10 Tips for Better Cityscape Photography

10 Tips for Better Cityscape Photography

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This article is based on the new eBook: Landscapes, Cityscapes & Photography Tricks.

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

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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.