Santorini seems to have everything a photographer could possibly want.
Its towns feature pastel coloured buildings sitting atop cliffs that look out over a sparkling sea. Picture perfect sunsets that tint the sky in warm colours every evening. Bright pink bougainvillea flowers, white-washed windmills, tiered bell towers, cave dwellings, and paved narrow alleyways are all accessible for visiting photographers to capture.
Santorini sits around a quiet but still active volcano with a water-filled caldera in the centre. This unique geology along with an appealing climate and charming architecture brings millions of tourists to the island each year.
This Greek destination draws more than its fair share of visitors, many of which disembark from the cruise ships that stop by during the summer months. If you come to Santorini adequately prepared, however, you can snap some amazing photos of this incredible island without competing for space at all the tourist hotspots.
If you’re planning a photography trip to the Greek islands, here are some tips for getting great photos and as well as 10 things to photograph on Santorini!
Santorini Photography Tips:
- Santorini’s high season is from June to October. It’s best to avoid the middle of peak season unless you want to share the island with thousands upon thousands of cruise ship visitors. Plan your trip for the shoulder months for cheaper accommodation and more space for your photography ventures.
- As with other busy tourist destinations, it’s a good idea to do your photography first thing in the morning before everyone else wakes up and starts moving around. The light is softest at this time and you’ll have the pretty streets all to yourself.
- Santorini is known for spectacular evening skies which means there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate silhouettes into your photos. Read up on the camera settings required to get creative with silhouettes before you head out at sunset.
- Try using scale for perspective in your shots. Positioning tiny people or objects against their big surroundings can make for some interesting photos.
- Lens filters are a photographer’s best friend in Santorini. The vibrant colours in the water, sky, and buildings can be deepened beautifully with a polarising filter.
What to Photograph on Santorini:
- Blue Domes
1. Blue Domes
Santorini’s famous blue domes are generally attached to the island’s churches. You will no doubt spot them all over as you explore, though there are a handful which are known to be particularly picturesque.
The three blue domes in the town of Oia are some of the most photographed domes on Santorini. They belong to the churches of Agios Spiridonas and Anastasis, which sit beside each other on the cliffside with the township stretching out behind. Another popular dome in Oia is located nearby on the Panagia Platsani church which can be photographed with a blue sky background.
In the capital of Fira, you’ll find the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church. This is another popular Santorini photography spot as the dome and triple bell tower contrast beautifully against the waters in the caldera.
Not all of the churches in Santorini feature blue domes. Some are decorated in different colours and are unique in their own way. You can usually spot churches from afar as many have tiered bell towers and domes with a variant of the Christian cross sitting on top.
The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Fira is by far the grandest church on the island, with white-washed arches lining the exterior and gorgeous frescos decorating the inside. The Saint John The Baptist Cathedral in Fira is another popular photo spot in Santorini because of its colourful pastel yellow and blue clock tower.
Santorini cops some wind from the sea, so it makes sense that there are over 70 windmills scattered about the island. Once used for grinding flour, now the picturesque windmills are popular photography subjects. You can even rent one out if you want to stay inside as a few of the windmills have been converted into tourist accommodation.
The sunset windmill, which can be seen from Oia Castle, is probably the most photographed on Santorini. Despite its name, this area is best avoided at sunset as the crowds can be intense. Blue hour may be a better option as many of the tourists depart after the sun has disappeared.
Santorini has a huge population of feline residents. Most are friendly strays who are happy to rub up against the legs of tourists in the hopes of receiving food.
You’ll no doubt spot plenty of cats while you explore Santorini, so keep them in mind when you’re looking for photography subjects. They can look fabulous while perched on a wall with the view behind, or as a frame within a frame while they laze in window sills or bell towers.
Bougainvillea plants decorate the streets of Santorini in a vibrant pink. They bloom when the weather is warm between early spring and late autumn, so you can see these pretty plants decorating the streets throughout most of the year.
The pink bougainvilleas can be spotted in various locations, but Oia is known as being a particularly good place to see the trees as they flow over the walls of dwellings and into the narrow streets.
Santorini does have some of the iconic white sand beaches that the Aegean is known for, but the real drawcard is the unique beaches that feature both red and black volcanic sand.
Perissa and Kamari are beaches situated on the southeast side of the island. This is where you’ll find black pebble sand along with grass umbrellas, sun lounges, and beach bars.
Red Beach is named appropriately for it’s pink-red tinge which stains the sand and rock behind it. The beach is only accessible via a rocky walking path, so use a camera backpack to protect your photography gear when travelling down to this spot.
Donkeys and mules have resided on Santorini for centuries, used mostly for hauling cargo around the island and for transporting people and goods from sea level up to the settlements on the cliff. You will often see them around the top of the steps from the old harbour in Fira, or you might spot them at other locations around the island.
The wellbeing of the donkeys has come under scrutiny over recent years as some were made to carry heavier loads and work longer hours along with the increase in cruise ship tourism. In an effort to improve the health of the donkeys as well as combat overtourism, the number of cruise passengers is now restricted to under half of what it was previously and donkey ride operators are now required to restrict the weight loads for the animals.
Santorini’s coast that lines the caldera is mostly steep cliffs which are best viewed from the Fira to Oia walking trail. The route takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete by foot without counting photo stops.
Along this walk, you’ll come across numerous viewpoints where you can see along the edge of the island with the towns sitting along the clifftop with the land dropping off into the sea right in front of them.
There are tons of interesting rocks on Santorini that were formed through volcanic activity. The Heart of Santorini and the Rabbit of Santorini rock formations are popular spots for photography along the coast south of Fira. Here you can look through a natural hole in the stone towards the northern tip of the island with Oia in the distance.
Skaros Rock is another prominent and popular rock formation, sitting between Fira and Oia on a promontory. This rock can be visited via the Ekklisia Theoskepasti hiking trail. The best view of the rock is along the hike, then once you arrive at Skaros Rock you’ll be treated to views south over the cliffs towards Fira or a stunning vista out over the caldera.
One thing you can’t miss in Santorini is one of the island’s famous sunsets. The late afternoon sunlight paints the buildings in a beautiful gold which turns to a soft pink after the sun dips below the horizon.
Oia is the most popular sunset spot where hundreds of tourists flock to snap their pics. The views from Oia Castle are the most spectacular, but this spot can get extremely crowded. A quieter option is to head back to Imerovigli for picturesque sunset views, or alternatively you can head to the south end of the island to see the sun set over the caldera from Akrotiri or Megalochori.
Ashlea is an excitable Australian with a passion for photography, sustainability, and travel. She is the creator of A Globe Well Travelled – a blog for those who want to be more adventurous while exploring the world.