A Photographic Exploration Of Greece

Despite recent headlines, the birthplace of democracy remains a compelling photo destination

Sunset over Meteroa, Greece.

I enjoy traveling to foreign countries for photography. There’s something about traveling with a camera that helps heighten my experience of a place. Being able to photograph a location with “fresh eyes” is a wonderful benefit that awaits us when we visit new countries.

I had the good fortune to visit and photograph in Greece earlier this year, both on the mainland and on the islands. Greece is a treasure trove for photographers and should be on everyone’s bucket list, in spite of the country’s recent economic struggles. It has so many wonderful, unique landscapes and villages to photograph. I would like to share a few of these special locations to hopefully inspire my fellow photographers to visit and enjoy this amazing country. Don’t be frightened away by what you hear in the news—this is a wonderfully hospitable country, is easy to travel in and is very affordable to visit by European standards.

One of the most unique landscapes I found is in a region known as Meteora. This area is a complex of naturally occurring sandstone pillars formed over 60 million years ago. Atop many of the pillars are Greek Orthodox monasteries that are still functioning today. The monks and nuns in some of the monasteries must have their supplies sent over on pulley cables, which span the chasms beneath. This would be a spectacular site for landscape photography even without the beautifully constructed monasteries, but seeing these buildings perched atop the slender rock formations makes it seem otherworldly.

Morning sun in Santorini.

Access to the area is easy since a road rings around the region, providing many opportunities for car pullouts and access to a variety of compositions. If this was in the United States, it would simply be overrun with visitors, and all the photo spots at sunrise and sunset would be crowded. When we visited in early April, there was no one around at sunrise, and at sunset it was still uncrowded. It felt like such a luxury to have photographic “elbow room” to explore such a spectacular location. During our visit, we were also treated to a rare April blizzard, which added to the drama of the location since it’s near the high peaks of the Pindos Mountains. My favorite image from this area was taken directly into the evening sun, which created dramatic backlighting on the trees and interesting shadows on the pinnacles.

Another not-to-be-missed photographic spot is the village of Oia on the island of Santorini. This is the most photogenic village I’ve ever visited, anywhere! The small town is perched on the edge of a vast volcanic caldera that’s filled with the blue water of the Aegean Sea. Photographic compositions range from intricate architectural details and street scenes to spectacular sunrise and sunset panoramas. Unlike Meteora, this location is packed at sunset, but the scrum is worth it to get the best shots. An old ruin is perfectly positioned along the top of the caldera to give sweeping views both at sunrise and sunset. My favorite shot was a stitched panorama at sunrise with the first rays of sun just coming over the horizon.

Pink pelican in Mykonos.

The evening lights of the village at twilight also present a great photographic opportunity—the whitewashed buildings are beautifully illuminated just after sunset.

Similar to Santorini, the island of Mykonos also has authentic whitewashed buildings, narrow alleys and historic windmills to create many photographic opportunities. My favorite shot in Mykonos was unplanned—a pink pelican was wandering down a street near our hotel—that’s why I always take my camera, even if I’m just out to get a morning coffee!

Of course, every trip to Greece should include a visit to the historic city of Athens, recognized as the birthplace of Western civilization and democracy. My favorite sunset spot in Athens was a small hill not far from the Acropolis, which provided spectacular views of the Parthenon and the city below. The Parthenon is lit at night and creates a perfect focal point for nighttime compositions. The lights of the city illuminate the clouds at twilight, so the perfect time to photograph is when the lights come on and there’s still a sunset glow in the sky.

Twilight overlooking the Acropolis.

After our visit, I found myself following the drama of Greece’s euro crisis and wondering what the future holds for the people of this wonderful country. I hope Americans won’t be discouraged from traveling to Greece based on recent news events. Our tourist dollars are needed to help rebuild the economy there, and we all become richer in so many ways by exploring places far from our homeland. Our cameras are the perfect passport to more fulfilling and interesting travels.

Elizabeth Carmel is a professional landscape and travel photographer. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, the Carmel Gallery in Calistoga and the Carmel Gallery in Truckee. You can get more information about her prints, galleries, workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her videos, go to VistaChannel.tv.

Elizabeth Carmel is a professional fine art photographer specializing in unique, expressive landscapes and "waterscapes." Elizabeth’s fine art prints combine dramatic photography, vivid colors and artistic touches to create new, captivating visions of the natural world. Using ultra-high resolution 50-megapixel digital photography, she’s able to capture the subtle details of the natural world and transfer them to large prints with stunning clarity and color. She does her own printing on fine art paper or canvas with long-life pigmented inks. Her award-winning images are in numerous galleries and private collections throughout the United States. Her prints have been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., at the California Museum of Photography and the Nevada Museum of Art. Elizabeth published a book of her photography, Brilliant Waters, Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the High Sierra with a foreword by Robert Redford.