Tips for Shooting Cityscapes Through a Window at Blue Hour

Tips for Shooting Cityscapes Through a Window at Blue Hour


Shooting cityscape photos from inside a building (such as an observation deck of a tower, hotel room, etc.) pose a different set of challenges that you won’t experience shooting outdoors. Here are a few easy-to-follow tips for shooting the city at blue hour, with a focus on how to eliminate unwanted reflections from the glass.

Japan - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Shanghai - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Vietnam - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

The reflection-free shots above of Fukuoka skyline (Japan, top), Shanghai skyline (China, center) and Ho Chi Minh City skyline (Vietnam, bottom) were shot through glass windows of Fukuoka Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory and Bitexco Financial Tower respectively – following the methods described in this tutorial.

Bring a mini-tripod

In order to shoot at blue hour, a tripod is essential whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors. But some observation decks don’t allow tripods because they are seen as a hindrance for other visitors. In that case, you may try to bring in a mini-tripod like a Gorillapod, as it’s unlikely to disturb other non-photography visitors.

Even if tripods are allowed, you may as well bring a mini tripod just in case, as it comes in handy when there is no suitable space to set up a regular tripod.

Gorillapod - Tips for Shooting Through a Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Wipe the glass with a cloth

Glass windows of an observation deck aren’t always clean. Make sure to keep a cloth in your camera bag so that you can wipe an area to shoot through if it’s dirty. Obviously, you can’t wipe the other side of the window, though, so choose an area that has no stains, etc.

How to eliminate reflections off the window

This is the biggest challenge when taking photos through a glass window. The window works much like a mirror and it’s hard to completely prevent reflections (e.g. such as yourself, room lights) from showing up.

Typical tips to follow are shooting in close and as straight as possible to the glass (i.e. leaving a little gap between the glass and the lens so as not to let indoor lights creep in) and using a polarizing filter which helps cut reflections to some extent. Aside from these tips, I’d recommend the following “tools”.

Reflections - Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Ho Chi Minh City skyline (Vietnam) shot through the window of Bitexco Financial Tower. I tried my best by getting the lens really close to the window (almost touching it) and using a polarizing filter, but the room interior and stray lights still got reflected in the glass.

Using a DIY blackout curtain

This might be an old-school method, but I recently came across a photographer doing this on the observation deck of Shanghai World Financial Center (see below). Not advisable to use such a large curtain, though, as it blocks the view for other visitors and you’ll run the risk of being asked to leave by floor staff.

Blackout curtain Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Using a black jacket

I used to rely on this method and it worked relatively well. Set up a tripod very close to the window, and cover the whole rig (camera and tripod) with a black jacket to create a closed-in area around the camera so that no indoor lights get inside the jacket. Make sure to use a “black” jacket to reduce reflections, as a lighter-colored jacket does more harm than good and causes even more reflections.

Using black neck gaiter

This used to be my favourite method, as it doesn’t really catch the unwanted attention of other visitors (compared to using the jacket, etc.). The concept here is the same as using a jacket. To block any stray lights from getting in, wrap the black neck gaiter (neck warmer or scarf) around the lens and push the whole setup (camera and tripod) onto the window to completely shade the front element of the lens.

Jacket neck gaiter - Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour

Using a black jacket (left) and a black neck gaiter (right) to shade the front element of the lens and cut reflections from the window.

Using a lenskirt

A lenskirt is a tool specifically created to cut out reflections. This is what I’ve been using for the past few years with great success. By attaching a lenskirt to the front of your lens and the pushing suction cups onto the window, it shades the front element of the lens. This helps cut reflections from the window, leaving no chance for any stray light to get in.

With a black neck gaiter, I always had to make sure not to have vignetting (dark corners) by checking through the viewfinder (due to the edges of the neck gaiter getting too close to the lens). But the window-facing end of a lenskirt opens up like a softbox, so there is no worry of any edge vignetting being introduced.

Lenskirt - Tips for Shooting Through the Glass Window of an Observation Deck at Blue Hour


I hope these tips help you take reflection-free cityscape photos through glass windows of an observation deck on your next visit.

Lastly, you may wonder why I didn’t mention a rubber lens hood (which is said to work well for shooting through glass). I’ve tried it before but found it prone to vignetting, especially at a wide angle like 18mm or wider. And, when shooting cityscape photos from high above like an observation deck, you’re very likely to shoot wide, therefore I’ve excluded it from the list.

If you have any other tips or experiences using these suggested tools in this post, please share them in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Joey J is a Singapore based enthusiast photographer primarily shooting cityscapes at twilight and dusk (a.k.a. blue hour). Get his free eBook Taking Your First Long Exposure Photos at Blue Hour. Or visit his website LASTLIGHTS.NET where he posts his best photos (from Singapore, Brunei, Southeast Asia, and beyond) and shares his experience photographing cityscape photos with long exposure at blue hour.

  • I am puzzled that you mentioned using a polarizing filter as it can cause discolorations from the windows. I had a bad experience taking pics in San Francisco a few years ago using a polarizing filter to take a picture through glass. I stopped using a polarizing filter when shooting through glass after that.

    If you don’t have a tripod, see what you can use in the viewing area to rest your camera. This can be a ledge, chair, table, etc. A few years ago when I was in Boston without a tripod, I was able to rest my camera on the ledges by the windows when I was in the Prudential Center and got some nice pics. The pic I am posting here was posted with my camera on the window ledge from the Prudential Center in Boston.

  • Thank you for your comment! Umm, a polarizing filter can’t completely remove reflections but is often said to work well. Personally, I had mixed results, and am no longer using, either, because the filter cannot be rotated when used with Lenskirt… By the way, good try with handheld. Not sure about the shutter speed, but looking sharp enough!

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  • Great article again Joey 🙂

  • Thanks always, Dan!

  • tonyc0101

    I’d recommend using a rubber lens hood that are super affordable, collapsible, and effective, AND you can actually put it right on the windows without leaving any marks. You’d just have to be sure to get the size for the lens that you’ll most likely use while on the deck:

    If you plan on using a super wide angle lens though, these won’t work because the hood will actually show up in the edges of your frame. In those cases, I’ve just put the lens right on the glass and put my hands around the lens to block out any reflections that may show up.

  • PeterG

    Blue hour in Vienna. Taken through a river cruise ship window. Didn’t have time to go outside.

  • I don’t recall the name of rubber lens hood I tried, but looks/works very similar to this. It’s true that the hood showed up in the frame at wide end (18mm on full frame). To get the hood out of the frame, I had to zoom in till 24mm or somewhere. Anyway, thank you for the comment!

  • Beautiful blue hour photo with reflections! Love it.

  • PeterG

    Good article, Joey. Also, the “blue hour” doesn’t last long. There are smartphone apps to tell you when. Be ready to shoot BEFORE the blue hour. I was not. The window was double-paned, which made a double-moon. Stars shot perpendicular to glass were OK. The right side is blurred due to a dirty window. Mini-tripod and wide window sill saved me. My fix: Don’t point out flaws to viewers! ?

  • It’s true that blue hour doesn’t last an hour. It’s like 10+ minutes towards the end of the dusk that has beautiful blue hue in the sky! I’ve heard about blue hour app, but haven’t used. For me, I always check sunset and dusk times on 5-10 minutes before the end of dusk seems to result in the best possible shots. 🙂

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