.
To be fair, I never had high expectations of Milan in terms of photography. For us, the city was merely a short stop en route to the great landscapes of Tuscany and picturesque villages of Cinque Terre. We merely had a day in Milan, arriving at noon on Saturday and leaving the next morning. And yet, I would have never forgiven myself if even during that short time I hadn’t tried to capture at least a few interesting shots.
Therefore, I spent a few hours before the trip to get more familiar with the city and find some good places to shoot. I’m not a guide, nor have I lived in Milan for any considerable amount of time, so any local would probably have more insight, but even so I hope that the following tips would come in handy for those of you who are only planning to visit this fashion capital. So without further ado, here are my recommended places to shoot in Milan.
Duomo di Milano, Milan’s cathedral, also known as Duomo, is located in the very center and is a number one tourist attraction of the city. And much as I like shooting in less crowded and more secluded spaces, no trip to Milan would be complete without paying a visit to this architectural masterpiece.
And yes, this means crowds. At daytime and in the evening Duomo is very busy, making it less than ideal for some thoughtful shooting. If you do decide to photograph it during the day though, make sure to keep an eye out – it’s a notoriously famous place for pickpockets. My recommendation would be to either come here very late at night (after midnight) to get some night shots or make an effort to wake up early and be here for sunrise. The cathedral is facing west, so the sun is rising right behind it, making for some great light if you are lucky with the weather. And in summer it’s so early that no one is around save for a few youngsters waiting for the subway to start operating after a crazy night out.
Waking up that early is hard, I know. I was in Milan in late May, and my alarm went off at 4:10 am, so you have to have a bit of determination. It was totally worth it though. I have done it many a times by now and it is never easy, but I’m to yet to regret actually waking up early, somehow it is always worthwhile. Anyhow, for Duomo make sure to pack a wide lens – there is a lot of room around the cathedral, but the building is huge. On a crop sensor, 18mm wasn’t really enough for me, so you might want to use 15mm or less (or resort to panoramas).
If coming at sunrise is not an option or you simply overslept (yep, happens to me too), you can still shoot Duomo at day. But in this case try to look for some smaller and more intimate compositions like the ones I’ve put below. The building is so beautiful that it shouldn’t be too hard and it allows for a fresher angle. You can also go up to the roof of the cathedral – just make sure to be there early enough. When we got there at 5pm, all the tickets for the day were gone and they didn’t let us through. So I can’t speak from experience, but based on the images I’ve seen it’s a great place to shoot.
And while you’re there, don’t forget to walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a roofed passage that leads from Duomo to the monument of Leonardo Da Vinci and La Scala theatre on the other side. You can probably take a couple shots here if you’re creative enough.
Duomo is a great place to shoot at sunrise, but for sunset my recommendation would be to go to Naviglio Grande, or Grand Canal. Once a busy port, these days it is a center of the city’s evening life, with lots of restaurants and cafes along the water and a relaxed vibe to it. It’s also quite picturesque, making it a great place to shoot some images.
For best photos, you want to position yourself either at the eastern end of the canal or at the very first bridge from the east. I personally prefer the latter and that’s where the photo above was taken. The canal goes from east to west so the sun will be setting in front of you (depending on the time of the year you may even get it in frame) – if you’re lucky enough with the weather, you’re up for some seriously good sunset images. But even if you’re out of luck, as I was with little happening in the skies, it’s still a great place to grab a drink or a dinner in one of the restaurants, relax and watch the world go by.
Gae Aulenti square
Aulenti square (Piazza Gae Aulenti) – is where you should go if you’re after a futuristic “space-ship” photo. It’s an interesting place all around actually. From here, you get a nice view of the new and very unusual apartment complex called Vertical Forest – a combination of a multi-storey building and a green park all in one. I’ve included some snapshots of it further down. But what I was most interested in, was the art installation consisting of 23 pipes that you can find in this square. People are constantly taking pictures of it from the ground level and passing by, but very few actually know that if you photograph it from below you’ll get a nice abstract image reminding of a space ship.
To do that, enter the shopping mall and find a lift that goes down to the underground parking lot and go to the lowest level. Then make your way around the parking lot until you find a round empty concrete area – you’ll recognise it when you see it. Walk right into it and look up – and there you’ll have the shot waiting for you. The best thing about this place is that you can get an interesting shot no matter the weather and there’s hardly anyone around – you can take as much time with your picture as you need. Again though – don’t forget your wide lens.
A bonus tip (or two)
This tip has nothing to do with photography, but if you love animals and find yourself in the vicinity of Milan’s central station (as you probably will at least once), make sure to pay a visit to the Crazy Cat Cafe, where along with delicious cakes and a true Italian coffee, you’ll also find nine lovely cats. A healthy dose of cat therapy is guaranteed (hey, they even include it as an item in the bill!).
And for those of you interested in night life, I recommend the Brera district and more specifically the Radetzky bar. According to the locals, that’s where all the fashion models and designers spend their time after the fashion shows. There was no show that evening so I cannot attest to that, but it’s a great bar nonetheless.