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Street photography is one thing, but capturing the heartbeat of the city is something else. The everyday motion of the metropolis’ can make for some of the most compelling photographs, as it: wakes up to a serene surreal world, endures the hustle and bustle of day, ebbs as the commuter crowds leave at night and finally how it rejoices its nocturnal form.
In this article discover some top tips for photographing a city in full flow.
The image should embody some flow of energy and in a city that energy is everywhere. It is just a case of knowing where to look. The fantastic thing about this niche is that its subjects are varied, exciting and endless; a bridge covered in human traffic as the commuter rush begins, trails of city traffic graffiti a night vista, a subway train dashing into a tunnel – its motion blurred yet its platform crisp. Walk through the city and stop when you feel a rush of people or traffic around. Then compose the shot to convey the rush and fire at will.
Whilst the hustle and bustle might look interesting head on, consider moving to higher ground to offer a more dynamic result. A unique angle or perspective can turn a standard image into something much more compelling.
Whilst one corner of the metropolis may look ordinary at 10am, it may look ten times more evocative and exciting come 10pm.
Using a lens of 50mm replicates what the human eye is capable of seeing. Whilst this can be useful for stealing environmental portraits try using a wide-angle lens to get closer to a subject or incorporate a greater scope of the action.
Capturing motion is a fantastic way to convey that the city is alive. Set your camera on a tripod or pop it on some other form of support such as a nearby wall or window ledge. You’ll need to vary the ISO depending on the light levels and time of day, and then gradually slow down the shutter speed until you create a level of blur you are happy with. Use the camera’s self timer or a remote release to counter the long exposures, to ensure images are sharp.
Traffic light trails may be cliché, but done right they can become the electric veins of the city. Find a safe location above, next to, or even in the centre of traffic. Use a tripod and turn of the lens’ image stabilisation function. If the traffic is heavy set the exposure time for between 10 and 20 seconds, if it is sparser execute a longer exposure. Always check the LCD for results and amend the shutter speed and ISO as required.
Shoot an individual or vehicle in focus, and display their energy with a blur of motion behind them. To do this simply set the camera on a tripod and then lock the focus on your subject. Dial in a narrow aperture of between f/11 to f/22, and an exposure time of around 1/25 to 1/60. As you hit the shutter, pan the tripod at the same time. Vary the effect by trying it in both directions.
Look for areas that display heightened contrast, whether that means light and shade, movement and tranquillity, or a variance in colour, texture or flow. The juxtaposition, which lends itself to the genre, helps to create tension within the frame.
Practise in your nearby town or city, then as your confidence grows try using facilities such as Google Earth to source other bustling hotspots that may be nearby. Also trawl through sites such as Flickr and Behance to scope out where other photographers have found alive and swinging.