I can't honestly say what it is about spiral staircases that I love so much…

…but I know that when I travel to a new city, before the pilot extends the landing gear, I will have already scoured the Web searching to see if there are any spiral staircase I can photograph once I land, so my love for them is real, even if I can't quite articulate exactly why.

Maybe it's the drama they create. Maybe it's that each one looks so different, or that they can be very modern, or classic and old school, and still each has its own story to tell. They're not particular hard to shoot; it doesn't require a lot of high-end gear — the biggest obstacle to shooting them is getting access to them. Sometimes it's easy — sometimes you need special permission, but it's always fun (except for those times where I have to hang out over the railing a bit, and my very real fear of heights takes over and limits how long that shoot will go). Whatever it is, I'm glad you're here and for letting me share some of my favorites.

It all started with this photo below

Above: I took the shot back in 2007. It was in the lobby of the Hotel Bristol Palace in Genoa, Italy. After we checked in and took the elevator back down to the lobby, while my wife was talking to the front desk clerk, I wandered over to find a seat and I looked up and that was the view. I had my camera in hand and took that shot and didn't think much about it, but after I got home, I really kinda like it. It's not a killer shot, but I guess I was just surprised to see such an ornate, detailed staircase in a regular tourist hotel. Also, the reactions people had to the shot surprised me. I guess because it was so easy to capture — zoom out to wide angle, and aim up. But, nevertheless, it got such a great reaction that it stuck with me I guess, which I guess is a good thing because if nothing else, it led to be being able to put a Spark Page post together.

The staircase at the exit of the gift shop at the Vatican Museum, Vatican City, Rome, Italy

Above: this is hands-down one of my favorite, and one I researched and seeked out well in advance. It's the staircase where you leave the gift shop at the Vatican in Vatican City (Rome) Italy. The best time to shoot it is absolutely first thing in the morning when nobody's on the stairs and the light is nice. An hour later, those stairs are packed non-stop until closing. You can buy a special ticket to get into the Vatican an hour before the public is let in, so once you enter, go straight to the gift shop (which really perplexes your Italian tour guide), but you'll have the shot and the place to yourself.

The bottom shoot back up of the same staircase.

Above: This is the exact same staircase in the Vatican Gift Shop taken from the bottom of the staircase looking back up to where I took the previous shot. A totally different look.

The Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco, California, USA

Above: How'd do I find that one, in a random building in downtown San Francisco? Researching on Google. Just type in "San Francisco + Spiral Staircase" and if there are ones there, you'll find them. There was a guard in the lobby who we had to ask if it was OK if we took a few shots. He let us, but told us quite sternly we could not photograph in the library. We were cool with that — we came for the staircase. I don't think we were the first. LOL!.

Me, shooting that shot you just saw above.

Above: Here's a behind-the-scenes shot. OK, perhaps not the most exciting BTS shot you'll see today, but the actual act of photographing spiral staircases is pretty mundane. You try to center your camera as much as possible (sometimes holding it out as far as you can and blindly shooting straight down), or just trying to use a really wide angle lens (here a 16mm wide angle f/4) and keeping as steady as possible (it helps to lean on the railing).

Here's the view from the bottom of the staircase aiming back up. Couldn't quite get it centered because of the wall design downstairs.
One more from that same Mechanic's Institute Library just to show the different looks you can get from different floors and different angles. I generally take the elevator to as high as floor as I can, and then walk my way down looking for interesting or different views.
The spiral staircase, right beside the gift shop, at the Palazzo Grimani museum in Venice, Italy.
Here's the behind-the-scenes shot of the shot you just saw above. If that pole hadn't been there, I would have laid my camera on the floor, or on a Platypod, and aimed it straight up.

Above: Another behind the scenes shot. Equally as exciting.

I think that's enough behind the scenes shots. You get the idea. Sometimes shoot up like I am in the BTS shot above, you can find something to rest your camera on, which you need because the light in most spiral staircases is fairly limited. In this case, I slid the pole over, trying to center it as much as possible, and rested my camera right on it. It's not elegant, but it worked. Sometimes you can do this right on the end of the staircase railing itself, right where it gathers up at the end. Sometimes there's something blocking your camera angle so getting right in the middle isn't going to happen, so I just do the best I can.

Enough blabbing; I'll include locations and any other important details in the captions. Catch you again at the bottom for camera details and such.

Another famous staircase; this time in Prague, Czech Republic. It's inside an office building, and it was on my list a year before I actually got there. Luckily, some friends there knew exactly which building it was located in. We walked in the front door, looked up, and there was the famous light blub staring down at us.
Above: Accidentally found this one in the Hilton, Reykjavik, Iceland. We stopped there for a breakfast buffet on the way to the airport and literally just walked right under it. Immediately took an elevator to the top floor to get this shot.
Same Icelandic staircase from the different viewpoint.
This is another one I found searching on Google. It's in Innsbruck, Austria a short walk from our hotel. I was there for my Photo Walk two years ago and did the search before I arrived. Had to buy a ticket to get into the bell tower where it was located, but I didn't go up into the bell tower — I was just there for the stairs. Totally worth the ticket.
An "employees only" service staircase in the Library of Congress, Washington DC. I got special permission to shoot there for a book project, and we passed by this on the way somewhere in the building and my buddy Jeff who was with me pointed it out, and we stayed there for 20 minutes just to shoot it. I really found this one fascinating.
The famous Tulip Stairs in the Queen’s House in Greenwich, London, England. This is one I searched out, and finally got to shoot last year. Taken from the bottom looking straight upward.
The same staircase looking down (we couldn't go all the way up — restricted access and all that).
Sometimes you just run into one you weren't expecting. This is across the street from "The Queens House" at the British Naval Academy Chapel.
One of my rare black and white shots, but I think it fits the shot. It's in the Embarcadero shopping/office complex in San Francisco a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf.
We're back in London — this time a back staircase (not the one I came to photograph) at the Tate Britain Museum.
Here's the one I came to the Tate to photograph, but I totally missed the shot I wanted. I kinda like this one, but it's far from awesome. I will have to go back next time I'm in London (God willing).
A subway station in NYC creates a spiral inside another spiral.
Here's another view from down low. Pretty wild for a subway stop (right hear the new One World Trade Center).
Above: We wrap up with this one, from much closer to home. This is the ultra modern staircase in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Thanks for letting me share my silly love of spiral staircases with you

I appreciate you coming by and checking these out. If you know somebody who loves spiral staircases like I do, I hope you'll share this page with them. :)

CAMERA INFO: With the exception of the first shot from Genoa, Italy, which was taken with a Nikon D300 and an 18-200mm lens, the rest were taken with either a Canon 5D Mark III, Mark IV, or a Canon EOS R Mirrorless with a 16-35mm f/2.8 or f/4 lens. The shots in the Mechanic's Institute were taken with a 14mm f/2.8 lens.

Created By
Scott Kelby


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