Griffith Observatory sits on the south facing slope of Mount Hollywood made famous from a certain well known sign. It commands some of the most amazing views of Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Hollywood directly below. Along with an excellent view of the Hollywood sign, it makes it one of my favorite places to take visitors and for sunset photos of the city.
- Leica M-P240
- 50mm Noctilux f/1.0 lens
- 21mm Super Elmar Lens
- Fuji X100T with built in 23mm Lens
- B&W UV Filters
Opened in 1935 and, in accordance with the will of Griffith J. Griffith the benefactor, the observatory continues to have free admission to all visitors. Griffith donated the land to the city of Los Angeles in 1896 along with the funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall and planetarium on the 3000 acre lot.
Designed in an Art Deco style by John C. Austin who was also involved in the creation of other large scale projects in Los Angeles, including city hall. The building underwent a full restoration in 2002 and looks amazing. Even without the incredible view, the building alone is great to photograph.
I recommend arriving at the Observatory a few hours before sunset due to the lines of traffic, and trying to find a park can be a painful experience. Pro tip: park at the bottom parking lot and catch the free shuttle or walk 15 mins to the top rather than fighting for a spot near the top. If you do drive up though, enjoy the cool old tunnel which was the entrance to Toontown in the movie ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’.
There is lots to see inside the building, but to me, the main attraction is the exterior and the view. I like to try and capture some unique angles of the architectural details with the city falling away in the background. There is no shortage of interesting visitors to photograph taking in the view, and has taken on a resurgence of popularity since the release of the movie ‘La La Land’ where it was featured in a number of scenes.
I recommend finding a location on the balcony of the observatory around 45-60 minutes prior to sunset. This will allow you to stake a claim to a good location with your tripod, and you can capture the great changes of colors in the sky, highlighted by the usually think band on smog across the city! If you want a really clear day, always go the night after it rains in the city. It will clear out the pollution and give you a better view as sometimes it can be so thick, you can’t even make out the buildings of downtown.
I normally shoot both single captures mixed in with some HDR images of three exposures one stop apart to combine later in Lightroom. This allows a wider range of tones to be rendered from the shadows to the bight highlights in the sky and buildings.
I also love converting a number of shots to black and white because to helps invoke a very old hollywood feel. It looks like its straight out of a classic movie because the location has been used in so many, including ‘The Phantom Empire’ from 1935 to ‘Terminator’, ‘Flash Gordon’, ‘Transformers’ and ‘La La Land’.
So if you are visiting Los Angeles, I would never miss an opportunity to visit the Griffith Observatory. There are a number of other great locations for views across the city, but this one is by far the easiest to access. Look for future articles showing views from the back of the Hollywood sign and across the Hollywood Bowl from Mulholland Drive.