Malta Photography Guide
One of the joys of travelling is having a collection of pictures to share with friends and on social media and bring back the memories of a lovely holiday and, hopefully, be inspired to put a picture or two up on your walls.
This article isn’t intended to be a gear review or assume you have a top of the range DSLR. Making good photographs is down to you and your enthusiasm. Whatever the type of camera or phone you have it will be your perfect tool that can be used to great effect. A holiday is the perfect time to get to know your camera and put it to good use.
I have set the information out in this guide in the form of a Q&A to focus my thoughts and give you a lead into each section. It would be great to have your feedback and comments which other readers may find useful in their planning.
Firstly, Why Malta for a photography holiday?
Every year around January to March I like to choose a destination that I have not visited before. My criteria is to find somewhere within a few hours of the UK (Ok Malta is stretching that a bit) that I can explore in a couple of days. On this occasion Malta floated to the top as an affordable destination with plenty of history and interest to keep me and my camera busy for a few days.
Why visit Malta in the winter time?
Visiting a place (the right place that is) out of season can be a great idea for a number of reasons. For a start many of the major European short break destinations are much quieter off season and you won’t be jostling with hordes of tourists or competing with them for accommodation or tables in restaurants.
Exploring is also far more comfortable without the heat and humidity of summer and there are more hours of the day available for good photography - when the sun isn’t burning the streets (and you) and creating harsh shadows and washed out colours.
What are the photography locations in Malta?
Malta and its sister island Gozo have something for every photographer. Landscapes, coastlines, seascapes, street photography, night photography and long exposures – is there more? I’m happy to tell you that Malta will not disappoint. Here goes with my personal picks for a few days photography in Malta.
Valletta is the capital of Malta and if I was forced to pick just one place this would be it simply because there is so much to explore and photograph. The streets of Valletta are narrow and cobbled and the buildings and architecture seemed to have hardly to have changed. There seems to be a photo around every corner and there usually is.
Many of the streets are long, narrow and steep and create some wonderful vistas. But don’t overlook some of the architectural details including the street signs, windows, doors and statues. Some of the houses in the side streets are really shabby and worn whilst others are beautifully painted and surrounded by pot plants. The city is also great to shoot at night and if it rains the cobbles shine and reflect the street signs, lamps and car lights creating some vibrant night images.
Valletta also proved to be a great spot for some street photography. You certainly won’t stand out with a camera in the town and the city has a real buzz with plenty of street life and some great backdrops.
Mdina is the old capital of Malta and the fortified town sits on a hill with views over the surrounding countryside. Like me you will read that the best time to photograph Mdena is at dusk or dawn but the practicalities of transport sometimes require compromise and I arrived at midday!
Nonetheless the city is a beautiful place to visit and photograph at any time and as with all situations try to and use what you have to your best advantage. I love to shoot black and white and a few dark shadows and blown out highlights never did anyone any harm! Allow at least a half a day to explore and do not miss the St Pauls Cathedral and it’s splendid baroque style architecture.
Rabat is the village that neighbours Mdina and is within walking distance. The main attraction is the catacombs which provide an opportunity to understand the life and rituals of the Roman times.
The three cities can easily be reached by ferry from Valletta and the trip takes about 20 minutes or so. It’s a pleasant excursion and an opportunity to get a different viewpoint of Valletta. Wandering the streets of the harbourside towns of Birgu, Senglea and Bormla is a nice way to spend a sunny spring day but if time is limited I’d make the trip a short one and enjoy the short sea hop and a beer around the marina.
Ferries to Gozo run from the north of Malta and although the ferry crossing is short you have to factor in the journey time to the port and a bit of down time waiting for the bus and ferry. When the days are short you may want to plan to leave Gozo in late afternoon, particularly if it’s getting dark, cold and overcast.
Gozo has a very different feel and character to Malta being more rural and sparsely populated. There are a few points of interest to the photographer particularly the landscape, coastline and churches - the question is, how to get around the island on your Gozo travel adventure?
I opted for a sightseeing tour bus which turned out the perfect choice for both exploring and photography. Two companies operate open top tour buses and ticket can be obtained from booths as you leave the ferry terminal or from the driver. This link provides information including a map of the island and the various stops. The great thing is that your ticket allows you to hop on and off your bus as and stops at historical points of interest giving enough time to break your journey or just take a few photographs if you do not wish to stay and explore.
The upper deck of the bus makes a great platform for photography as you navigate the countryside between towns and coastline. Just remember to set your shutter speed good and high.
If you have enough time try and spend a couple of hours in the capital og Gozo, Victoria where you can stretch your legs and have a coffee/lunch and take in the sights. In the summer months you may want to consider stopping off at one of the beach destinations but not advisable in February.
Transport in Malta
I used the public buses to get from the airport to Valetta and travel to Mdina and the Gozo ferry terminal. I booked a private taxi on the return journey home to the airport which cost about £25 GBP for a 15 minute journey.
I have no hesitation in recommending public buses to get around the island. The main bus stops are just outside Valletta city walls and the signposting and information is good. You can buy your tickets on the bus but try and have small notes and/or change as drivers seemed unwilling to accepts larger notes. All in all the buses are good value and an easy and cheap way to get around.
Any other Malta tips?
Carnivals and Festivals – The carnivals on Malta/Valletta are a real spectacle and one I would recommend for those able to travel in February/March. They go on all day and well into the evening and the streets are full of people watching the various floats and parades to the backdrop of loud thumping music. The locals love to be photographed and show of their amazing costumes. You can find dates at the link below.
Hotel Location – I stayed at La Falconeria Hotel and found it a perfect location and good quality. Valetta isn’t big but it makes life easier if your hotel is somewhere close to the city gates and public transport. A good breakfast is a must for a photographer on the go as is a nice pool to relax in after a hard day pounding the streets, so bear that in mind when scouring the internet- La falconeria had both.
Clothing – It goes without saying that comfortable footwear is a must (I’m a sketchers convert) and a jacket with a few accessible pockets will allow you to ditch your photography bag in the evenings and still carry a lens or two. Restaurants can be small and cramped so do not overburden yourself when dining out.
Photography Bag - Personally I travel light with the minimum gear. My bag included the Fujifilm X-e3 which is a small mirrorless camera with an ASPC sensor. My lenses were a Samyang/Rokinon 12mm wide angle F2, Fuji 27mm pancake and a Fuji 35mm f1.4. The later stayed on my camera most of the time. I took a Gorilla pod camera support which I think I used once but its small and lightweight and not worth worrying about. My bag was an old faithful Lowepro messenger type. The heat was not a consideration during my visit but in the height of summer plan for the bare essential camera gear and water.
Phone App’s – Download a Malta map to your phone before you go. The streets of Valletta all start to look the same and I occasional found myself lost whilst within with two minutes’ walk of my hotel.
Would you do anything different on another visit?
I obviously don’t want the same pictures twice, so maybe split my stay between two locations. I’d love some early morning images of a quant Maltese fishing harbour etc. I’d also like to spend a bit more time on Gozo and do some long exposure shots along the coast (Difficult on a bus sightseeing tour).
Finally; I hope you have found the information useful and if you are planning a trip to Malta I’m very jealous. You can find my Malta and Gozo gallery HERE
Stuart Chard is a freelance travel photographer.