How to Capture Amazing Forbidden City Photos

forbidden city photos

When you’ve finally made it on your dream trip to China, we know you want to capture the moment perfectly – especially when it comes to major landmarks.

Here, we’re telling you everything you need to take the perfect Forbidden City photos, here’s our top Forbidden City Photography Tips! Including the most important, don’t go Monday!

Know Before You Go

Before we get started on our guide of how to take the best Forbidden City photos, let’s talk a little bit about China and the rules of visiting this incredible attraction.

Tourism in China is up 14% from last year – meaning that you might run into some big crowds in the Forbidden City, and experience long wait times, because the Forbidden City has over 15.3 million visitors every year. The most popular time to visit is between March and June, or August and November.

This classic sight was home to 24 Emperors, the palace took over 14 years to build. Today, the palace also contains incredible exhibitions – more opportunities to capture gorgeous photos.

Bring extra cards and film, though – there are 9,999 rooms!

And while you will be able to buy more memory cards and film in China, it may be best to stock up on these items at home – as there are so many fake cards in China.

Forbidden City Photos: The 101

Keeping all this in mind, most photographers say that the number one thing you need to take the best Forbidden City photos is lots of patience – alongside, perhaps, crazy comfortable shoes.

To make sure you don’t miss anything, dedicate your entire day (at least half a day) to wandering through the Forbidden City. And expect to get lost at least once or twice. But you know sometimes the best photos are the unexpected ones, so see any re-route as an opportunity.

Because it’s likely to be a long day, be sure you’ve brought extra batteries for your camera, there are no cafes with power points inside. Remember too, that some Chinese people consider taking their photographs without permission to be offensive. So always ask first when including human subjects closeup in your photos.

Warning: The exhibition halls of the Forbidden City do not allow flash photography.

Forbidden City Photo Tips: What Are The “Must Snap” Places?

With so much to see, it can be tough to determine which landmarks and sections of the city to see.  You’d be remiss not to include in your Forbidden City photos. Make sure not to miss…

  • The main entry gate at the Tiananmen Square side: This is one of the most famous spots, seen in films like The Last Emperor. It will instantly identify the location of your photos when you share them. Be sure to include pictures of the guards standing outside and the portrait of Chairman Mao! Even thought it’s a classic you can frame it differently, or use a bike, guard or the plants in the front to be creative.
  • The Gate of Supreme Harmony: Built during the Ming Dynasty, history considers this gate to be the most famous, having the most complex construction method within the entire Forbidden City complex.
  • The Hall of Supreme Harmony – AKA The Throne Room: This is probably the most important place to consider taking an iconic Forbidden City photo, as it houses the gorgeous palace thrones. It’s also the biggest and highest hall, and where the royal family held ceremonies.
  • The Hall of Central Harmony: This was the place where Emperors rested before performing sacrificial ceremonies. And where they read seeds to look for answers.
  • Palace of Heavenly Purity: This palace is a testament to the emperor’s fairness, which they symbolized with the famous sundial and a Jialiang. The palace is also a monument to the stability and authority of the Forbidden City. Above the throne is an inscription reading “Upright and Pure In Mind” – a top location for photos.

And let’s not forget:

  • The Imperial Garden: This is my top location within the Forbidden City. This was meant to be symmetrical, there are still some major terrain and style variations in this stunning garden. At the center is the Hall of Imperial Peace, which includes over 20 different styles of architecture. Also, don’t forget to include the over 160 types of trees, which span across 200 years. And look down! They built the paths with 900 different patterns.
  • The Hall of Mental Cultivation: They built this hall in the shape of the letter “I,” and the Emperor would conduct his business and meetings in the different halls to prevent being overheard or spied upon. It also includes five rooms where the Empress – and concubines! – lived in China. A must for your Forbidden City photos.

As long as you include these spots on your Forbidden City photo tour (whether you go alone or with a guided group) you’ll have included the “can’t miss” places in your album.

Additional Forbidden City Photo Tips

Now that you know what to see, you need advice on how to snap the best Forbidden City photos. Be sure to…

  • Take a variety of photos: Don’t just go for a single snap and call it a day. To create the best Forbidden City photos, you want to be able to look at your pictures and remember all of a place. Include close-ups, shots from behind, vary your angles, and focus on the details. Photograph the floors, the lettering, and other things others might overlook.
  • Use The Panoramic Lens: The Forbidden City is huge – using the panorama option on your camera ensures you’ve captured all of it.
  • Play Around With Your Aperture Settings: To get a variety of focuses in your photos, be sure you’ve adjusted your aperture accordingly. We love the contrast of a sharp focus with a fuzzy background.
  • Get Creative In Development: Finally, when actually developing your photos, mess around with the saturation to achieve that old-world, more authentic look.

You’re Ready To Shoot Your Forbidden City Photos

After reading this guide, you know everything I do about taking photos within the Forbidden City, I hope it helps you out on your trip!

For more tips on how to shoot, where to go, and the rules of photography in China, check our blog. We’d love to see your pictures as well, and learn how you took advantage of our advice!

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