Even though urban areas are often unpleasant due to their noise, traffic, stress, and congestion, they often offer fantastic photo ops. Gorgeous skyline views, fantastic snaps of architectural monuments, images of pedestrians dwarfed by gigantic skyscrapers, and so much more are all within your photographic reach.
However, this essay can be useful if you are either new to the city or an urban photography veteran stuck in a creative rut.
I’ve included six simple suggestions for urban photography below. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a big city or a quiet beach hamlet; this list has something for everyone. Without further ado, then, let’s launch into this discussion by asking:
1. City skyscrapers
Not every city has skyscrapers, but if you’re fortunate enough to reside in a bustling location, you probably have access to at least one or two, which may make for some fantastic cityscape photography.
Many other paths are open to you. You could go to a building’s foundation and launch yourself skyward. Shoot a stunning multi-skyscraper composition by positioning yourself beneath a cluster of buildings in a city with only a few tall structures. (Better yet, wait for a foggy day and snap photos of your favourite skyscrapers vanishing into the mist.)
Another option is finding a distant vantage point and shooting toward the tower with a wide-angle (or even telephoto) lens. If the city has a vantage deck, you could arrive early enough to photograph the sunset over the skyline. Finding a public parking garage is another viable option; many of them have attractive vistas of nearby towers. You might also look for a location to shoot from that is not in the heart of the financial area.
Think about the light levels very carefully. You may visit during the middle of the day, when the sun creates harsh shadows and transforms the buildings into abstract geometric elements, or at sunrise or sunset when you can get dramatic front light, backlighting, and side lighting. Try new things, and don’t be afraid to fail. Even if only a fraction of your attempts are successful, the successes will compensate for the failures.
2. The nocturnal cityscape
Cities are beautiful at any time of day or night, but have you ever tried taking photos of your favourite cityscapes at night?
The city’s dazzling nighttime skyline makes for beautiful long-exposure photos that merge artificial illumination with natural elements like dark alleys, creepy parks, and even moving water.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the centre of the city or miles away; as long as you have a sturdy tripod and a remote release, you’ll be able to use slow shutter speeds with ease. Bracketing your shots and combining the files using HDR methods in post-processing might also be useful.
Just after dark is perfect for capturing cityscapes in all their midnight glory. It won’t be fully dark outside, so you’ll still have some natural light (and colour) to work with, and the artificial lighting within the buildings will cast a warm, golden hue.
Don’t forget to give safety a lot of thought. Don’t stay in one area for too long, keep an eye on your surroundings, and never leave your gear alone.
Shooting after sunset? Even pros recommend setting up shop at least half an hour beforehand. That way, you can take your time finding the perfect shot (and even play about with the gradation of light as day becomes tonight).
3. City reflections
Tourist attractions might make city residents wary of photographing some of the city’s most iconic structures and sites.
If you want to take photos that stand out, try capturing them from a new vantage point; in particular, I suggest finding a body of water and shooting with a wide-angle lens to get the buildings and any distinctive landmarks and their reflections.
Of course, only some major cities are located by a bay, lake, or river, but you can still take beautiful reflection photos. Water features like fountains and puddles work well for this, as do reflective surfaces like glass and metal.
Get the scene in focus using a tripod and a small aperture. That way, both the city and its reflection will be clear and lovely.
4. Street scenes at night
In addition to the nighttime cityscapes I mentioned above, I also recommend taking photos of city streets after dark; in other words, try to frame shots that include both people and buildings.
There are a few ways to tackle this. You could set up a tripod and shoot the street sceneries as though you were a cityscape photographer. Prepare your shot, watch for the perfect subject, then fire away when the time is right. (Watch your shutter speed, but don’t worry if the person is a little fuzzy; the scene’s atmosphere is what matters most.)
A 10-second exposure can capture the flow of traffic or people as they pass across the landscape, making for a breathtaking photo, which is why you might want to consider shooting in busier regions.
You can also work handheld by increasing the ISO of your camera, selecting a quick shutter speed, and working under these conditions. While the higher ISO will reduce image quality, the noise can actually give your shots a unique grunge character, allowing you to respond more swiftly to occurrences on the street.
5. The city from above
Even though the views are of buildings and city icons that viewers have seen hundreds or thousands of times before, the aerial view gives them a whole new perspective.
That’s why I recommend trying your hand at some aerial photography whenever you get the chance with a wide-angle lens.
While drones have become increasingly common for capturing aerial footage, there are alternatives if you don’t want to shell out hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to get one. There are excellent observation decks in most major cities. Not all decks permit the use of tripods, so it is important to inquire ahead of time if you plan on shooting at sunset or after dark.
It’s also possible to get great aerial views from some parking garages, and there are restaurants and pubs with public rooftops to which you can gain access.
Always remember to use caution when taking photos from a great height. Never put yourself in danger by leaning over a railing, and always use a hand or neck strap to protect your camera when holding it out over a ledge.
6. The city and its environment
Most city photographers shoot close-ups of buildings and their features, but if you want to take photos that stand out, try photographing the city from afar.
You can show the city and its surroundings to your audience by showing them the surrounding forests, plains, lakes, or suburbs. You’ll want to get up high for a better view, whether with a drone or by climbing to the top of a nearby hill or building and firing from there.
In most cases, a wide-angle lens will produce the best results; however, I recommend experimenting with other focal lengths to create interesting effects.
City photography ideas: final words
In any case, there it is.
Here are six simple methods to take stunning photographs in urban settings. You should be feeling encouraged and prepared to go out and take some stunning photographs.
Now it’s your turn:
In which city do you want to take pictures? How about some example shots? Leave your comments below with your ideas!