6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography

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Cityscape photography is becoming increasingly popular and can be a welcome change to capturing rolling hills and scenic vistas. Urban landscape environments can offer you, the photographer, attractive buildings, patterns and lines to capture stunning scenes and an alternative to the familiar nature shots found in the countryside.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography

Here are 6 elements you will want to consider to improve your photographs of cities:

1. Shoot at different times of the day

Think about blue hour, golden hour, and daytime for your city images.

As the sun goes down and darkness falls, cities come to life when buildings and architectural details become illuminated and can make for some spectacular image opportunities. However, a common mistake people make when doing cityscape photography is to capture images too late at night when the natural light has disappeared and the sky is completely black.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography

Shanghai skyline at night.

Total darkness is generally not the best time to photograph buildings as they will appear less attractive with little detail.

If you intend to photograph in the evenings, I would recommend that you arrive at your location for sunset and wait for dusk to fall. You could shoot during blue hour, a period of twilight when the sun is at a significant depth below the horizon and when the sky takes on a predominantly blue shade.

Although it is called the blue hour, it usually occurs for a window of around 20-30 minutes, depending on your location and the season.

Golden hour is another good time for cityscape photography. During the early morning or late afternoon, you’ll have beautiful long shadows to work with, as well as soft golden light.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography

Daytime shot of the same city.

Alternatively, photographing during the day allows for a more interesting composition as scenes can be more crowded. Just add people in your frame that can make intriguing subjects combined with buildings.

2. Use ambient light effectively

If you capture the final elements of ambient light in the sky before darkness falls and combine it with the artificial light of the buildings, this will usually result in good photographs.

Once the city lights come on there is usually a window of about an hour to capture pleasing cityscapes. Shooting scenes at this time will allow you to balance the sky with the artificial lights of the city.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography - blue hour bridge

3. Consider color

Look for patterns and blocks of color that may offset one another. Buildings may be painted in different colors that work well together, for example.

The cool blue sky of the blue hour complements the warm, golden, amber hues of street and building lights perfectly. The harmony of an image is apparent when colorful tones come together, such as this image of Oxford at night.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography - Oxford at blur hour

Also, the sun can create different colors as it strikes buildings and reflects off them.

4. Consider composition

It is best to try and exclude any distracting and unwanted objects from the frame such as trash bins, signs, and any unsightly buildings that will make your image less attractive. Re-compose your image until it’s free of clutter and you are happy with the way the image looks.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography - building at night

Work with the light if you’re capturing cityscapes during the day. Usually, you will want to shoot with the sun lighting the buildings for the best results and to ensure everything in your view is illuminated.

5. Experiment with exposure

Cityscapes often provide a great opportunity to experiment with your exposure. You will discover that after sunset, as the light fades, you will be less able to hand hold your camera to capture your cityscape scene. Recording long exposures in cityscape photography will create motion and that feeling of movement is only possible by using a tripod.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography - London Tower Bridge

As twilight unveils, you can capture the low ambient light by using slow shutter speeds to create mobility within your image. The stillness of buildings contrasting the movement of clouds or light trails from traffic, for example, make for an interesting image and can add drama to your composition.

Using fast shutter speeds can help to freeze the motion of different objects in the scene. I recommend that you experiment with different shutter speeds to see what different moods this creates and see which style of image you like.

6. Get creative

Add some beauty to your shot by capturing close up objects such as bridges or signs with the cityscape in the background. You could even try photographing people and the cityscape to show the full setting you are photographing within.

6 Ways to Improve your Cityscape Photography

Don’t be afraid to get closer to your subject and focus on the action. I suggest that you play around with various angles to capture something truly unique and inspirational, one that you are proud of.

Cityscape photography requires a great deal of practice and you most likely won’t walk away with award-winning cityscapes overnight. Keep shooting and with these tips, you will become more adept at capturing urban imagery you can be proud of.

Now it’s your turn, please share your cityscape photography images and tips in the comments area below.

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Jeremy Flint is a UK based award winning travel and landscape photographer, known for documenting images of beautiful destinations, cultures and communities from around the world. He recently won the Association of Photographers Discovery Award 2017 and the Grand Prize in the 2016 National Geographic Traveller and F11 Your Vision competitions. His pictures are represented by 4Corners images and have been featured in National Geographic Traveller, Outdoor Photography, Digital SLR Photography and national newspapers.

  • Andrew Greig

    I took this image last week in Melbourne, Docklands. Because there was some ambient light I set my exposure to 0.7 sec at f13.The traffic was not heavy so I chose a relatively short exposure so that the lights would be a series of “dashes” and the car pulling out of the stream had a short burst of light on the angle, sort of painterly approach rather than the cliched streams of light. But, if the traffic had been heavier I would have chosen the streams of light as well. But I like my lucky choice. Do you? comments are welcome as I am not a City photographer, portraits are my “thang” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ecc9cd6cbcfe13ade94a404d7cc97b66d5dac3c1a0075e159183133155438410.jpg .

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Hi Andrew, thanks for sharing your photo. It’s a good image. I like the way you have framed the roads and car light dashes to provide leading lines to the bridge behind. The painterly effect also works well with the dashes of light.

  • Thanks for the tips! I love reading about cityscape photography, as that’s my main interest. I normally shoot during evening blue hour, often using ND filter, to achieve smoothed-out water and light trails, etc. This photo is shot from the opposite side of The Bund in Shanghai (across Huangpu River).
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/12ffe81c06c95f2415ebd14961055955fb75efb6d2d0cfc73d94315cae9aa7a6.png

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Hi Joey, thanks for your message! Thats a nice photo of the Shanghai skyline. The long exposure works well with the smooth water effect and the colours are well balanced, well done.

  • Thanks! I’ve found this spot better for evening blue hour shooting because the sun sets to the direction I’m shooting. I also love the signature Pudong view from The Bund, but the sky often looks dull at evening blue hour because it’s the sky that is 180 degrees opposite where the sun sets. Probably more suitable for dawn-sunrise shooting (never tried before, though, because I’m not an early riser…).

  • Jeremy Peter Flint

    Thanks Joey! Yes this spot will naturally work better for sunsets and the blue hour although I’m sure if the sky is right you could also get a good shot from the Bund in the evening. Perhaps try a morning some time too.

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