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Miami Photography Tips for Visitors

January 22, 2011 By Bill Cooke in Miami: Local NewsMiami: Travel News  | 13 Comments


So you’re headed to Miami for that long-overdue vacation, and you’re bringing the new camera you got for Christmas. No more cell phone pics for you. You’re finally going to get serious about taking better pictures.

Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.

The good news is that the new digital cameras are greatly improved over the models from just a few years ago.

The bad news is that no matter how good or expensive the camera, it won’t make you a good photographer.

But if you follow a few simple rules, you can take great vacation pictures that you’ll be proud to show your friends.

As I wander around South Beach, I have no trouble picking out the amateurs.

They usually walk along Ocean Drive and when they see something they want a picture of, they’ll stop and point the camera at it, click once and then move on.

If you want your pictures to look professional you have to shoot like a pro

When a pro sees a picture he wants to shoot he’ll take many pictures of the scene, shooting both horizontal and vertical pictures. He might move around the scene, composing the image carefully in the viewfinder, eliminating distracting background elements. If the camera has a zoom lens, he’ll use the zoom feature to compose and isolate elements of the picture.

For instance, using a zoom lens in the wide-angle mode will let you shoot a picture of an entire art deco landmark building on Ocean Drive.

Using the same lens in the telephoto mode lets you isolate some of the more interesting features of the building such as a neon sign or etched glass door.

Another way to make your pictures look professional is to carefully choose the time of day you shoot

Many pros shoot early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Most photos for travel brochures are shot at these times.

For beautiful pictures of Ocean Drive it’s best to shoot early in the morning right after sunrise. The early morning sun is best for capturing the the pastel colors of the buildings. If you’re staying at one of the Ocean Drive hotels, try making your way to the rooftop for a vista of Ocean Drive.


If what you want are pictures of the Ocean Drive’s buildings bathed in neon , late afternoon is the best time to shoot.

The lights are usually turned on right around sunset. Waiting 15 or 20 minutes after sunset to shoot yields the best results.

Shoot earlier and the lights will be overpowered by the sunlight. If you wait until after dark you’ll get the lights but the sky will be too dark. It’s still possible to get good pictures later at night, but a tripod is a must. Experiment for best results.

Some of my favorite places to shoot on South Beach are Ocean Drive, South Pointe Park and Lincoln Road

What follows are some of my favorite shots that I’ve taken recently at these spots. And others are from my archives.

Here are two shots of Ocean Drive taken a few years apart but shot from roughly the same spot. The top photo was taken an hour or two before sunset. The bottom photo - taken recently - was shot about 15 minutes after sunset.


Here is another shot of art deco buildings with neon signs blazing taken about 20 minutes after sunset.


There are many vintage cars to be seen on Ocean Drive at various times of the year. Here are shots of the detail I liked on two cars.



Here’s a shot of one of my favorite hotels on Ocean Drive, the Breakwater. The day I shot this the hotel was in the midst of renovation so I focused on the distinctive sign…unchanged since the hotel was built. The Breakwater is famous for being used as the location for a Calvin Klein perfume ad in the mid-80’s.


South Pointe Park offers great shots of the Port of Miami and the Miami skyline as well as a great shot of Miami Beach looking north. Lincoln Road is a great place to practice people and street photography.

Here are two shots of Miami Beach looking north from the southern-most tip of South Beach- accessible from South Pointe Park. One was taken a few years ago in the summer and the other was taken recently showing the beach almost deserted in the winter.


And here’s a shot taken from roughly the same spot showing one of South Beach’s famed lifeguard stands.


Here are two more shots taken at South Pointe Park. My aim was to juxtapose people and the buildings.


South Pointe Park also offers some great images of all kinds of ships and water craft as they enter and leave the port of Miami.

A go-fast boat and cruise ship pass each other.


Here’s a shot of a cruise ship leaving the port recently.


Cargo ship and tug boat are silhouetted against the Miami skyline at sunset.


No trip to South Beach is complete without a visit to Joe’s Stone Crab…a South Florida institution. Here’s a shot of their famous sign I like. I have a framed 16x20 print of this on a wall in my home.


One of the things that makes South Beach unique are its people and their pets

It’s not unusual to see skateboarders sharing their boards with their pooches.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the dogs from the tourists!


If your trip to South Beach includes a weekend, make your way up to the famed Lincoln Road Mall.

A Saturday or Sunday on the mall includes some of the best people watching and street photography there is.




Another shot you should try to get is one that includes Miami’s famed skyline which can be seen from many parts of South Beach. I shot this shortly after sunset from the sixth floor terrace of an apartment building on West Avenue and 9th Street.


Finally, remember that the best pictures sometimes occur when you least expect them.

I never expected to get a picture of an egret while strolling on Lincoln Road one Sunday.


Egrets are normally found in the Everglades.

But Miami is full of surprises. Just make sure you have your camera ready.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Miami: Travel News,

About the Author: Bill Cooke is a professional photojournalist and life-long Miami resident. He also runs the wildly popular Random Pixels blog, covering local and national issues.

See more articles by Bill Cooke.

See more articles by Bill Cooke

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13 Comments on

"Miami Photography Tips for Visitors"

Christy says:

My favorite is the first beach shot..but does the ocean really curve that much or is that a fish eye lens? Miami is so beautiful even if you bad pictures, they still look great! I have a beach shot I took on my handbag and I love it.

Posted on 01/22/2011 at 11:49 AM

bill says:

Thanks Christy. Actually the shot you are referring to was taken with a telephoto lens. The ocean actually “curves” like that as you can see in both images.

Posted on 01/22/2011 at 12:02 PM

the bulldog says:

great advice! especially the part about the human interaction!

Posted on 01/22/2011 at 1:37 PM

bill says:

Thanks Jim. One of the first things I learned as a photographer for the AP was to get at least two elements in a photo. Picture of dog=good. Picture of dog on skatebaord=better!

Posted on 01/22/2011 at 1:53 PM

FredTheCatTravels says:

Loved the photo of the egret!  He was looking for lunch!

Great article!

Posted on 01/23/2011 at 8:36 AM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Great article, Bill! Very useful! Egrets are indeed Glades birds, but they’re all over Miami’s urban areas, too. I bet that one wandered off from the local golf course nearby.  Probably eyeing a potential meal in that pond.

Posted on 01/23/2011 at 2:26 PM

bill says:

thanks Maria. Having lived in Miami for over 50 years I know that birds normally found in the Glades can be seen just about anywhere, But this is the first time I’ve seen an egret on Lincoln Road.

Posted on 01/23/2011 at 3:49 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

An intrepid bird grin  I just saw one on US1 & 80th street near Fuchs Park ... attracted to the water in the sinkhole there, no doubt.

Posted on 01/23/2011 at 4:16 PM

Marilynne says:

Yeah, Bill!

Posted on 01/23/2011 at 9:02 PM

Dan says:


First of all thanks for the great site on visiting Florida. I’ve been searching the internet with not much luck on a question about the best time of year to photograph beaches areas and cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

I intend to visit in early Dec and looking for clear blue sky days vs the hazy skies I see in so many pictures. Would you know if I could expect to see something like this in Dec or is it just hit and miss?

Thanks for any advice you could provide.


Posted on 09/26/2012 at 4:32 PM

Gus says:

Hi Dan,

Miami averages only 2” of rainfall in December, which is one of the driest months of the year, so I predict you’ll have lots of blue sky.

The tricky part photographing the Art Deco building is getting good light. You’ll want to shoot the east-facing buildings in the morning and the west-facing buildings in the afternoon.


Posted on 09/26/2012 at 4:54 PM

bill says:

Another good time to shoot is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. Photographers call it the golden hour.

Posted on 09/26/2012 at 5:15 PM

Dan says:

Hi Gus,

Thanks for the quick followup. Glad to hear i picked a good date.

Ps. “free free to delete” you might add a confirmation notification to posts so a user knows when something was posted successfully. Thanks again.

Posted on 09/26/2012 at 5:23 PM

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