How to Photograph Kansas City’s Understated Sense of CoolBy Shayla Martin
Kansas City is filled with understated cool that’s perfect for your Instagram grid. It’s home to lovingly restored pre–Prohibition Era buildings alongside modern establishments and newly hip art districts. And don’t even get us started on the food and drinks! Sleek cocktail bars and gourmet chocolate shops somehow photograph just as appetizingly as heaping plates of barbecue.
Here’s where to go to craft the perfect Insta-narrative of your next trip to KC. As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
If you go to Kansas City and don’t take a photo with the giant shuttlecocks, were you even in Kansas City? The four 18-foot-tall badminton shuttlecock sculptures lie scattered on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and have now become beloved icons of the city. Capture yourself in or next to one of the giant works of art on a bright, sunny day when the rich green lawn shines.
Next, head to the Mediterranean-inspired Country Club Plaza shopping district to see the most photographed fountain in the city. The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain features four horsemen said to represent the Mississippi, Volga, Seine and Rhine rivers.
Head north to Union Station to marvel at the intricately carved 95-foot ceiling in the Grand Hall, where three 3,500-pound chandeliers hang alongside a six-foot-wide clock in the central arch. The 1914-built train station was restored to its Beaux-Arts glory after narrowly escaping demolition back in 1999.
Wait until sunset to capture the pink and orange sky bouncing off the curved stainless steel of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The futuristic-looking structure stands in stark contrast to its surroundings.
Instagram Tip: Plan your photo excursion at early morning or sunset when the light is softer; then use Instagram’s Nashville filter to give pics a bright, warm haze.
Even before the city’s NFL team won the big game after a 50-year dry spell, Kansas City was a major sports town, representing just about any sport you can imagine. That said, snapping pics of the vibrant “Chiefs Kingdom” mural of quarterback Patrick Mahomes at Westport Ale House is a must-do for sports fans.
KC is also home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of African-American baseball.
Take a photo at the museum’s indoor Field of Dreams, where life-size bronze statues of Hall of Famers stand around a baseball diamond, or walk a couple of blocks from the museum to the historic Paseo YMCA and peep the oversized mural of Kansas City Monarchs player Buck O’Neil and seven other legendary Monarch players.
Nothing beats a sun-drenched day at “The K,” also known as Kauffman Stadium, home of the city’s MLB team, or try to capture the fun and excitement of tailgating at Arrowhead Stadium during football season.
Instagram Tip: Pump up the drama on sports photos with the X-Pro II filter. The darkened edges and heavy vignette give the illusion of tunnel vision to the central subject of the photo, i.e, your favorite player hitting a home run.
Murals and More
Creativity comes in all forms in Kansas City. From maker spaces to colorful murals and dynamic art galleries, there’s so much to see and share on the ‘Gram.
The heart of Kansas City’s artistic side is the Crossroads Arts District, where there are hundreds of galleries and art studios, most of which keep their doors open late for the First Friday festival. Also in Crossroads is Art Alley, a corridor of eye-popping street art and graffiti by local and renowned artists.
Other murals worth hunting down are the Instagram-favorite “Kansas City I’m So in Love” mural on the wall of Imagine That! art center, and Kansas City native Janelle Monáe’s mural in the Crossroads Arts District.
Although not quite a mural, but definitely a work of public art, the Giant Bookshelf facade of the Kansas City Public Library is trippy, to say the least. The exterior of the parking garage was covered in signboard mylar then painted to look like a row of 25-foot books on a shelf.
Finally, explore Kansas City’s maker scene at one of the six Made in Kansas City shops, a collection of retail spaces and cafés filled with locally made goods, apparel, food and more.
Instagram Tip: Murals pop with Instagram’s Lo-fi filter, known for its heavy saturation of rich colors. It may be a bit too much color, so use the edit tool after the filter to manually decrease the saturation a few notches.
For Foodies Only
First things first, be warned that Kansas City folks have strong opinions about the best barbecue in their city, but no matter where you go, you’re sure to get a gorgeous, heaping plate of delicious burnt ends and ribs ready for their close-up.
Gates Bar-B-Q and Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque are two of the oldest (and most loved) barbecue establishments in the city, while Q39 offers contemporary barbecue interpretations like smoked beef brisket poutine and burnt end topped burgers.
Kansas City’s cocktail culture is both famous and infamous (here’s looking at you, Tom Pendergast), so capturing the photogenic cocktails at SoT and the chic setting of elevated cocktail lounge The Monarch Bar are must-do’s.
To bring a taste of KC back home, stop by Christopher Elbow Chocolates, where the signature bonbons look like works of art in a wide variety of colors and designs. Just don’t forget to take a photo before you pack them up.
Instagram Tip: Food photography always looks best in natural light, so try to dine alfresco. Also, take the photo in the Foodie app, specifically designed for food photography, before uploading to Instagram.