I spent a beautiful morning on the Foto Ruta smartphone photography tour exploring some of the best photography spots in Barcelona and learning how to capture better images with my old iPhone 5.
If you’re interested in photography and looking for a creative way to see some of Barcelona’s best bits, this is for you!
It was a fresh February morning and the streets were still but for the gentle rumble of cafes serving strong coffee and sugared croissants.
An old man sat motionless on a bench like a lizard soaking up the first of the day’s rays of sun, which fell from a cloudless blue sky and flared as they blazed between the trees.
Francisco, my guide and mentor for the day, took out his phone and bounced it around in his hand. “You always have your phone with you, which means it’s more likely you’ll have it with you when a good photo opportunity arises.” A very good point.
Tips from the Pros
He’d just got back from a photo shoot in Scotland and we began the tour by showing each other our favourite photos on our phones. His were better.
“Smartphone cameras are so good now, and they’re less obtrusive,” Francisco explained. “If I took out my professional camera with my huge lens and started taking photos of that guy over there, he’d know I was taking pictures of him and he might not like it. But if I used my phone, he wouldn’t really think anything.”
As would happen frequently for the rest of the morning, Fran led us down a narrow backstreet in the ancient El Born neighbourhood, where residents hung washing out to dry on their little Juliet balconies and watered their plants.
I tapped and clicked and swiped away at the photography apps Fran had introduced me to and, with his help, began to take photos that I was amazed were taken on my dusty old iPhone. Suddenly I became aware of the textures, colours and patterns in everyday surroundings: the old door knockers, the metal letter boxes and heavily graffitied walls.
“Remember, always get close — you don’t want to use the zoom because you’ll lose quality,” Fran instructed. “And the rule of thirds. Do you know about the rule of thirds? I’ll explain…”
We arrived at a park where parents pushed their little ones on the swings and gaggles of people chatted jovially on benches in the sun.
“This is a great photography spot,” Fran beamed. “Very multicultural. There you can see a group of gypsies — they are the ones selling those birds in the cages hanging from the football goals.
And there you can see a Latin American guy talking with a Pakistani. And that building there is a civic centre which is mainly run by Africans; sometimes you see them dancing and playing music here.”
Even after living in Barcelona for years, it was all completely new to me, like discovering a secret world hidden within the city.
“Like many barrios in Barcelona, Born had many social problems: drugs, prostitution, over-population. There used to be buildings here, squats, where a lot of the trouble was, but the government knocked them down and asked the residents what they wanted to do with the space. They asked for a park, but there was a misunderstanding and they started building a carpark,” Fran explained as I snapped away at the kaleidoscope of people passing by.
“The locals built a vegetable patch. It was completely illegal, but it’s still there today. The trouble escalated, there was protesting and fighting. People were angry. A policeman was killed. Someone pushed a plant pot from their balcony. In the end the government gave the locals what they wanted — this park. It’s called ‘Pou de la Figuera’, the fig well, but the locals call it ‘the hole of shame’.
The sound of birdsong whispered through the breeze, accompanied by the sweet smell of rosemary as I scuffled my way around the illegal vegetable patch. A handwritten sign was stuck to gate, which Fran translated for me: “It says, ‘Attention. This vegetable patch is guarded by the mafia. By the mafia of love.’”
Determined to show me more of his favourite photo spots, Fran led me to an ancient convent where he taught me how to work with symmetry and framing. We roamed the Gothic Quarter and the bohemian Raval neighbourhood, where we stumbled across Antoni Gaudi’s eery Palau Guell.
When my battery hit 5% we decided to call it a day, retiring to a bar where we sipped on Catalan craft beers and flicked through my camera roll, critiquing my shots. I could tell he was genuinely quite impressed by a few of them. I haven’t put my phone down since.