Iceland? Bali? USA? What other overhyped destinations would tourists opt for? Personally, I decided not to go with the flow and to travel to one of the largest countries in the world which is unjustly skipped by many people. Honestly, I should mention that for a long time I was among them despite the fact I was living nearby.
One more thing I want to reveal is that as a photographer who has worked all around the globe, Russia didn’t also seem too attractive. And here is what I was also highly mistaken about. The historical heritage of the country is impressive. No, I am not good at history. However, shooting in such amazing places like the Hermitage or in Peterhof made me go through the series of documentaries that helped me to discover Russia from absolutely different side. Through the pics I tried to convey the feeling of majesty that overwhelmed me while I was gazing at the masterpieces in the museums or going down Neva and watching the spectacular performance of the bridge opening at midnight. I couldn’t hold myself from repeating all over again “I should definitely come back”.
Once a great traveller from my city said, “One of the main goals of my traveling is to share what I see with the world”. I can definitely say that what I create in terms of photography aims at sharing and inspiring. Behind every unusual pic there is a story, behind every shot there is an idea.
Now, I would love to give insight of the places that I found exciting for photography and which I hope you would love to include Russia to your must-visit list next time!
What: The Hermitage Museum
Where: Saint Petersburg
When: Early morning is the most suitable time for taking photos
Probably the best and the biggest museum of art & culture I’ve ever been to in my life. It is huge, just immense. I could not cover even half of the territory. And this was an art collection of just one person, Catherine II. Just this fact can blow your mind. Wall-sized paintings, golden frames decorated with precious stones and fascinating stories told by a professional guide that help you switch on your imagination and picture great balls and historically important events happening there.
Photo Tips: Bring along wide angle lens like 10-18mm. to be able to fit all of the treasures of this place.
What: Saint Isaac's Cathedral
Where: Saint Petersburg
Walking around the city, I just followed the crowd of tourists and found myself near one of the highest cathedral of Saint Petersburg. At first, it may seem that except for weddings, there is no way to take any other good shot. Seriously, weddings inside, outside, in the park nearby. But as I am not used to giving up so easily, I gave it a chance and tried to focus on the details that managed to grasp my attention and spent there all day till the sunset.
And if you are patient enough, at the sunset you will be rewarded with absolutely outstanding look of the cathedral. Heavy, dark-brown building with grand columns and a golden dome shining and gleaming in the sun. Incredible view, incredible shots.
One more thing which is worth doing in this cathedral as well as in that city is to climb to the rooftop and get some more nice shots.
Photo Tips: If you’ve got a mid-range zoomed lens in your arsenal definitely bring it with you to be able to capture all of that epic city views from the rooftop of the cathedral.
What: Peterhof Palace
Where: Saint Petersburg
Versailles in Russia? Easy. Just take a short bus ride from the centre of Saint Petersburg and you will find yourself in the residency of the whole dynasty of Russian Emperors which is not inferior to its French twin. The first “wow-effect” happened to me right at the entrance. Finely-shaped gardens, intricate statues and golden fountains. You understand at once that this is a place of a real emperor, almost god. I was mostly impressed walking outside the palace itself. The wonders of art and nature blended together.
Photo Tips: Don’t forget to bring your ND filter if you’ve got one, as almost all of the attractions are located outdoors.
What: Palace bridge
Where: Saint Petersburg
When: Night time
And here is one more must-visit place in Saint-Petersburg (you may already guess which city in Russia impressed me most of all). The Palace Bridge is the one that you can see in many postcards, pictures from magazines, magnets on the fridge. It is usually depicted rising at night. This event is traditionally held after midnight and dozens of tourists and locals come to be witnesses of magic. It does look like magic. Classical music and spectacular visual effects add something special to the overall mood. The bridge is one of the series of bridges following one after another along the river. A friend of mine, being aware of my passion for photography, took me on a boat ride to see all of them rising. Now I can say for sure that the best way to observe all the "night bridge magic" is from the water. An amazing spot for photographers and, of course, couples in love.
Photo Tips: If you’re a long exposure lover definitely bring your tripod along with you to capture stunning movement of the raising bridge and all of the boats that are coming through.
What: The rooftop of "The loft project Etazhi (Floors)"
Where: Saint Petersburg
Rooftops and Saint Petersburg is such an inseparable combination as Las Vegas and luxurious casinos, as Asia and rambling small tuk tuks, as Italy and a savoury pizza. There is a great number of excursions during which every tourist will be able to run away from the city noise and enjoy fascinating views of ancient roofs. But I realized that nobody would wait for me during the excursion while I was going to set the camera, choose the perfect timing, setting etc.. I am sure you know what I mean. So, I decided to climb to the rooftop of the building of a creative space located not far from the center where lots of youths, hipsters, and all the people somehow related to art gather. At anytime you will leave this place with some decent footage, I promise.
Photo Tips: Telephoto lens is a must have for places like this. In order to avoid big amount of blue sky on top of your shot you just simply zoom in to the object you want to capture and you’re getting great shot from different perspective.
What: Red Square
When: Early morning / Night time
Every tourist who comes to Moscow even just for one day and realizes how absurd this idea is (you need way more time) will still run to the Red Square to have at least one shot for the Instagram page. The Red Square is just classic. A real symbol of the capital that you would want to visit yourself. In a daytime the endless flow of your tourists from all over the world fills every corner of the square leaving no space for walking. I am not even mentioning if there is a chance to take a good photo. There is none. However, if you are really mad about photography, better make yourself crawl out of the warm bed and soft cosy blanket and come there in the very very early morning. After that you can bring back with you something more professional and intriguing than selfies with your friends.
Photo Tips: Try to point the camera up to avoid the crowds or visit the Red Square during the early morning or during the night time where there are less people and with better lighting.
Looking for something unusual? I am pretty sure that Soviet Union style is what you may find interesting. Strolling around VDNKh is like traveling 50 years ago or even more to that time of strict communism. Personally for me, it was especially exciting to see it and try to imagine how my parents used to live and spend their leisure. Just walking around examining pavilions each designed in its unique style and representing various industries. If you get there for some event, it can be definitely even more overwhelming experience.
Photo Tips: Almost all of the attractions are located outside, so having an ND filter on your lens would be a big benefit for you.
What: City Underground
You can easily get lost there. And I did while I was trying to figure out how to get to the necessary destination. Anyway, even if you get lost and you are not in a hurry, you can discover the whole underground world. Each station is like a separate piece of art with its own idea and design. While most cities in Europe tend to make the stations more modern and simple, Moscow's underground stays old-fashioned in a good way and quite unique.
Photo Tips: Definitely one of the best places in Moscow for some great long exposure shots where people move swiftly, anonymously, rushing to their destination under this crowded metropolis.
What: Moscow State University
Classic example of a big Soviet project. Most buildings were made intentionally "heavy", grand, dark. This is exactly the feeling I got when I raised my eyes to the top and saw that 20-floored building if the university with a long sharp spike in top. I had the feeling it was going to fall down and bury me under it. The weird desire to kneel and obey. This is a great challenge to try to transfer this emotion into the shot. Another thing that can be captured by your camera is the event when all the cool sports cars come to the square next to the university and make drift shows. Exhilarating experience.
Photo Tips: The building shape of the university is perfectly symmetrical, so if you go through the botanical garden and then turn back, you will be able to experience a beautiful symmetrical view of this place.
What: Moscow International Business Center
This fashionable urban project is a piece of New York in Moscow. I have never been to New York but I imagine it absolutely like that. I live in Sydney and I should not be as surprised by skyscrapers like that. However, I still am. It definitely captured my attention due to its photogenic look.
Photo Tips: The best place to capture all of these skyscrapers in just one shot is at the observational deck along the river near the Bagration Bridge.
Boat trips on Neva River in Saint Petersburg and on Moskva River in Moscow will allow you to capture a lot of great images during just short one-hour trip. Also, rooftop tours in Saint Petersburg is a must visit thing to be able to experience unforgettable panoramic views of the city during the sunset.
Gear I used during my trip
You can find the complete list of my travel photography gear here. Also, here is the list of recommended gear I would suggest to bring along with you on this trip:
- Wide Angle Lens. I was using 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens to be able to capture all of the inside beauty of cathedrals and museums.
- Mid-Range Zoom Lens. Definitively needed for some epic city views from the lookouts and rooftops. eg. 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens.
- ND filters. In order to reduce the amount of light entering your camera and not having washed out footage from the sun, this tool is a must have for all travel photographers out there.
- Tripod. No explanation needed here, long exposure lovers know what to do with it!
- Camera bag. Get ready to do a long walks around the city in order to find and capture all of that hidden gems, so having a camera bag would be a great option for your convenience.
From June to August is by far the best time to visit Russia as it is summer time with a comfortable temperature of 20 - 30 °C. I was there in May this year and it was still a bit chill, so I do not recommend to visit this country earlier, as Russia is well known for its freezing winters. Make sure to try some typical Russian food like borsch, pelmeni, pirogi and other delicious meals! Also, if you’ve got an opportunity, visit one of the most beautiful theatres in Moscow like Bolshoi Theatre or Maly Theatre to find out a bit more about culture of this unique country.
I hope this gives you some useful information and beautiful spots for photography during your holiday out there! For daily travel inspiration and to see lots of my travel photography follow me on Instagram.