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San Diego

Chicano Park

Chicano Park is a great location to see and photograph street murals in San Diego. It’s one of those rare photography spots in San Diego that has some interesting and rich historical significance.

Chicano Park is a great location to see and photograph street murals in San Diego. It's one of those rare photography spots in San Diego that has some interesting and rich historical significance. 

If you like shooting murals and street art – this might be a great spot for you.

History of Chicano Park

The history of Chicano Park is really important to the Latino community in San Diego. For decades, the community in Barrio Logan – a solidly blue class immigrant part of town – had been asking the city for a park in town.

The city kept putting in scrap yards and other businesses that hurt the neighborhood, despite community requests to help develop the neighborhood. Even the interstate 5 was planned right through the middle of Barrio Logan, forcing a lot of long term residents to move.

When the city planned the Coronado bridge, it was another huge betrayal of the community. Putting an asphalt bridge and pylons right into their neighborhood was another blow after the I-5.

Women and children made human chains around the bulldozers, planting nopales, flowers and other plants in Chicano Park.

Finally, the neighborhood gathered together, women, men and students to protest the construction of a parking lot below the bridge. They wanted a park and were understandably tired of being jerked around by the city.

Women and children made human chains around the bulldozers, planting nopales, flowers and other plants in Chicano Park. The police had never dealt with such an unprecedented uprising from the neighborhood.

For 12 days, the Latino community occupied the area and worked together on clearing the land and planting. They had support from people across the state, as well as muralists who came out to add their art to support the cause.

The Nitty Gritty

Best time of dayDaytime is probably ideal as the murals aren't lit.
But of course sunset will provide some enhanced lighting.
Best weatherCloudy weather would make for better colors and lighting on the murals.
Best versatile gearA walkaround lens is a good one for situations like this.
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II

Murals in San Diego

Of course, the murals are the first thing to catch your eye at Chicano Park.

They are richly colored and the style is just an amazing testament to the artists who use the structure of the bridge as part of the art. Look at this guy, the Colossus, straining to hold up the structure.

This work was created by Mario Torero, Mano Lima and Laurie Manzano. Mario was one of the early founders of Chicano park and the cultural movement. His murals are well known in the artist community and definitely worth seeking out at Chicano Park.

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/60s ƒ/9 @ ISO 800
Focal Length
25mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 13, 2007, 11:48 pm

The color, style and details vary with each artist and they do change from time to time. So even if you’ve gone once, you might see new things if you go again.

It was sunny on my shoot and that added to the challenge of dealing with the bright sun and shadow. Ideally, you’d want a cloudy day but we all know how common those are in San Diego.

Try not to blow out your highlights. If you can shoot raw, you might be able to recover enough color and detail in both your shadow and highlight areas.

Another useful tip is to use the perspective tools on your favorite editor to correct any perspective distortion you might end up with.

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/60s ƒ/9 @ ISO 800
Focal Length
25mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 13, 2007, 11:48 pm

I kind of wish they had a walking tour pamphlet that told me a little more about the works – at least the ones that have been there a while.

I did find this website that details some of the more important murals, with information on the artist and the work of art.

But it’s also fun to just wander around and find the ones that catch your eye. It’s one of the best collections of murals in San Diego all in one spot.

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/100s ƒ/9 @ ISO 800
Focal Length
49mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 13, 2007, 11:54 pm

Watch how the lines of the structure intersect with the frame of your image as well, as that can have an effect on your final composition.

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/200s ƒ/5 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
50mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 14, 2007, 12:17 am

Statues and Sculptures

There are also a number of statues and sculptures in the park that you can shoot, like this one of Emiliano Zapata.

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/3200s ƒ/4 @ ISO 800
Focal Length
50mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 13, 2007, 11:58 pm

Events and Local Life

There are several events during the year that might be great to go shoot. I would love to catch something like this Aztec dance performance!

If not, there’s still the usual people watching that can yield some good shots. I photographed some kids playing in a fountain, as well as some skateboarders.

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/200s ƒ/5 @ ISO 800
Focal Length
38mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 14, 2007, 12:08 am

Chicano Park Photography

Exposure
1/200s ƒ/5 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
50mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
October 14, 2007, 12:22 am

If you want to see street art in San Diego, this is a great place to go. I can’t quite do the art justice as I think it’s better seen in person, rather than just a photo of the work.

I prefer to capture scenes of life in action, with the art as a backdrop. But I do think it’s a real unique side to the history and culture of San Diego that a lot of tourists miss out on.

This post has affiliate links. If you use the link, you don’t pay anything extra but Sidecar Photo gets money for another glass of wine!
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Shimona Carvalho
Photographer, Engineer, Traveler who wants to help you take incredible photographs on your next trip.