10 Tips for Better Cityscape Photography

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This article is based on the new eBook: Landscapes, Cityscapes & Photography Tricks (currently 62% off for Black Friday).

Photography is escapism. We want to see what we can’t with our own eyes; towering skyscrapers, endless skylines, the people of faraway cultures. We long for the distant, so it makes sense that cityscape photos are so popular and marketable. I hope these 10 tips will help you take better cityscape photography, and inspire you to explore faraway cultures.

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1. Right After Sunset is a Fantastic Time for Cityscape Shots

After the golden hour settles, the sky grows darker, while city lights illuminate below. This immediately post-sunset or pre-sunrise moment (known as twilight or the Blue Hour), I would argue, is the best time for shooting cityscapes. Building lights turn on before the sky turns off, and the balance of light can look almost equal. It’s a great combination of tones, and worth getting up in the morning to catch.

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2. Capture the Whole Skyline with a Wide Angle Lens

For cityscapes, focal lengths between 12-35mm are a good bet. Not a necessity, but you will appreciate the wide angle, more often than not. This will allow you to capture a nice skyline without having to be miles outside the city, and allow you to include an entire skyscraper in vertical format, while standing near its base.

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3. Use Your Camera’s Self-timer and a Tripod for Crisp Results

For shooting during the golden hours, and after dark, a tripod is practically essential if you want sharp crisp results. Better yet, set your camera up on the tripod, and set your camera’s two or 10-second self-timer so you don’t have to touch or jostle the camera during the actual shot. This will help your camera stay more stable, avoid blur, and capture stunningly sharp results.

4. Look for Those Leading Lines

Just like for landscape photography, leading lines are an integral part of three-dimensional cityscape composition. They add perspective, depth, and intrigue to any image, while taking the viewer on a journey from one point of the frame to another.

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In cityscapes especially, leading lines can create a strong sense of coherence in an otherwise chaotic scene. Think of train tracks for example. Rows of tracks, surrounded by eager commuters and tall buildings, could easily appear cluttered and frenetic (which could be a good thing, or could seem unfocused). But, slicing the image up with the right composition and a clean line, or series of lines, can cut through the chaos.

5. In the Evening, Look for Good Vantage Points Over Busy Intersections

Practice your long exposures, then look for busy intersections of a city. Finding the right location for heavy traffic can be tricky. You’ve got to know a city pretty well, or at least have an idea of where the congested thoroughfares are located. The idea here is blurred movement; traffic in a straight line may be interesting if you’ve got some variety in the shot (maybe skyscrapers or a city icon nearby), but failing that, you’re going to want to see some movement, leading lines and curves. That’s why bendy roads and intersections work so well; you can create light lines out of conflict, movement and chaos.

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6. Just like Rivers are Great in Landscapes, Fountains are Great in Cityscapes

Photographing fountains within your cityscape can add another element of beauty and serenity to your image. Most cities are full of them. From small, historic, fountains that can add interest to a composition to huge water fountain light shows that blast water up in the air and make for exciting and spectacular photos.

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7. Look for Patterns

Patterns have the ability to bring a sense of visual rhythm and harmony to an image. While at first sight, a common city scene may appear dull or bland. Focusing on repeating strong graphic elements, like shapes, lines, colors or forms, will draw the viewer’s attention, and make the whole thing a lot more interesting.

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8. Don’t Be Afraid to Include Pedestrians in the Shot

When it comes to intersections, some bigger cities; New York, Tokyo, Toronto; will have four-way crosswalks, where pedestrians stream across in all directions, stopping cars on all four sides of the intersection. These make especially great hectic shots, with cloudy masses, surrounded by headlights and condo lights.

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9. When Tripods Aren’t Allowed – Improvise

Many businesses with great city views that attract photographers, have gotten the impression that tripods mean professional work and therefore, money. These establishments won’t let photographers in with a tripod, likely because they might be able to make money by charging a permit fee or production fee. I’ve run into this problem mostly in the U.S., but have also come across it in a few international cities I’ve visited. It is upsetting indeed, but instead of letting it defeat you, try to do your best with what you have.

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Look to see if there is a place where you can set your camera down for the shot so you don’t have to hold it risking blur from hand movement. You can use tables, pillars, walls, edges, benches, anything that is flat and safe. If you can’t find a flat surface, you can make one. Prop your camera up with your jacket or other item of clothing.

10. See Bad Weather as an Opportunity (Carefully)

Not only does bad weather add an edge to your photo, but stormy weather creates skies that are full of color and texture, providing a feeling of gloominess, fury, eeriness and even peace. In short, the stormy sky portrays emotion.

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With moisture everywhere, it just seems like the city glows more right after a rainfall. Most surfaces and structures will appear more colorful when wet, as water tends to bring out the saturation.

I hope these have been some helpful tips to get you started!

For Further Training:

This relentlessly in-depth new eBook is designed to help you master challenging lighting conditions no matter your experience level, take more compelling photos, post-process them to perfection, and delve even further into long exposure tricks so you know all the possibilities. By knowing all the techniques possible, it is my hope that you will learn a lot faster than I did and start seeing hidden photo opportunities that others might miss.

Found here: Landscapes, Cityscapes & Photography Tricks

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Richard Schneider

has been working in the photography industry for over a decade as founder and editor of PictureCorrect Photography Tips, a leading photography education website. For further training on the topics from his articles check out his new tutorial eBook Landscapes, Cityscapes & Photography Tricks.

  • GeorgeSPayne

    i best photography Find More

  • Karim Muhammad Imtiaz Yazdani

    My favorite one….

  • thanks for these tips 🙂

  • Daniel Teepen

    I love to shoot cityscapes when storm clouds are moving in.

  • Damien Thorne

    The one i have taken recently

  • Richard Schneider

    Great composition! I like the boats in the foreground 🙂

  • Richard Schneider

    Glad you found them useful!

  • Richard Schneider

    Nice long exposure! Cars going around curves always look so cool with long exposures 🙂

  • Dominic Bolaa
  • sunil k

    Even I love to take photos @ night with long exposure..

  • Bellagio Fountain Show

  • Tim Lowe

    I notice a couple of images with keystone distortion. I understand it’s a matter of taste and that this effect can be used to great creative effect, I find it distracting in a straightforward cityscape. One can invest a lot of money in a tilt-shift lens to correct this. But it is better, IMHO, for the photographer to compose with their feet. Get yourself to a place where you can compose your shot with the film plane parallel to the subject and perpendicular to the ground. In most cityscape shots this means getting high. 😉

    Or you can do what I’ve done. Get a 4×5 view camera!

    Oh, and an afterthought, perspective correction in Photoshop is just tacky…

  • Richard Schneider

    Great sunstar effect on your streetlights!

  • Richard Schneider

    One of my favorite spots, great colors!

  • Richard Schneider

    Good vantage point overlooking the highway, I’m curious where this was captured?

  • drdroad

    As to #9, I carry a couple rice bags in my backpack when I know I want to shoot Late/Night at a place that won’t allow tripods. All the places Richard talks about placing/sitting your camera work much better with a rice bag under it. Like the new Intermodal Train/Bus Station in Anaheim CA.

  • Billy Mocean

    Just getting into cityscapes. One factor here in Tokyo is that many decks are located with glass windows. This means shooting through glass and the added potential for reflections. This is a treated image, one of 300+ that I have to clean before assembling the timelapse sequence transitioning from day to night of the city.

  • Richard Schneider

    Great idea! I’ve carried a bean bag on a few occasions for that purpose too

  • Richard Schneider

    Wow, great city lights! Tokyo is amazing

  • Richard Schneider

    Very good point!

  • Edmund

    I think that tripods are seen as a health and safety issue – has anyone tripped over yours on a pavement (sidewalk)? They certainly have over mine which is why I tend to wear the camera strap around my neck to avoid the whole lot crashing to the ground.

  • SOSTOT

    When tripods are not allowed, I cheat. I use a monopod. Okay, they’re not allowed either, but I use it as a cane until I see my shot. I then set up my shot, settings and vantage point, then quickly attach the monopod, and take my shots. After which I detach and it once again is my “cane”.

  • Damien Thorne

    it was captured in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China.

  • Damien Thorne

    Here is another one from the opposite side of that building , The building with large red neon sign is the First affiliated hospital of Zhengzhou University, Henan, China

  • Richard Schneider

    Great long exposure! I like the light streaks from the traffic

  • Matthew King

    It’s funny…The first thing that caught my eye was the first pic of the 110 in LA. The first time I ever shot light trails was from the exact same bridge you were shooting from. I only had a 24mm and a 7D so I couldn’t shoot as wide as you did, but the shots are nearly the same. We must have been standing in exactly the same place. My poor wife had to wait in the car while I did this at 2:30 in the morning, she was not particualrly comfortable with the location I left her at.

  • Richard Schneider

    Yes! That’s one of the best spots in the city! It definitely is a strange area, and there are not usually photographers there. But it’s a good spot for various angles. I think I got this one in almost the same spot just looking in another direction:

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    I prefer to go a little ways out of the city for light trail photography, this was out by O’Hare airport where Elmhurst Road crosses over the Northwest tollway. I also like to shoot in Chicago to get a mixture of the people, architecture and art. My favorite is the one infront of the Art Institute with the lions.

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    If I’m going to shoot in such a location I try to get a couple friends to come with and bring a dark towel to use as a shroud to block light that creates reflections. Drape the towel over the lens and have your friends hold it against the window to create a ambient light free zone.

  • Richard Schneider

    That’s a bold maneuver, good idea, I think I might try this sometime 🙂

  • Billy Mocean

    Would a polarizing filter be simpler or ineffective?

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    It would probably help but I don’t think it would completely solve the problem.

  • cjpaul

    avenue of stars, HK

  • Billy Mocean

    Using a superwide 14mm confounds the issue. Any attempts to correct in post detract from the image quality. I’m trying to adapt to narrower 24mm scapes. Getting there.

  • Tim Lowe

    Yeah. I find more and more, my 35mm/DSLR lenses wider than a 50mm just sit on the shelf. I hate the inevitable distortion. Like I say, it is a matter of taste but I would rather compose with my feet rather than with a lens. It must not be just me. I’ve noticed there are very few lenses for my 4×5 wider than 150mm which is the equivalent of a 50mm on a 35mm/full frame digital camera. I still use my D800 a lot and the wider lenses just sit on the shelf. At 28mm, people look like crap and so do cityscapes. Landscapes look “OK” but they still irritate me. Oh well. I should sell a lot of expensive Nikkor glass to KEH.

  • Bruno Henrique

    Obrigado por todas as dicas.

  • Bruno Henrique
  • Nikki

    WOW!!

  • Nikki
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