If you’ve never been to the Tampa Bay area it should definitely be on your photo destination list. Tampa has around 246 sunny days per year on average and is both culturally and environmentally diverse. Photographers of all genres will have no problem finding plenty of things to point their camera at. If you find yourself in Florida or just need to escape the grey skies and snow up north, make sure to visit Tampa Bay.
Visiting a new place as a photographer can be a daunting task. You really need to do your research and make a list of all the places you want to visit that will give you that perfect glimpse into what the area is all about. Add this to the fact that you likely only have a few days to take it all in and it can leave you feeling overwhelmed. I am lucky enough to live here year round and I thought I should share what I have learned with visitors and locals alike.
Architecture and City Life
Tampa and nearby St. Petersburg are both vibrant and bustling cities with outstanding architecture. If you enjoy photographing cities and architecture, you will feel right at home here.
Anyone coming to Tampa should spend at least a little bit of time downtown. The skyscrapers and city parks are a street photographers dream and there is a wonderful mix of new and old architecture styles. Downtown Tampa is very easy to walk around and the city recently added bicycles you can rent as well to make getting around easy. There is also a trolley system that can take you from the heart of the city out to Ybor and beyond (covered later) so you can focus on enjoying yourself rather than worrying about where to park.
This is a shot of the mosaic that decorates the wall of the Glazer Children’s Museum. It can be really fun to photograph since it has bright colors and interesting textures mixed with mirror pieces.
University of Tampa
Located just across the river from downtown Tampa is the University. With its beautiful campus and exquisite architecture, you won’t see another like it. You can easily spend an hour or more here exploring the public areas of the campus and enjoying a relaxing moment sitting beneath one of the large oak trees that dot the campus.
Here is an example of some of the ornate architecture found at the University of Tampa.
Tampa City Skyline
One of the most classic shots of Tampa is the skyline from Davis Island with the buildings reflected in the bay. The easiest way to get this shot is to take a drive over to Tampa General Hospital and setup your camera on top of the parking garage. This gives you a spectacular view of the entire skyline with the bay in the foreground.
Not far from the downtown is the historic neighborhood of Ybor (E-bor) City, which was founded in the 1880s. It was home to the city’s cigar manufacturers, who produced millions of cigars each year. You will feel like you went back in time here with the TECO trolly line and the historic buildings lining the streets. This is a great place to grab lunch and just wander around with your camera for a while.
You wouldn’t think a city like Tampa would be a place you could photograph wildlife but with its proximity to the bay as well as numerous state and local parks you really get to see the animals (especially birds) in their natural habitats.
One of my favorite spots for getting out into nature is Lettuce Lake Regional Park. It’s not far from Tampa and it costs just $2.00 to park. You can spend a good half a day here walking the trails. Its best feature is the extensive boardwalk system that runs along the Hillsboro River, taking you into the heart of the Florida wilderness. You will get a chance to see all kinds of animals in their natural habitat. If you are feeling a little adventurous you can also rent a kayak and paddle your way up and down the river.
If you enjoy aquariums you will love the Florida Aquarium. Home to more than 20,000 plants and animals, the Florida Aquarium has designed its habitats to mirror the real environments the animals occupy in the wild. Some parts of the aquarium are pretty dark so you may want to bring a tripod with you. I had no problem using mine inside although it may also depend on how crowded it is when you visit.
Typically known for its roller coasters, Busch Gardens is not somewhere you might think to stop as a photographer. The park has award winning shows and thousands of animals, including an entire section of the park resembling the African Serengeti. If you want to get up close with exotic animals like lions and giraffes but a trip to Africa isn’t in the cards, this is a perfect alternative.
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
This is a location I knew about for a while but hadn’t had a chance to visit until recently. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in Tampa. It isn’t as busy as Busch Gardens and there is a wide variety of animals from all over the world here. Although you may have to get creative to get photos at some of the habitats you can get some amazing shots.
Several of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken have been shot here, this is one of them.
If you are the beach bum type or just like to take a day to relax by the ocean when you are in tropical climates you will love the beaches here in Tampa Bay. Some of the best beaches in the world are right here and the water is beautiful.
Fort de Soto
My favorite beach so far is at Fort de Soto Park, which is south of St Petersburg. It’s a little bit of a drive but it’s so worth it. It was an active military installation and remnants of the Fort are still there. There is a long fishing pier over the ocean and you can sometimes spot manatees or dolphins swimming nearby. Some pelicans have also made this spot a permanent home. Fort de Soto has a great view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge which makes a perfect sunrise photo. You can easily spend an entire day here exploring and relaxing near the water.
Florida is home to so many types of birds, I never get tired of photographing them.
Indian Rocks Beach or Clearwater Beach
If you are looking for more of the traditional beach experience than either of these are great destinations. They are both large tourist attractions, if you like quiet places you will want to look elsewhere. Both beaches are part of a system that spans the entire length of Pinellas County, totaling over 35 miles.
The view of Clearwater Beach from the fishing pier.
Honeymoon Island State Park
Consistently ranked one of the best beaches in the United States, it’s one of Tampa Bay’s most incredible locations. Soft white sand beaches and surrounded by lush pine forests, Honeymoon Island is a perfect location for beautiful landscapes.