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 is an intimate, walkable city. 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.
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 short 28-70mm zoom lens.
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 on your camera it adds a bit of 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. 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, 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.
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!
Your kit or standard lens will do just fine on the 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! -All photos on this page by the author, Don Peterson.
All of the images shown on this page were photographed on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my frugal camera gear.
Top image (top of page): Camera: Canon 20D 6-megapixels DSLR, Tokina 19-35mm F:3.5-4.5 lens, raw image processed with Adobe Lightroom and Google Nik Viveza Photoshop plugin (free software).
Second image from top: Camera: Pentax K-x 12.4-megapixels DSLR, Tokina SD 28-70mm F:3.5-4.5 lens (manual focusing lens), raw image processed with Adobe Lightroom and Google Nik Viveza Photoshop Plugin
Third image from top: Camera: Canon 20D 6-megapixels DSLR, Tokina 19-35mm F:3.5-4.5 lens, raw image processed with Adobe Lightroom and Google Nik Viveza Photoshop plugin (free software).
Fourth image from top: Camera: Canon 20D 6-megapixels DSLR, Canon 50mm F:1.8 II lens (image shot at F:2,8 aperture to create background blur), raw image processed with Adobe Lightroom and Google Nik Viveza Photoshop plugin (free software).