“What has been your best trip so far?”
Ever since I began my adventure as a travel photographer, I have often been asked this question, and the answer is always the same: “Istanbul”.
My trip to Istanbul, indeed, was the first in which I came into contact with a culture different from my own, where I truly experienced something new.
This sort of experience makes you realise just how much there is to discover in the world, how much you can learn and how much that which we take for granted is actually only relative.
The choice of destination always starts in the same way: I have a photo in mind, a moment, a subject that I want and have to photograph.
It may seem a fairly insignificant reason, but it’s enough to get me on a plane in the attempt to fulfil this small dream.
In the case of Istanbul, the spark that lit my desire to set off on this journey was wanting to capture dawn at the Sultanahmet (also known as the “Blue Mosque”).
It is the most famous mosque in Istanbul and its majestic structure and tall spires make it a truly beautiful monument.
To achieve this type of shot, it is essential to know the most important timetables and times of day, photographically speaking (dawn and sundown) and to make sure you are ready.
Indeed, I went to the courtyard of Sultanahmet at 5.20 in the morning (dawn was at 5.45). A cool spring breeze was blowing and you could hear the calls of those who were already in prayer. The night was giving way to the day and the warm lights of the mosque, in contrast with the blue sky, created a magical atmosphere.
I used a wideangle lens (18mm) and a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds.
To limit the distortion of the lens, I had to get as high as possible from the ground; to do so, I chose to use the sturdy and tall Manfrotto 055 XPROB.
If I had used a shorter tripod, the vertical lines would have been very converging (too much so, for my liking).
A tilt-shift lens would have been ideal for maintaining proportions, but the pushed effect of the ultra-wide wideangle lens, if well controlled, can also achieve striking perspectives.
A fundamental aspect of the type of photography I do is to explore the location before the shoot; this gives you the opportunity to study the most strategic points and to consider the direction of the sunlight.
The exploration stage can have a significant impact on the final result, and sometimes luck can be on your side.
In this case, in fact, I had decided to spend some time the evening before to work out which equipment to use and where to position myself; however, it was raining, an everyone was running for cover. I was about to do the same, when I realised that the square, usually packed with people, was totally empty.
I found myself in the right place at the right time and I took home with me an image that was totally unexpected!
To enhance the movement of the clouds, I used an ND filter capable of reducing the light by 6 stops, which enabled me to keep a shutter speed of 8 seconds. It is essential to use a stable tripod, especially when you want to keep long exposure times in windy situations.
Talking of wind brings to mind a location in which I managed to enjoy a fantastic sunset: Kadıköy.
We crossed the Bosphorus: we’re in Asia!
From here, you can admire “classic” Istanbul, with the Sultanahmet on your left and Hagia Sophia on your right.
Kadıköy is located at the end of the Bosphorus Strait, where the distance between the two shores is around 2 km. I wanted to get a shot that exalted the city, using the water and the clouds as a background; to do this, I used a telephoto lens (a 176mm) and a shutter speed of 1.6s.
This shutter speed allowed me to capture the crests of the waves without losing the texture of the water, and this was made possible by using the Manfrotto BeFree Carbon.
In travel photography, the weight and size of your tripod are of utmost importance, given that you often find yourself walking all day long. I often use the BeFree so that I don’t stand out too much in the city, but still have a reliable tripod.
I had a stroke of luck in Kadıköy, too: once I’d finished shooting, I started to walk towards the metro and I found myself looking at a gigantic, red moon.
Going back to talk about mosques, just in case you have never seen one: did you know that it is the interior that is the true jewel of these works of architecture?
This, for example, is the inside of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque), also known as the Valide Sultan Mosque.
To get the widest view possible (180°), I used a 14mm fisheye lens.
All my Turkish friends had recommended that I go to the Galata Tower: a tower that stands 63m high in the middle of the city, providing 360° views.
I took their advice, and I’m glad I did.
The tower gallery is seriously narrow (you can only just squeeze past in pairs) and the balustrade is very thin. The light was already very low and the shutter speed, with an ISO value of 200, was already more than 1 second; in this situation, however, there wasn’t enough space to use a tripod.
The tiny Manfrotto Pixi saved the day: by positioning it on the edge of the gallery, I was able to get a shot that is one of my all-time favourites.
In fact, this was the last sunset I admired in Istanbul, as well as being the moment in which I realised that I had truly fallen in love with the city.
Alessandro Carpentiero is a photographer who specialises in Travel and Architecture.
He started sharing his pictures on Instagram whilst working as a designer; his popularity grew and led to him collaborating with internationally famous brands. He is now a full-time photographer and he travels around the world taking pictures of the beauty of our planet and documenting prestigious hotels and resorts.