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7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

When you ask people what is landscape photography they have no trouble defining it. But ask what urban landscape photography is and you will get conflicting answers. People have an idea, but often don’t really understand what it is, or how to go about doing it. One of the first things to do is work out what it is, and then how you can do your own urban landscapes.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
Urban landscape photograph, taken in the early evening from a rooftop looking back towards the city.

What is urban landscape photography?

Before you can start taking specific urban landscape images it is good if you understand what it is. If urban refers to cities and towns, then it is generally understood that landscapes of these would be defined as that. Any image within those places where humans live, work and play would be considered in that category.

Cities are very popular for this kind of photography. You will find that many of you are already doing urban landscapes, especially when you travel. However, when you ask others what it is you are often told cityscapes. Yes they are, but there is so much more to the genre than that.

Here are seven tips to help you get better urban landscapes and, hopefully, help you to understand what it is as well.

1 – Street photography

Street photography can fall into two categories, one is street portraits, and the other looks more at the scene and what is going on. The first is not what you would typically find in urban landscapes, but the second is.

Look for scenes where people are, groups, or individuals, but place them in their environment so you get a context of where they are and what is happening. You could photograph people shopping and take a look at consumerism. Perhaps go to sporting events and photograph how people carry on at them. There are parks where people may be sitting on their own with no one around. Anywhere that people hang out is going to make for some interesting urban landscape photography.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
A street scene showing the landscape and what people are doing in it.

2 – From above

There are many ways to photograph above the city now. You can see the tops of the buildings looking straight down to the streets below. You can get amazing views that are unique.

Observation decks allow you to look down onto the city. They aren’t always easy to shoot from, as you sometimes have to take photos through glass or some sort of security mesh.

Another way is a helicopter ride over a city. It is an option that many cities offer now. You can take a 15-minute ride if you want to pay for it. If you are lucky to live somewhere like Melbourne, you can also take early morning balloon rides over the city. You will get some views of the city that are available no other way.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
A view from above, this was taken from Eureka Deck, an observation deck looking over Melbourne.

3 – Long exposure photography

Without a doubt, there aren’t many types of photography that long exposures don’t suit. You can use it for individual buildings or for groups and streets. It allows you to create some magical scenes.

The most common one that people think of is using Neutral Density filters so you can get very long exposures, anything from 30-seconds to several minutes. They can help create movement with getting blurred clouds, or you can remove people and cars from streets. You can get some interesting effects with the filters. Whether you use it for one building or many, and over water you will get some different images.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
A long exposure of Melbourne taken across the river.

4 – Night photography and light trails

Night photography is another way. Urban environments are great when the sun goes down. As the lights come on you can get a completely different view. The camera will pick up a lot more than you can see with your eyes. Depending on how bright or dim it is you may be able to take some exposures for a minute to two, even longer.

You can also get great light trails at night. Look for interesting streets that have some great buildings in the background that you can use when capturing the trails.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
Light trails of cars moving around captured during the night.

5 – Interesting architecture

Every city strives to build interesting buildings. Architects like to show off as much as anyone. No matter where you are, see if you can find the most interesting structures to photograph.

You could figure out why a building was designed for an area; if there is something unique about it. Churches were often built on hills so the congregations were still looking up to them when they weren’t attending.

Look for buildings that are nestled in with others that are very different. Perhaps there is an old building somewhere that is surrounded by new ones. Scenes like that can give your images an interesting story.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
One of the most distinctive buildings in Melbourne, Flinders Street Station.

6 – Weather and seasons

People often forget how a city or town can look completely different in each season and how the weather can change it as well. If you only go to a place once, you don’t get a lot of choices. But if you live or visit them often then you can get a wide variety of shots when you photograph it at other times and in various conditions.

Throughout the year, the seasons will give you numerous opportunities to get scenes that are unique to that time. Autumn will have the colors, so any trees in the streets or parks can make them colorful. Winter will have people rugged up against the cold and public places are empty. In summer everyone is in lighter clothing and those same spaces are filled with people. Consider what sort of photos you want and then choose the season accordingly.

Rain, hail or shine, well perhaps not hail, but each will give your urban landscape a distinct look. The weather is not something you can control but you can take advantage of it. Photos of cities that are white from the snow can be magical. Rain will make all the surfaces reflective and make it look bigger and shinier. Don’t underestimate how much bad weather can make your photos that bit different.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
Rain has given Hosier Lane a shiny appearance.

7 – Leading lines

Bridges are beautiful, but they can be used for so much more than traveling. They can be the perfect way to help your viewer enter your image. Leading lines are fantastic for helping your audience know where you want them to look. Though bridges are one type, there are lots of others as well.

Really anything that will lead people into an image will work. Look for roads that enter and leave cities and towns. Using the light trails of cars or other vehicles can be great for the same thing. Don’t just think road and bridges, consider train tracks, a moving bus, anything that will take or point your viewer to the area where you want them to focus.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography
Using the bridge as a leading line to take you into the early morning light in Melbourne.

Taking the tips

You don’t have to do all of these, but using one or a few will help you get good urban landscape photography images. Consider what you are taking and think about the environment around you. Make the most of it and give your images a purpose.

Share your urban landscape photography in the comments below!

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Leanne Cole
Leanne Cole

graduated from the VCA with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Melbourne, Australia. She has since been working as a practicing artist and teaching people how to be Fine Art Photographers. She also teaches long exposure photography and runs workshops around Melbourne. Click here to download her 10 tips for Long Exposure Photography in the City. You can find her on her website.

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