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Guide to Photographing Oia, Santorini

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

Oia is the northernmost town on Santorini island, and perhaps one of the most photogenic spots in all of Greece. With all the beautiful whitewash apartments and blue domes churches it is a paradise for holidaymakers and photographers alike.


Oia View, Santorini


While researching and looking for some advice online about photographing this wonderful town I noticed that almost every blog I found was written from the perspective of a 20-something "influencer" and talking about how to get the best Instagram shots.


So instead of writing yet another of the same post, I thought it would be a nice spin to write instead about how an amateur or enthusiast photographer may look to take some really beautiful holiday snaps that may even make it to the coveted position of living room wall print.


Before getting into that though, a little disclaimer.


Oia is also the Instagram Mecca and by extension designed to separate tourists from their money. Be under no illusions that this is some quiet undiscovered gem in the Med. Cruise ships bring daily groups to Oia by their thousands and literally offer "Instagram tours" for 200EUR.


Lines of tourists heading into Oia


All that being said, Oia is stunning. Simply beautiful. I'm going to go through in this blog some tips and tricks for getting your holiday shots that are worth a bit more than just an Instagram post!


Timing

The ultimate photo of Oia is taken at Sunset from one of the streets. This however involves being packed into the town like sardines while everyone holds up their phone. Getting to Oia for sunset is not too difficult as many tours and taxis will happily facilitate it. That being said from everything I have learned, its best to arrive several hours in advance in order to get a good shot. My wife and I took a slightly different approach and arrived early in the morning at 9am, hoping to get ahead of the worst of the crowds (and the heat). It meant that the light I was able to capture was an early morning sun rather than sunset.


Oia Rooftops, Santorini


Getting There

Getting to Oia is easy, largely because of it being such a tourist trap. Each method of access is a trade off between cost and ease. Below are some of the main options.


Tour

Tours can be booked from any corner shop, hotel or store. They usually revolve around seeing the sites of Santorini and ending up in Oia for sunset costing between 50EUR and 100EUR. You can even book a "tour" which will take you to Oia only for sunset for around 15EUR. These are definitely the easiest and very cost effective ways to get to Oia, BUT it will involve shuffling along the high street in a sweaty tourist conga line to get your shots in a production line fashion.


Tour Bus Conga Line


Bus

Busses are very cheap, costing between 2 - 10EUR and will run in and out of Oia all day. These are by far the most cost effective method, however as all busses run in and out of Fira depending on your hotel location could result in a long and frustrating Journey.


Taxi

The classic Greek wild ride taxi is always available however can be a bit more pricey in Santorini than on other islands. Depending on your starting location could be up to a half hour journey (Kamari - Oia) which when including both journey could add up. I believe you can get an Uber. Having checked my app at the time of writing there were apparently 4 Ubers active.


Rental (Car, ATV, bike etc)

By far the most convenient method in my view is a rental. Again rentals are easy to get with most accommodation happy to arrange it for you, or multiple larger companies (Avis, Herz etc) available from the airport. Our car cost 40EUR per day + Fuel and also allowed us to visit other areas of the island. Parking was surprisingly easy in Oia with large secure car parks which set us back about 10EUR for 3 hours. After a sweaty walk around town we were delighted to get back to a cool air conditioned car ride home!


Oia Blue and Yellow Appartments, Santorini


Photo Locations

So the neat truth about Oia is that its very hard to take a bad photo. Its also such a photogenic town that around every turn, and every corner there is something to be seen and found. Below I have listed the big game to be photographed, but I personally found that I got the most satisfaction from trying to find little gems hidden around the town. Below I have a little google map showing where you can find the famous sites. These are shown with gold stars.

Gold Stars: Photo Spots, Oia Santorini



Oia Red Appartment, Santorini


Blue dome Churches

Lets get the big one out the way first. The most famous shot of Oia is the blue domed churches. They really are quite stunning with the blue standing out against the white wash walls. The big challenge however is that every single tour lines up to get tourists in to see the churches and as such there are long ques to get your snap. The vies are accessible by heading down one of the many side passages that branch off the main high street.


Oia Blue Domes 1, Santorini

Oia Blue Domes 2, Santorini


Windmills

Perhaps the second most famous view in Oia are the old windmills. These have long since stopped being used for their intended purposes and now provide high cost exclusive accommodation for tourists. They are one of the most beautiful views and the western edge of Oia I found much quieter then the main Highstreet, perhaps as many of the tours don't get that far into town. The Windmills are pretty large and easy to see so its well worth walking around a bit to find the best angle and composition.


Oia Windmills, Santorini


Oia Castle

Oia Castle is is really the ruins of the old castle in the town. Its easily accessible up a short flight of stairs and although perhaps not the MOST photogenic site, does provide an excellent viewpoint from which to photograph Oia. Just be warned there may be a long que of people on the stairs and you will have to be quick as people jostle for space to look over the walls.


Ammoudi Bay

Ammoudi Bay can be found at the western edge of Oia and is accessible by a long steep set of stairs. It is a gorgeous bay with clear blue waters and can be photographed up close or from many of the terraced streets.


Oia Ammoudi Bay, Santorini


Other Stuff

I think amongst the grand views it's easy to overlook all of the beautiful store fronts, people, flowers and ..... Wildlife? As I mentioned at the start there are so many fun little things to be found around town, from quaint old shops to brightly colored walls and hotels. Oia is also home to many wild cats who will happily sit and pose for pictures, and you may also find local guides walking their Donkeys through the streets! Its well worth once you get your big shots to just stroll around the back streets and see what you can find hidden away in the corners.


Oia Bells, Santorini

Oia Bookshop, Santorini

Oia Cats, Santorini


Camera Settings

Lastly let's talk about camera settings, I've saved it until last because thankfully this is the easiest bit. Normally I am a big advocate for Manual Mode. I literally wrote a book and produced a video course about it, buy of you are in Oia during the day it's one of those times when Automatic mode can be super useful (sort of).


Oia is a perfect example of where timing matters because it's so busy you often have seconds to get a shot, so fiddling around in manual may lose you the chance before someone walks in the way. During the day it's also highly likely to be clear skies, bright sunshine and mostly still subject (buildings) and as such my preferred tool is Aperture Priority Mode.


Aperture priority mode allows you to pick and aperture and Iso and let the camera do the legwork on Shutter speed. On a bright day usually ending up somewhere between 1/125 and 1/400, perfect! For the lovely broad images pick apertures of around f7 - f9 for those long depth of field and if you want a more closeup shot, you can always drop it down a bit.


The only pitfall with this method and something to watch out for is that as the buildings are almost entirely white, it can cause the cameras exposure meter to sometimes guess wrong. Just make sure to periodically check your images and if need be, manually force the camera to over or under expose with exposure compensation by plus of minus half a stop.


Oia, Santorini


Wrap Up

I started writing this post in the car home from Oia as I had so much fun walking around with my camera out. I went in looking to take some classic tourist photos but in the end it really revived my love for on the ground travel photography. If you are heading to Santorini and want to take a trip to this historic town I hope this post will be of use. If you take any pictures please tag me or email me a copy, I would love to see what you come back with!


David

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