In the winter of 2017 I had a chance to visit beautiful Vienna for a couple of days with my wife and son. The photo opportunities are endless – this is just a sample of what you can see and do in a couple of days in Austria’s capital.

Here are my top five photo tips in Vienna, with my guidance on how to capture the best photographs. I also include details of the exact equipment and settings that I used for my work.

1 – Capture the iconic opera house – inside and out

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 16-35mm lens – Benro TGP17C tripod – Kase night pollution filter
Settings: 24mm – f/8 – 30 seconds – ISO 100

The view of the exterior from Albertinaplatz is one of the city’s “picture postcard” shots. The best time to capture this is early evening, when the building is lit up, and traffic streaks past.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens
Settings: 12mm – f/4 – 1/30 seconds – ISO 400

The opera house is perhaps even more beautiful inside. Several times per week, you can join a guided tour. It runs in several languages, cameras are allowed, but no tripods. I recommend a wide angle lens to capture as much as possible in a single frame. A low f-stop and high ISO will allow you to capture these shots handheld. If in doubt, use your camera’s shutter priority (S) mode, and set it to 1/100.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens
Settings: 12mm – f/4 – 1/125 seconds – ISO 400

The incredible ceiling and chandelier of the opera house creates beautiful symmetry. You will need to stand in the aisle and point your camera straight up.

2 – Back to nature at Schönbrunn

Schönbrunn Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated southwest of the city’s centre.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Vienna Zoo – is the oldest continuously operating zoo in the world and can be found on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace. Their giant pandas are the most famous animals but you can find over 700 species here. Naturally there are a wealth of photo opportunities to be discovered.

A Vienna City Card entitles the holder to a reduced rate on tickets.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 16-35mm lens – Benro TGP17C tripod
Settings: 20mm – f/16 – 30 seconds – ISO 64

Schönbrunn Palace is beautifully illuminated at night. Here I have used a long exposure of 30 seconds to capture the movement of visitors and the clouds above.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
Settings: 28mm – f/4 – 1/13 seconds – ISO 1600

The low light conditions mean that these jellyfish are difficult to photograph but with this beautiful backlighting it makes for a challenging but worthwhile photo. By using a low F-stop and high ISO you can capture the jellyfish without blur.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
Settings: 230mm – f/5.6 – 1/2000 seconds – ISO 1600

A good zoom lens is essential for your visit. With this you can isolate animals in your photo, or zoom in even further to capture fine detail, colours and textures – such as fur, feathers and scales. This sleeping flamingo caught my eye.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
Settings: 300mm – f/5.6 – 1/250 seconds – ISO 800

A low f-stop paired with a zoom lens create an attractive background blur which keeps the viewer’s attention on the elephant.

This article was put together with the help of Vienna’s excellent tourist board. They also organise Vienna’s City Card programme for tourists. Some benefits of the card include:

  • Free travel on public transport
  • Hop On Hop Off tour (Big Bus Vienna)
  • Available for period of 24, 48 or 72 hours
  • Over 210 benefits
  • Free app
  • One child up to the age of 15 travels free with each Vienna City Card holder
  • Prices start from just € 17

The cards can be purchases from many major hotels, plus the tourist information desks at the airport, Albertinaplatz, main train station, plus online.

3 – Visit the museums

One could spend days or even weeks exploring Vienna’s incredible cultural scene but with limited time, I decided upon a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art history museum) at Maria-Theresien-Platz. It is an imposing, lavish 18th century building with spectacular architectural detail – arguably the building itself is as beautiful as the treasures it displays.

This was an afternoon well spent and with the Vienna City Card there is a discount on the admission fee.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens
Settings: 12mm – f/4 – 1/60 second – ISO 400

Upon entering the building, look up at the vast dome overhead. With a steady hand and careful alignment you can align the upper dome with the circular gap in the ceiling as a single image capturing the symmetry and magnificent gold leaf detail.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens
Settings: 12mm – f/8 – 1.6 second – ISO 100

A cafe is perhaps an unlikely choice for a photograph but not all cafes look like this! The Cupola Hall houses the museum’s cafe and can be viewed from the arches of the floor above. A wide angle lens can be used here to capture the marble columns and ornate floor tiling.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens
Settings: 12mm – f/4 – 1/60 second – ISO 1600

Beware that photography is not permitted in some areas of the museum, so please pay attention to signs. I waited for some time to capture this photo free of any people. With only seconds to work with, a high ISO and low f-stop allows me to capture the photo quickly and handheld.

Bratislava – an easy day trip

If you’re visiting Vienna, did you know the Slovakian capital of Bratislava is a one-hour train journey away? Why not hit two European capitals in a single visit? Check out my photographic guide to Bratislava.

4 – Get abstract with modern architecture

A visit to Vienna conjures up images of Gothic and Baroque architecture, but explore beyond the historic centre and you will find many stunning examples of modern architecture in both public and residential buildings.

Location: Parking garage at Vienna University of Economics and Business
Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens – Benro TGP17C tripod
Settings: 12mm – f/4 – 1/60 seconds – ISO 400

What do you see here? A sink drain, perhaps? It’s not immediately obvious to the viewer what we’re looking at in this unconventional photo. It’s actually the circular ramp of a parking garage near the university. Here I am at the bottom of the ramp looking straight up at seven glass skylights at the top, with the ramp sweeping around in hypnotic fashion.

Location: Building facade on Landstraßer Hauptstraße, near Wien Mitte station
Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
Settings: 82mm – f/5 – 1/320 seconds – ISO 200

This is the side of a building many people pass without a second look as they exit the mall at Wien Mitte onto Landstraßer Hauptstraße. Zooming in on the patterns created a simple abstract image that is very pleasing in black and white.

Patterns and textures are all around – look up and around for the photo opportunities that aren’t so obvious.

Location: DC Towers – near Kaisermühlen VIC
Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens – Benro TGP17C tripod – Kase Filters 10-stop neutral density filter
Settings: 28mm – f/16 – 30 seconds – ISO 31

On a grey and miserable day, interesting exteriors lend themselves well to moody long exposures. To achieve this in the daylight hours, I use a neutral density (ND) filter. This reduces the amount of light entering the camera, meaning the exposure time has to increase to compensate for this. Clouds blowing past overhead will become abstract streaks. A tripod is essential.

Location: Citygate Tower – near Aderklaaer Straße
Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens – Benro TGP17C tripod
Settings: 12mm – f/16 – 4 seconds – ISO 100

This is a similar shot taken in the very early morning before sunrise. With limited light in the sky, once again a tripod is required. A high f-stop ensures the building is sharply in focus from top to bottom.

5 – Visit the Christmas markets

Christmas isn’t just a time to enjoy fantastic shopping and a hot mug of Weihnachtspunsch. There are ample opportunities here to practice your night photography techniques.

Vienna has many Christmas markets to visit – some big, some small, each with a different character and selection of gifts, food and drink, entertainment and warm drinks. Our son is only a few months old so he is too young to remember his visit, so we are sure to return so he can soak up this magical atmosphere.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens – Benro TGP17C tripod
Settings: 12mm – f/16 – 13 seconds – ISO 64

The Rathausplatz is one of the largest and most beautifully lit markets. When the sun goes down, the market glows with cosy cabins leading the way.

Equipment used: Nikon D810 – Nikkor 16-35mm f/3.5-5.6 lens – Benro TGP17C tripod – Three Legged Thing L-bracket – Kase Wolverine 100mm neutral night filter
Settings: 35mm – f/16 – 1.6 seconds – ISO 100

A short distance away is the Christmas market at Karlskirche. Here I’ve found an elevated viewpoint and a symmetric composition. A light dusting of snow on the ground is just what I wanted to see. A portrait composition here nicely frames the church with the twinkling lights beneath.

Looking for more photography spots in Vienna?

Some of these spots, plus many more, can be found in Rainer Mirau’s brilliant photographic guide to Vienna courtesy of Snapp Guides.

Photograph © Rainer Mirau