Photographer’s Guide to Cappadocia

“Where man and nature conspire to create otherwordly vistas.”

Photo by Tony Lee

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Nature and man have conspired to create a stunning tableau of photographic beauty at Cappadocia. This stunning 50 square mile plateau is not only remarkable for the geographic spires of stone “fairy chimneys” formed over eons, but also the unique hand-carved houses etched into them. But if that isn’t enough to pique your photographic curiosity, the local tourist trade has also dotted hot air balloons across the horizon like sprinkles on a compositional cake.

Cappadocia Dwellings - Photo by SashaSegal
Cappadocia Dwellings - Photo by SashaSegal

A Brief History of Cappadocia

The plateau’s geographic cones form whimsical mushrooms and spires- some reaching as high as 130 feet in the air. Millions of years ago, regional volcanoes blanketed the area with a fine ash that, over time, baked to form a rock called tuff. The combination of wind and rain over millennia carved the terrain into this bizarre collection of stone formations.

As early as the fourth century, humanity began making its mark, slowly digging into the rock to build subterranean dwellings. Over time these early settlers started to connect these homes through a labyrinth of tunnels that protected them from raiders, Romans, and other threats posed by the ancient world. Many of these fully featured dwellings contain kitchens, stables, storehouses and even ventilated bathrooms.

Woman with a Camel in Cappadocia - Photo by Du Waal Engelbrecht
Woman with a Camel in Cappadocia - Photo by Du Waal Engelbrecht

The most well-known complex, Derinkuyu, is at least eight stories deep into the earth and sheltered as many as 20,000 people at one time.
Monastic communities sprang up here between the 10th and 13th centuries, adding hundreds of stone-carved chapels and churches to the community. Beautiful Byzantine era fresco paintings still adorn the cave walls today, captivating visitors today with their vivid and colourful depictions just as they did thousands of years ago.

Hundreds of people still call these ancient cave dwellings home, and a thriving tourism trade supports this community. Visitors can enjoy a subterranean lifestyle in the region’s famous cave hotels. One of these hotels, Gamirasu, is a 35-room luxury retreat housed in a Byzantine-era monastery.

Taking Photos at Cappadocia - Photo by Mesut Kaya
Taking Photos at Cappadocia - Photo by Mesut Kaya

Photographing Cappadocia

Photographing Cappadocia is best done from the air, and conveniently there is no shortage of opportunity for aerial photography. An almost limitless number of companies that offer tours of the area from Hot Air Balloons. That in itself is pretty cool, but with so many hot air balloons in the air, almost every day here resembles a hot air balloon festival. As if designed just for photographers, these companies fly only early in the morning when the wind is low, and conveniently for us when the light is remarkable as well. The view from the air is spectacular, where over a hundred balloons form a painted tapestry of colourful highlights across the beige tones of scrub and sand that forms this otherworldly landscape.

Cappadocia Landscape - Photo by Alev Takil
Cappadocia Landscape - Photo by Alev Takil

Once aboard a balloon, you will meander delicately over an ever-changing landscape of photography opportunities. The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most accessible location, which is where the majority of the dwellings and churches are. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is remarkable. Then there is also Zelve Open Air Museum, which must be visited on foot as well. Perhaps our favourite area, because we are quite immature, is the Love Valley. The valley bears that name because the spires here are, well, a bit phallic in appearance.

Photographing from the ground is excellent as well, with myriad opportunities in the various regions. Just as spectacular from the sky, the hot air balloons make for captivating interest in your images as well, so plan to shoot from the air one day, and from the ground on other days. Despite the preponderance of tourists, they generally don’t venture far from the main areas. A short walk will result in freeing yourself the throng of crowds and make your photography experience much more enjoyable.

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As for photography tips, well, the usual landscape lens considerations apply. Wide-angle lenses will be your friend, and because the ballooning starts so early in the morning, we recommend a high-ISO capable camera. It might sound dumb to say, but an investment in a quality camera strap is necessary insurance. A dropped camera from a balloon is not only dangerous but can be heartbreaking.

Sunrise Cappadocia Hot Air Balloons - Photo by Timur Kozmenko
Sunrise Cappadocia Hot Air Balloons - Photo by Timur Kozmenko

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