Venice Beach California Street Photography

Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Street Photography, Fine art, muscle beach

Where do I even begin…  Venice Beach is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited.  I met some of the nicest people and one that wanted to punch me (he didn’t).  I photographed everything from sunsets to people fighting each other on the basketball courts.  With that being said, I’d like to share the images I captured as well as the experience of shooting on the West Coast over the two evenings I spent on Venice Beach.

Perhaps the hardest time I had was trying to find a good angle to photograph the Venice sign.

Every time I told someone I was headed to the West Coast they told me how nice everyone was and how laid back it was.  I found that to be the case for the most part.  I will say that there were certainly some subjects that you would not want to photograph or approach if you’re using common sense.  This was far and few between and just about everyone had a camera, so it wasn’t difficult to fade into the background and capture intimate moments that you’d otherwise feel uncomfortable taking elsewhere.

Gear Used

Sunsets were amazing, never a dull moment.

When I talk to people about photographing Boston I always tell them it’s a middle ground between Pittsburgh and New York City with all the best attributes of both.  Santa Monica and Venice, on the other hand, is New York City on steroids… Literally and figuratively (Muscle Beach).  Venice is loud, dirty in some places*, and crowded.  None of this is a bad thing if you are interested street photography.  In fact, I’d take Venice Beach over Miami Beach any day of the week.  Any day!

*It’s quite impossible to keep anywhere clean when you have huge amounts of locals and tourists crowding in.  The public works folks did an amazing job cleaning up each morning and keeping things looking great each day. 

Perhaps my favorite image of Venice Beach.  Quintessential Venice if you ask me.

So here’s a funny little fact, I went to the West Coast for the first time and guess what…  It was warmer in Pittsburgh just about the entire time.  Thankfully, it was never colder than 50 degrees in Santa Monica so it was perfect for what I was doing, but come on…  Warmer in Pittsburgh?

My best William Eggleston interpretation.

Typically, I’ll be the first to tell you that you don’t need to travel around the world to find great photographs but there is certainly something inspiring about visiting new places.  Perhaps it is seeing a new place with fresh eyes.  For instance, if you came to Pittsburgh from around the world you may see things that are ordinary to me but new and fresh to you which could result in some incredible images.

Silhouette photography is like cat nip on Instagram…  The couple on the right of the lifeguard tower caught my eye.

It’s often said what is outside of the frame is just as important as what is in it…  What do you think?

The graffiti and buildings caught my eye but it didn’t take long for me to notice the neat shadow play that could occur.

One of my favorite subjects on Venice beach was this man who, to me, represented quintessential California living…  At least the way I see it.

Cat.  Nip…

My favorite subject from another angle…  When I find a great subject I work every angle for as long as it’s comfortable for my subject or myself.  The palm tree reflections really pulled this shot together for me.

Initially the shadows of the palm trees caught my eye but the little boy playing soccer was an added bonus…  The “punctuation” of the photograph if you will.

I wanted to create an image that incorporated the Venice Beach sculpture that stands prominently in the center of the beach.

Truthfully, the doll in the sunset golden light is all that stood out to me here.  It looked like she was waving to me as I walked by.  Remember the doll Chucky from the movie Child’s Play??

Another angle of my favorite subject on Venice Beach.

The light is as much the subject as the bathroom doors and signs.

Fractal Cityscape Series

One of the main reasons I visited California was to continue work on my Fractal Cityscape series.  You can see more examples from other cities in my portfolio here.  For now, enjoy a few more examples from California.


Well, if you’ve been following me on PhotolisticLife for a while you’ll know that fine art and street photography are nearest and dearest to me.  Last year I focused almost the entire year on fine art work and this year I’ve been focusing the bulk of my work on street photography.  One of my favorite things about photography is that it continues to challenge me and I learn something new each and every day.  Here are a few things I learned on this last trip…

Observation is key.  This sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how long it takes to master the art of observation (I still have not mastered this).  To truly observe your surroundings you need to be able to flush out all the thoughts of everyday life that can distract you.  You’ve got to slow down and watch the world literally move past you.  It’s really quite surreal when you are able to do this, you feel as if you’re walking around on the fringes of reality…  No, I was not high.

Get uncomfortable.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best things in life happen to us when we operate outside of our comfort zone.  I’d be lying if I told you that I took all of these shots feeling 100% comfortable like a boss.  About 99.9% of my street photography is candid, this means I don’t like to ask permission before I steal a soul take a photograph.  This also means that I run the risk of a subject reacting poorly when I take their photograph.  This happens very rarely but it does happen from time to time.  Either way, for me, candid street photography is sometimes uncomfortable but always more appealing.

Always be ready.  If you ever see me walking down the street with my camera you’ll notice that it is always in the ready position.  I’ve got it around chest level with my finger on the shutter release the entire time I am carrying it.  I learned the hard way that if you carry a camera but aren’t ready to press the shutter you may as well leave it in your backpack.  Many of the shots you see here were split seconds that would have been far gone had I had to pull a camera from my backpack, turn it on, and take the shot.

F/8 and be there.  Simply be there.  You can’t photograph what you don’t see.  With our obsession with iPad’s, computers, and smartphones it’s not hard to see why many photographers fall into the category “armchair photographer”.  Armchair photographers are simply photographers who consume others work, reflect on their own work, but rarely produce their own work.  There is nothing wrong with this unless you have a desire to be the one producing the great work.  Simply getting up, getting out, and putting yourself in situations where life can happen will give you the opportunity to be an amazing photographer.

Would I visit Venice beach for street photography again?  Maybe it is too soon to ask this question because as I typed it I noticed I was shaking my head no.  I feel like there are so many projects on my horizon that it is difficult to commit to revisiting someplace when there are so many other places I need to go.  I highly recommend you add it to your list if you are a street photographer looking for a great place to practice your craft.  It’s warm, welcoming, and not difficult.

Thank you for reading!  Stay tuned for my next article; Street Photography In Santa Monica California.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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4 replies on “Venice Beach California Street Photography”
  1. says: Becky

    Love the fractal photographs, John. Such nice work. Question: did you have a filter on for any of the shots that were directly into the sun?

    1. says: John Barbiaux

      Thank you! No filters. I was usually shooting at f/8 or f/11. The lens I was using is pretty awesome at handling direct light like that. In fact, I sometimes shoot with a lens hood that has holes around it just to take advantage of knowing where the light will flare (why a hood at all then? If you know where the holes are and how the light will strike the sensor you have complete control over using lens flare as opposed to no hood and hoping for the best).

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