Santa Fe Photography Guide
Here are some general tips for photography in Santa Fe, New Mexico. These tips show how to get the best photos when shooting in midday light and how to enhance your photos in post-processing. Enjoy!
The photo below shows the lovely patina and details of a home located on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I choose a cloudy white balance to warm up the Adobe colors in this photo shot on a rare overcast day. The camera is a vintage Canon 10D with a 50mm F1.8 lens. The same camera and lens were used to capture the timeless beauty of the Santa Fe home pictured below. The photo below was captured in strong sunlight and required lightening shadows and recovering highlights in post-processing to bring out the details. You can capture the same memorable scenes on your visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico!
Santa Fe Photography Tips
Santa Fe, New Mexico is a photographer’s dream! It is a historic city that celebrates beauty in its architecture and adornment. The ancient Anasazi culture gives Santa Fe its timeless Pueblo-style design language, making this one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, if not the world.
If you plan to visit Santa Fe, this article will help you to capture memorable photographic impressions of this southwestern jewel.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is an intimate, walkable city with utterly charming Pueblo-style architecture that makes it one of the most photogenic cities in the United States.
Santa Fe Photography: Your Camera Gear:
Downtown Santa Fe is intimate, walkable, and chock full of camera-worthy details. Although it is the state capital of New Mexico, it does not have the overarching downtown typical of most urban centers. In fact, the New Mexico State Capital building is only three stories tall. The three tallest buildings in Santa Fe, at 5 stories each, are the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, the Inn and Spa at Loretto, and the La Fonda Hotel. For this reason, the Santa Fe skyline blends beautifully with its handsome high-desert setting.
This charming cafe setting in Santa Fe, New Mexico shows why this is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, if not the world. The Pueblo, Spanish, and Anglo cultures interweave the old with the new in Santa Fe, forming a city this is as artistic as the galleries that call it home. I like to call Santa Fe my local Paris, as it has a sophistication as refined and distinct as that European art capital.
In the photo above the use of cloudy white balance adds an appealing warmth to the Adobe and wood tones and textures. Shooting in auto or sunny white balance settings will make your warm tones appear duller. This photo, shot in raw mode, required the use of the Highlight Recovery and Shadow sliders in Adobe Lightroom to restore lost highlight detail and lighten shadows. Shooting in raw and using Adobe Lightroom to post-process your images gives you much greater control over the final look of your image than shooting in standard jpeg format.
Capturing the best of Santa Fe does not require special photographic equipment. In fact, a standard 18-55mm ‘kit’ (the lens sold with your camera) lens is perfectly suited for photographing Santa Fe. Its most compelling features are at or near eye level and do not require any extended telephoto or ultra-wide lenses to photograph well.
Nearly all of my photos of Santa Fe featured on this website were shot with a standard 18-55mm zoom lens or a 5omm lens.
Make the Best Of Santa Fe, New Mexico Natural Light
Santa Fe has no shortage of light! Powder blue New Mexico skies can be expected at least 300 days of the year. By shooting in the early morning or late afternoon you will avoid the harsh shadows and glare of midday. The colors and textures of Santa Fe look best at those times. Be sure to use a polarizer filter to cut down on reflections and get the best color out of those blue skies.
If you use the “Cloudy” white balance setting (or tweak your white balance to add warmth) on your camera it adds a bit of flattering richness to the Adobe colors and textures that adorn nearly all of Santa Fe’s architecture. I find that the normal “Sunny” setting tends to wash out the tan Adobe colors a bit, especially in the harsh midday light. The cloudy white balance setting warms the Adobe colors that harsh sunlight tends to wash out.
Partially cloudy skies offer ideal conditions for capturing street-level details in the best light. The clouds bounce light into the shadows, providing softer shadows that flatter Adobe textures and colors. If you have a partially cloudy day get out your camera! You will capture your best photos in this light. Most of the photos on this page were shot under partially cloudy skies.
There is no need to bring a tripod on your visit to Santa Fe. You will have plenty of sunlight! But this raises another question: What about post-sunset and night photography?
Santa Fe is not a 24-hour city. By 6 PM, most businesses are closing with the exception of hotels and restaurants. By 10 PM, the city is asleep with the exception of a few bars. Most downtown buildings are not illuminated at night, beyond its three largest hotels and the facade of the St. Francis Cathedral. Truthfully, there is not much to photograph after sunset. The one exception to this is the Christmas season when many of the downtown buildings are adorned with traditional holiday luminarias (New Mexico’s Christmas lights).
Santa Fe: Beauty Is In the Details:
Santa Fe, New Mexico has a beauty that is intimate and accessible. Its greatest charms are at eye level and within reach. Really, your most important piece of photographic gear is a pair of comfortable walking shoes. The city is a walkable, living art gallery that rewards exploration. Slow down. There’s beauty in the details.
The one street I recommend for new visitors to explore in Santa Fe is Canyon Road. Easily accessible from the downtown Plaza, Canyon Road is set in the picturesque Sangre de Christo foothills. It is adorned with more than 100 art galleries, boutiques, artist studios and restaurants set in photogenic Adobe cottages. Each has a wealth of photo-worthy details. Notice the quaint courtyards and gardens, the hand-hewn Adobe gateways. Choose the settings and details that speak to you for your photographs. Compose and shoot. This is what cameras are made for!
Santa Fe rewards wanderers and explorers. Get lost in the downtown streets searching out new sights and you will find many delights. Your kit or standard lens will do just fine on your photo walks. Keep your photo gear as light and portable as possible. Be sure to carry a spare battery and memory card as there is only one (high-priced) camera shop near the downtown Plaza. Enjoy your trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico! Bring back some wonderful memories and photos!
Santa Fe, The Perfect Day Trip
A day trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico offers a feast of visual delights best seen at an unhurried pace. Soak in the details. One of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is by strolling along Canyon Road. The gracious Adobe homes of Canyon Road offer a world-class collection of art galleries as well as restaurants and boutiques. Canyon Road looks its best in the spring and summer months when the flowers are in bloom and the afternoon sun kisses the Adobe textures with a warm, comforting glow.
Post-Processing Tips for Santa Fe Photography
If you shot in your photos in the raw setting for post-processing in Adobe Lightroom or other photo editors, you may find these tips helpful. Photos of Santa Fe shot in midday sun tend to have dark shadows and over-exposed highlights. By lightening shadows, reducing contrast and recovering highlights you should be able to create very pleasing photos. Enjoy your trip to Santa Fe!
To see more of my Santa Fe, New Mexico photos, check out the latest pics on my SplurgeFrugal Instagram page here!