Magrit and I just completed our first photography tour in the Czech Republic. Of course this offering included enchanting Prague, but we also ventured further afield to southern Moravia, Telc, Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora.
When Joanne Martineau, a French Canadian who was with us on this inaugural photo tour told her friends and family that she was going on a photography vacation to the Czech Republic, the unanimous response was: “The Czech Republic, why?” Hopefully, the bounty of our photographic results will answer this question for those doubters.
We began this tour in Prague, a city with over 1 million inhabitants but with an amazing and intimate historic center that is very manageable by foot and public transport. We reached our photographic venues by walking, two taxi rides and one exciting street car ride to the top of the castle area. Speaking of the castle area: Prague’s castle is the largest castle complex in Europe, sitting high above the old town. It is a village in itself and a whole different world than the bustling and crowded districts below. One of the best times to visit the castle area is late in the day. Access to the famous Golden Lane with its colorful 16th century cottages is free after 5 pm and there are relatively few tourists left. We recommend photographing here before and after sunset, during the magical blue hour. There are also plenty of good restaurants in this area and you can also visit the Stahov Monestary for some locally brewed beer before making the easy descent back down to the old town.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in Prague is the Charles Bridge. It is also the most photographed as well. Luckily, our hotel was strategically located just below the bridge on the Vltava River, so that we did not have far to go to reach the pedestrian-only bridge early in the morning before the hordes arrived. The best time to photograph here is the blue hour period, 45 to 30 minutes before sunrise. The street lamps are on and stopping your lens aperture down to f16 or f22 produces beautiful starbursts. The street lamps go out before sunrise and as the sun comes up, you might even experience some magical fog rising from the river.
Taking the first elevator at 9 am to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower is another great photo op. Rising 6o meters above one of the most elegant and beautiful squares in Europe, this is a fantastic venue for both wide angle and telephoto images. It is best to arrive early to avoid the crowds. Tripods are not allowed. Bump up your ISO so that you can use a fast shutter speed — 1/125th of a second or faster.
Heading east on Celetná Street from the Old Town Square for a few minutes you will find the House of the Black Madonna, one of Prague’s best examples of Cubist architecture. Inside the building you’ll find a very elegant coffee house but more important for us as photographers is the stairwell shaped like a light bulb. You can use a tripod here if you can contort yourself enough or you can simply place your camera on the floor on a piece of paper. Take a shot, check your exposure, composition and focus and adjust if needed. After you dial all this in, you can take multiple shots by rotating your camera via the piece of paper.
These are just a few of Prague’s photographic highlights. We find that strolling around some of the less crowed neighborhoods can be very rewarding for photography.
We planned this photo tour for mid April, primarily to photograph the landscape of southern Moravia, when the rolling wheat and canola fields are at their greenest and yellowest. We timed it just right, spending 3 nights here from April 15-18. This area is famous for wine but is also becoming known for its photo ops. We met photographers from all corners of Europe as well as a group from Korea. We based out of the small town of Kyjov, about 3.5 hours to the SE of Prague. The photographic highlights are all quite close to town but it takes some time to figure out where they all are. We spent a few days here before the tour began, searching out the best venues. This is the fun part of our job!
Another highlight of this area is the local cuisine. We savored great grilled meats and traditional dishes like goulash, roast pork and duck with cabbage and dumplings in various shapes and good local wine and beer. The Czech currency is still on the Koruna and prices are more reasonable than in the rest of Europe.
Heading west from Kyjov, we stopped for lunch and photography at the over-the-top colorful town of Telc. This Unesco protected town is located at the border between Moravia and Bohemia and features one of the Czech Republic’s loveliest and best preserved town squares.
Leaving Telc, we headed SW to the Renaissance town of Cesky Krumlov. This is one of the most charming and beautiful small towns in Europe or perhaps the world. The river Vlatava runs right through the middle of Cesky Krumlov, creating a horseshoe bend with three bridges connecting a labyrinth of lanes. The historic area is pedestrian-only, which is wonderful for strolling, especially for photographers. Above it all sits a fantastic castle complex with multiple open courtyards. A benefit here is that the courtyards are free and always open so we could photograph early in the morning without the crowds. We spent 2 wonderful nights here before heading back to Prague.
On the way, we stopped in Kutna Hora for lunch and a visit to The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist to photograph the wonderful spiral staircase designed by the genius Czech architect Santini. The other areas of the church interior are also very photogenic. Tripods are not allowed, so for the stairwell we used the technique described above, placing your camera on the floor on a piece of paper. We first visited Kutna Hora 25 years ago and found it quite run down and depressing. To our surprise, much has changed since then as most of the historic architecture has been beautifully restored.
From Kutna Hora we drove back to Prague for one last night in this wonderful city.
What an amazingly beautiful and versatile country! “The Czech Republic, why?” — because it is simply wonderful. We look forward to returning next spring to seek out more photographic masterpieces in this delightful country.
Jim and Magrit have been photographing professionally and traveling in Europe for the past 20 years.
They started Photography Travel Tours in 2011 with the goal of educating and guiding photographers to some of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in Europe.
The tours are not just about getting great photographs but also have the side benefits of doing so in wonderful environments. Great food, wine, people, and ambiance.
Read more about Jim & Magrit and their wonderful photo tours here: (http://photographytraveltours.com/about/).
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.