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9 Tips for Capturing the City in Motion

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.

Times Square at Dusk (New York City)

In this article discover some top tips for photographing a city in full flow.

1. Capture ‘Flow’ and ‘Energy’

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.

Dagens foto - 164: Save Tonight

2. Consider angles and perspective

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.

time machine

3. Photograph the same scene though various stages of the day

Whilst one corner of the metropolis may look ordinary at 10am, it may look ten times more evocative and exciting come 10pm.

4. Try alternating lenses

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.

5. Capture Motion

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.

Vatican Stairway :: HDR

6. Light Trails

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.

Kobe

7. Panning

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.

Liftoff!

8. Look for Juxtaposition and Contrast

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.

9. Practice Locally

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.

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve
  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    The second picture is really stunning. More so because it is such a common site and yet makes for such a compelling picture due to what the photographer ‘saw’.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/07/i-am-like-a-broken-record-ebc-ebc-ebc-ebc-is-all-i-can-really-say-even-now.html

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrodmanjr/ jrodmanjr

    Thanks for including my shot – great article! Also note that that particular panning shot was handheld, with shutter speed at 1/13. You don’t always have to use a tripod!

  • Scottc

    Great tips! Even the “slower” motion can capture the mood of a city.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5250317375/

  • raghavendra
  • Mei Teng

    I love the 2nd photo and the light trails. Great set of tips.

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    One of those articles that makes you want to get out and “do.” Love the “electric veins” expression. Thanks for the great tips.

  • http://www.fuzzypig.com Fuzzypiggy

    Love the article! I shoot mainly nature landscapes, Iiving on the edge of London I really need to take advantage of adding another string to my bow.

    One word of warning, be careful when shooting in cities during big events as the Police and security can get jumpy. At the moment we have the Olympics on in London and there have been so many stories coming out about Police and private security firms harrassing photographers just for innocently taking pictures. Also be careful not to stand on private land. UK law allows us to shoot images of private buildings from public land but not to stand on private land and shoot private buidlings. So be careful out there and keep an eye on where you are and what’s happening around you while you shoot.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/jensaddis jensaddis

    liked the article. For street work I prefer black and white shots. don’t like colors in the city. but great shots anyway.

  • http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com Mikhail Anand

    a little upset that i have experimented with my shutter more during the day…but here are some of my shots so far.
    http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/lightworks-2/

  • Ramesh Rao

    Thanks for the great tips. I particularly liked the “Panning” part. I have tried it several times & found that having a wired or wireless shutter release can be a great advantage. I like DPS and the innumerable tips that practitioners have to offer to amateurs like me….Thanks

  • Alexander Dennemark

    Very nice article as I also like dynamic impressions and very often watching people at any point of their day.
    Attaching herein Sydney mirror fragment. A lot of modern buildings from glass create surprising images[eimg url='undefined' title='undefined'][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/64568565@N06/7307690682/' title='Sydney' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7094/7307690682_fec01cc358.jpg']

  • Colleen

    Great article, outstanding photographs. I only see one watermark, though. If the other photos weren’t all shot by Natalie Johnson, it would be nice to see credit given to the photographers who took them.

Some older comments

  • Colleen

    July 17, 2012 11:04 am

    Great article, outstanding photographs. I only see one watermark, though. If the other photos weren't all shot by Natalie Johnson, it would be nice to see credit given to the photographers who took them.

  • Alexander Dennemark

    July 14, 2012 06:54 pm

    Very nice article as I also like dynamic impressions and very often watching people at any point of their day.
    Attaching herein Sydney mirror fragment. A lot of modern buildings from glass create surprising images[eimg url='undefined' title='undefined'][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/64568565@N06/7307690682/' title='Sydney' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7094/7307690682_fec01cc358.jpg']

  • Ramesh Rao

    July 14, 2012 04:20 pm

    Thanks for the great tips. I particularly liked the "Panning" part. I have tried it several times & found that having a wired or wireless shutter release can be a great advantage. I like DPS and the innumerable tips that practitioners have to offer to amateurs like me....Thanks

  • Mikhail Anand

    July 6, 2012 08:39 am

    a little upset that i have experimented with my shutter more during the day...but here are some of my shots so far.
    http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/lightworks-2/

  • jensaddis

    July 6, 2012 05:10 am

    liked the article. For street work I prefer black and white shots. don't like colors in the city. but great shots anyway.

  • Fuzzypiggy

    July 4, 2012 05:19 pm

    Love the article! I shoot mainly nature landscapes, Iiving on the edge of London I really need to take advantage of adding another string to my bow.

    One word of warning, be careful when shooting in cities during big events as the Police and security can get jumpy. At the moment we have the Olympics on in London and there have been so many stories coming out about Police and private security firms harrassing photographers just for innocently taking pictures. Also be careful not to stand on private land. UK law allows us to shoot images of private buildings from public land but not to stand on private land and shoot private buidlings. So be careful out there and keep an eye on where you are and what's happening around you while you shoot.

  • Guigphotography

    July 4, 2012 04:37 pm

    One of those articles that makes you want to get out and "do." Love the "electric veins" expression. Thanks for the great tips.

  • Mei Teng

    July 4, 2012 03:30 pm

    I love the 2nd photo and the light trails. Great set of tips.

  • raghavendra

    July 4, 2012 01:05 pm

    I like this theme.
    awaiting more pictures

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2010/09/one-fine-evening.html

  • Scottc

    July 4, 2012 08:28 am

    Great tips! Even the "slower" motion can capture the mood of a city.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5250317375/

  • jrodmanjr

    July 4, 2012 07:52 am

    Thanks for including my shot - great article! Also note that that particular panning shot was handheld, with shutter speed at 1/13. You don't always have to use a tripod!

  • Mridula

    July 4, 2012 02:56 am

    The second picture is really stunning. More so because it is such a common site and yet makes for such a compelling picture due to what the photographer 'saw'.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/07/i-am-like-a-broken-record-ebc-ebc-ebc-ebc-is-all-i-can-really-say-even-now.html

  • Steve

    July 4, 2012 02:28 am

    I love light trails:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/London-scenes/G00006G6EmXMr9Ac/I0000ZUZJKeCpjA4

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