Click click zoom. Duncan Rhodes is given a license to mill around Barcelona’s streets and shoot up anything that gets in his way. Join him on the creative tourism bandwagon in the photogenic capital of Catalonia.
I’m crouched down behind the plastic slides of a playground, lying in wait, my zoom lens honing in on its target… but wait, there’s no need to call the police! The subjects of my attention are in fact perfectly safe as they casually browse the graphic novels and poetry compilations of Barcelona’s Independent Book Fair, which is taking place right next to where I’m lurking. And whilst I do feel (and maybe even look) a bit like a voyeur up to no good, or possibly a nefarious contract killer, in fact I’m nothing more sinister than a street photographer for the day, patiently waiting for the right angle for my shot. And finally I get it! Two girls wander into my viewfinder so that they are perfectly framed by a hole in one of the blue plastic slides. I press the shutter release and hear the rapid fire of continuous shoot mode.
Framing is just one of the techniques I and fellow blogger Rob Dobson, of Homage to Barcelona, are being encouraged to employ by our guide on this photo tour of Barcelona’s Born district. Another, one that Rob has clearly taken to heart, is changing your viewpoint – the H2BCN man frequently plonks himself on his posterior, getting as low to the ground as possible and fashioning some excellent results in the process. After he gets a particularly good “rat’s-eye-view” snap of one of the district’s innumerable dark and dank alleys, I feel obliged to copy his creative vision (not for the first time in the afternoon!) and get my jeans dirty in the name of the art. Inspecting the LCD screen on my camera I am glad to see it was worth it, the in-your-face detail of a wet manhole cover creating an image you can almost smell.
Our guide and instructor on the tour, Alejandro Rojas, a professional photographer (and, as I later discover, interviewer of the stars!), is always on hand with some sage advice for improving our shots. At one stage I lament that my photo of a church, shot with aperture priority mode on my Nikon 310, somehow doesn’t look as good as Rob’s on his humble iPad camera. Alejandro points out that the varying amount of light on the church’s facade means that the top part of my image is overexposed, making it pale and washed out. Whilst he can’t fix the light, he teaches me how to read the light meter on manual mode and adjust the shot, underexposing it fractionally, making the whole church front darker and more defined. This relatively simple advice makes a dramatic difference, and for the rest of the afternoon I start getting to grips with the camera’s manual settings… something I’d realistically struggle to do without a knowledgeable pro on hand, giving me the instant answers I need to keep shooting.
As we make our way through the bar and cafe-lined pedestrianised street of L’Allada Vermell there is enough time to capture two of my favourite images from the day – the first an eccentric front door surrounded by potted plants, the second a series of polka-dotted pennants stringed across the avenue – before we retire to a cafe to de-construct our afternoon’s labours. Over a homemade vermouth we discuss some selected shots. Alejandro is relentlessly positive, finding something to admire in nearly every photo, whilst still occasionally giving hints on how they might have been improved. I try to take a step back and not get carried away: but even though neither Rob nor I will be turning pro any time soon by my reckoning, it’s hard not to think that, sporadically at least, we’ve managed to turn the every day and the mundane into the beautiful and provocative. And I guess that’s what street photography is all about.
Creative Tourism in Barcelona
There has been a growing trend of creative and alternative tourism in the Catalan capital, with a spate of interesting options arising in recent years, offering travellers a change from typical guided walking and bus tours. Here are some of our favourites:
Shutter Kings Barcelona
Our go-to guys for photo tours of Barcelona, the knowledgeable and personable professional photographers on their team make learning the art of lenscraft a great pleasure. They take you around the back streets of the city, and help you think about photography in a different way – as well as improving your technical skills. And if you think you look better in front of the camera than behind it, they also offer photo shoots.
If you’ve been to Park Guell and got inspired by Gaudi’s trencadis technique (ie. creating art with broken tiles and ceramics) then the Mosaic Class at ArtyBarcelona is definitely for you. With the help of your Catalan teacher you’ll be able to create your own Modernista-style souvenir.
Cooking workshops are currently the most popular creative activities amongst tourists, and local online guide Barcelona Life offer two distinct classes via their website. One is a very affordable paella cooking workshop, where you team up with the rest of the group and a Spanish chef to make the famous rice dish from Valencia. The other is a more refined gourmet experience, cooking (and of course eating) a four course meal with a local chef’s expert guidance. Click here for more info.
La Terrazza Atico
Break out the palette and paintbrush with La Terrazza Atico who offer one day watercolour workshops on the streets of BCN. You’ll get a fair bit of technical help with this potentially tricky medium, and then try your hand at capturing one of the city’s many iconic vistas. Also offer week long holidays for the more determined artist.
Offering four gallery tours and four photography tours, this young company has recently expanded the creative tourism potential of Barcelona. Their “Initiation Art Tour” for example introduces you to the city’s art scene, visiting galleries and workshops and learning about the different techniques artists use to create their work.
For even more on alternative tourism check out our own article on luxury shopping tours in Barcelona, which takes the visitor on a whirlwind tour of the luxury and design worlds in the Catalan capital, from independent boutiques to the antique treasure troves frequented by Hollywood costume designers.