Photographing Miami — The Most Visual City In America

Editorial Director, Life
02.26.19

Carla Pena

Miami is a photographer’s dream. Every corner is bursting with color. Street art explodes across warehouse walls. The water is brilliantly blue. The sand is parched white. There are vintage cars to admire, sunrises that melt from deep purple to technicolor pink to brilliant peach, and scores of people walking the streets — oozing both confidence and a genuine sense of style. Perhaps more than anywhere in America, this city is abuzz with culture.

As an amateur photographer, I came home from a recent trip to Miami with a camera full of photos. There are always captivating images to train your lens on — from the street art of Wynwood to the history of Little Havana to the energy and aesthetic beauty of the beach scene to the Art Deco institutions along Ocean Drive. But I soon realized that what I really wanted was to capture the city’s scope and culture through the eyes of a local.

With that aim, I reached out to Cuban-American photographer and Miami expert Carla Peña. I’ve long admired Carla’s editorial work for its bright color palette — perfect for matching the vivid colors you see so often in Miami.

“The city really inspired my aesthetic,” the photographer explained. “Miami isn’t like any other place — it’s its own world, even compared to the rest of Florida. I can’t think of a city in the United States that’s more fun to look at. Or to take pictures of.”

Peña spent a week touring the city, from Wynwood to South Pointe Park. Check out her photos and witness the rich cultural diversity on display. Admire the vibrant tones and historic architecture. After seeing these pictures and Carla’s captions, I’m sure you’ll be left to draw the same conclusion I did: “That’s where I want to be this winter.”

DOWNTOWN MIAMI:

Downtown Miami is booming right now, with a renowned dining scene and exciting new boutiques and nightclubs. This is where the city’s rich history meets its penchant for reinvention. You can see that reflected in the museums that line the waterfront, including Carla’s favorite, the Pérez Art Museum.

Carla Pena

“This is from the Pérez Art Museum Miami. It’s a very Instagrammable piece and I couldn’t resist taking a picture. Especially because I think it does a great job capturing the colors and the energy of the city.”

Carla Pena

“This is also from outside of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). I love the building itself but I ended up taking a photo of plants. Why? For me, this image reflects the jungle greenery you see so often in Miami. The city does such a good job feeling alive.”

LITTLE HAVANA:

Little Havana is the epicenter of Cuban-American culture in Miami and the entire United States. The famed Calle Ocho is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, live music, and — as Carla discovered — ice creameries. Look for the shiny, colorful roosters in front of businesses and on street corners. These vibrant pieces of art mark a pathway through the neighborhood.

Carla Pena

“Gotta love Azucar Ice Cream on Calle Ocho! They went full throttle on their facade and are widely considered one of the best ice creameries in Miami.”

Carla Pena

“Little Havana’s Domino Park is famous with visitors, but it’s also a place where an older generation spends a lot of time, simply playing dominoes. There’s a passion on display here that for me, as a Cuban-American, seems to be deeply instilled in our culture.”

Carla Pena

“Everyone wants to get in a game at Domino Park, but it’s actually reserved for locals and people over 55. Still, the park operates an info booth with a docent [guide] inside — all for a bunch of men [and women] playing dominos! How cool is that?”

Carla Pena

“This is a very common Calle Ocho sight: Bright colors and polished wood, paired with black and white photos of the historic visitors to the area. History comes alive in Little Havana and this is a good reflection of that.”

Carla Pena

“Calle Ocho in Little Havana does an awesome job of reflecting the rich Cuban history of the city and this mural really speaks to that quality.”

WYNWOOD ARTS DISTRICT:

Wynwood is quite possibly one of the most buzzed about neighborhoods in the United States. The Wynwood Walls are an absolute must-visit for anyone who loves street art, and the restaurants, coffee shops, night clubs, and boutiques that populate the area and make it a must-see travel destination.

Carla Pena

“I eventually talked to this woman and her daughter about taking their photo, but this had such energy — pairing their dresses with the splashes of color on the wall — I didn’t want to miss it. This is Miami: People with style in a city with style.”

Carla Pena

“This piece of Wynwood street art caught my eye for obvious reasons.”

Carla Pena

“This image comes from the Wynwood Building in the Wynwood Business Improvement District and reflects just how many people are out and about in the area. You’re constantly seeing people on the move, exploring and enjoying the neighborhood.”

SOUTH BEACH:

South Beach thrums with energy. Its scenery is both unique and iconic, with Art Deco buildings surrounded by greenery and inviting ocean-front pools. From fine dining to beach hopping — you can do it all here. In style.

Carla Pena

“The Beacon Hotel has one of the most mid-century Art Deco looks on earth. It was just such an innovative era for design.”

Carla Pena

“I just love those Art Deco lines! Especially when paired with greenery!”

Carla Pena

“Another stunning Art Deco facade. This one feels a little older and a touch more colonial. Stunning.”

Carla Pena

“I love this little moment between friends on the jetty at South Pointe Park. That’s Miami for me: Little worlds within worlds. We’re close to South Beach but these friends are practically all alone in this moment.”

Carla Pena

“This other image from South Pointe Park just felt so spontaneous and alive. I saw the woman preparing to jump into the water and I felt like she was nervous and excited — I was glad to be part of that moment in her life.”

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