Last October, during a visit to LA, a friend and I tried getting that ever sought-after “unique view” of the Hollywood sign. Despite signs threatening death to all tourists (I imagine it could be quite frustrating there!) the backroads surrounding the overlooks didn’t provide much in the way of an inspirational view and while we saw some fantastic houses, I left with nothing special in terms of photographs of the sign. This trip, I decided to make a more concerted (and planned) effort to get the view I wanted…

Hollywood Sign Los Angeles California - Panoramic view from behind the sign - Paul Reiffer Professional Landscape Photographer“Backstage at Hollywood” – Print available to buy now

And there it is. The Hollywood sign from a different perspective – quite literally. In the background (to the far left) you can even make out the skyline of downtown Los Angeles, in the smog 😉

So, how to get that view? Well, you’ll need two things: An appetite for a short hike, and a super-wide lens – I’ll explain why in a bit…  (This was shot at 16mm on a full-frame sensor, so you’d need a 10mm lens on a crop-factored DSLR!)

Paul Reiffer photographing Hollywood Sign Los Angeles CaliforniaMost people who photograph the sign head up to either the Griffith Observatory, or the apex of Canyon Lake Drive, on the main roads. While an easy journey to make, it does mean you end up with the “standard” shot of the sign, head on, with the towers to the right.

By going a different route, you’ll get lots of opportunities on the way to see it from different angles and ultimately be able to see it from above. Indeed, at the start of the route we took, you get a pretty “standard shot” of the sign too.

(This shot of me was taken about a minute after we started walking from the car – not a bad view to start the day!)

Hollywood Sign - Standard Photograph - Paul Reiffer Professional Landscape PhotographerSo if you look at a normal picture of the sign, you’ll see something if you look really, really, closely : people. Look just above the W and O letters, into the trees, and you’ll see people stood up there (there is a close-up zoom below). But if you google “access to Hollywood Sign” you’ll note that the sign is actually closed to the public – so how did they get up there? Well, they walked…!

And here’s the map:

Walking Trail Map how to photograph Hollywood Sign from above and behind - Paul Reiffer Professional Landscape Photographer

Simple really…! Click on the map above to get the full picture on Google, but basically, you park up on the right when you hit a sign making it very clear that it’s as far as you can go on N. Beachwood Drive. From there, take the cut-out south, and at the end turn left. You’ll then find the trail turns left, left and left again – all the way, providing great views of the sign! Follow it round, and you’ll hit a left turn that goes back on itself – stay on that road for another 0.5 miles and then turn right when you hit a junction; follow that road, and you’ll get to the summit!

Hollywood Sign Where To StandNow here’s the challenging part. For those who follow my Facebook page, you’ll notice that at the actual “top” of the mountain, there’s a big fence in the way.

Although the viewpoint itself provides a much better overall perspective over the valley, the steel fence really looks ugly, covering the letters and ruining the view.

The problem is, going back down to the lower level (in red, picture on the left) you’ll find it gets entirely in the way. BUT if you’re 6ft or taller, you can put your camera over the top of the fence (avoiding the $103 fine and Federal record!) and get a stunning shot of the Los Angeles basin.

The sign itself, with the warm light bouncing off the ground from the sun, opposite, make for a stunning photograph and a unique composition.  The biggest challenge? Even with a 16mm lens, at that close to the sign, it’s a tight fit. Don’t go up there expecting a standard camera/lens to just “work” – it needs a bit of specialist kit to get a shot so wide, so close – so please please please go prepared! Yes, I’m sure that sunset would look great up here too – but the fact I managed to get the city in the background was a massive bonus, and this was all at 11am!

So… Am I happy? YES. I got a unique shot, and blown up large, it looks stunning. The fact it was a 2 mile hike there, and 2 miles back, makes it more “achieved” and I love the fact I went further than the “standard shot”.

Hollywood Sign Los Angeles California - Panoramic view from behind the sign - Paul Reiffer Professional Landscape Photographer

I’m sure there are other (better) places out there in LA which show the sign off even more – and I look forward to seeing them. That said, I love this shot, and so can’t be disappointed. Here’s to each of you that give it a go too!