Tips to Stay Photographically Focused when Visiting a Large City

Tips to Stay Photographically Focused when Visiting a Large City

Have you ever found yourself in a large city  with the overwhelming feeling that you don’t know what to start shooting?  This is especially true if you only have two or three days on location. It has happened to me, many times. You try to see and capture it all and you end up with mediocre shots of random things, most of them a bit cliché and without much interest.

There is a cure for that! Whether you shoot a specific genre or not, give yourself an assignment, a theme for the day. It doesn’t mean that you will ignore everything else around you but you will stay focused and end up with a lot more keepers and interesting images than if you tried to capture it all.

When doing street photography it helps to pick a theme or two for your photo walk. Such as people with umbrellas for example.

You like street photography? Photograph girls riding scooters in Rome or people carrying umbrellas in London! You won’t miss any other great action happening in the streets while you’re on your photo walk, but looking for something specific will sure make your day more fun and challenging!

Let’s say you like to shoot architecture. Pick an architectural detail, a repetitive pattern, look for reflections in buildings or contrasting architecture styles. It doesn’t mean that you can’t photograph the Eiffel Tower in its entirety when you are visiting Paris, but your photo album will be a lot more interesting if it includes close ups of the bolts or rivets that hold it together and the repetitive patterns of the steel beams.

Looking for reflections can turn any city photo walk into a treasure hunt.

The list could go on and on depending on what your interests are. Pick a color, photograph dogs only, people with cool shoes or hats, etc. Think outside the box, try something you would not normally feel comfortable shooting for a day. Your skills will improve and your passion for your craft will get a boost.

Street photography can also be fun if you focus on people's feet for example!

To add to the challenge, you can also pick one lens and shoot all day with it. You will save your back and it will force you to look at your environment from a different perspective. My go-to lens is my 24-70 mm but there are days when I don’t want to carry anything heavier than my sweet 50 mil!

Please share your experience with dPS readers in the comment section below. Happy shooting!

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • Andy August 16, 2013 10:10 pm

    I recently had 3 days in Paris and purposely only took my 50mm lens to try and push myself to really see new things, I ended up with a lot fewer cliche/throwaway shots than I would have otherwise and 4-5 realy nice pictures.

  • mjmagoon December 9, 2011 08:43 am

    Looking at Valerie's website, I have a question about interior shots. I do design work and am a color consultant. I would like to take better interior for my portfolio and a website. Any help for this would be greatly appreciated. I have a Canon 60D with a 18-55 lens.

  • Amir Paz November 20, 2011 01:27 am

    I just returned from a trip to the towns along the Mayenne river in france

    i focused mainly on architecture and reflections along the river bank...

    Got some great reflections and Architecture Photographs :)


  • Tom Sinclair November 19, 2011 01:58 pm

    Oh....and I forgot to add, I get a kick out of taking shots of souvenir stands. You can really make some statements with repetitive patterns and often bold colours.

  • Tom Sinclair November 19, 2011 01:55 pm

    thanks Valerie for the great ideas. I already do a bit of that, but will be more conscious of it next time I am out. One thing I like to look for are interesting doors.

  • Paul November 18, 2011 10:51 pm

    All good advice, shooting with a good quality compact has some advantages when doing street photography, much more discreet!

  • Allyson November 18, 2011 10:47 am

    LOL - this is funny. I only read this article because the title caught me and I'm traveling to Rome next week. But what's even funnier is that I was ONLY thinking of using my 50mm lens. New perspective: we're hoping to do a Segway tour!!!

  • Nickon November 18, 2011 04:27 am

    Just in time for my trip to Spain tomorrow.... Thanks for the tip!

  • Baard Skaaden November 17, 2011 05:19 am

    For the x'th time I'm visiting ?stanbul, and i find myself in just this situation.

    The city with thousands of motive to shoot and almost no picture taken...
    ?'m head?ng back to Norway soon, and this time too ?'ll promise my self, I'll do better next time....

  • Caroline Newton November 17, 2011 05:11 am

    I live in Cairo, Egypt and am still very much a beginner when it comes to photography. However, the tips above are absolutely right. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the amount to photograph in Egypt, but focusing on the smaller, tiny details that others miss is very satisfying and turns up some absolutely brilliant shots that I don't think I'm capable of taking! To add to that, the locals I work with find it fascinating that I find these small beautiful things in their own city! Love it!

  • Monica Jackson November 17, 2011 04:22 am

    While in New Orleans my theme was umbrellas.

  • Darius November 17, 2011 02:07 am

    Very good! Recognized the reflection shot as the same I shot while in Louisville, KY last year for two days on a business trip! :)

  • Bekah November 17, 2011 12:25 am

    Love the theme idea. Never tried it ever. We have a cute downtown area, but I've never actually taken advantage of it, because I don't want to end up with the cliche images that everyone who lives here has.
    And I love the thought of only carrying one lens. I find that on most occasions I'm not going to change them anyways, for fear of dust, dirt, etc getting in them,

  • Nathan November 16, 2011 09:36 pm

    Good post! It's always a good idea to give yourself a target or a theme, but I often run out of ideas of what to use as a theme! I've not tried umbrellas or feet though! I'll give it a go :)

  • Lincoln Schultz November 16, 2011 09:20 pm

    Thank you. We are off to London, Paris, Dublin and Dubai next year. We are not really interested in the tourist traps and I have started a list of things in each city, to photograph. London - a Bobby, a London cab, a bowler hat. Paris - a cheese shop, bicycles etc. I think that by doing this we will experience more of each city than most visitors.

  • Steven November 16, 2011 08:45 pm

    I have lived in Paris for the past year for work, and I have found myself in the situation described in this article in that there is so much to take pics of, but they have all been photographed before. For a long time I did not like the pics I was taking because they were no different than what every other tourist is snapping around the city. I started by ditching my 35mm SLR, or the RPG as I call it, got a smaller, lighter Sony mirror less, along with the gorilla grip tripod, I decided to take pictures at weird angles.

    Here are some of the results have I had so

  • Els November 16, 2011 08:33 pm

    Great tips and not just for trips! I want to approach the holiday sessie like this. @Ccting -I still like to use my kitsend à lot om trips.

  • Barry Foote November 16, 2011 06:29 pm

    Exactly this happened to me a couple of months ago in Madrid. A lot of dull photos was the result.......Using your simple ideas I know they would have been better!!

  • Esther Emma November 16, 2011 06:23 pm

    love this article. and i can only agree. to stay focused on one particular object or theme or camera or lens has become my solution in visiting cities with my camera and have fun too. pff quite a sentence ;-))

  • Tristan Jud November 16, 2011 06:21 pm

    I like the idea of a theme. I've had great success with the last one. I look at just carrying around one lens. For me it is usually a prime simply because I find the fact of not being able to zoom forces me to really think outside the square.

  • Susieb721 November 16, 2011 04:06 pm

    This article comes just in time. I am in Michigan and going to Chicago in December. My first focus is going to be Christmas lights, and shooting street light/decorations at night. I hope to get some awesome stuff!

  • Liz Watson November 16, 2011 03:45 pm

    Brilliant tip. Went on a trip to Vienna and Budapest earlier this year and ended up with a load of photos of a bunch of buildings but the one that stood out was a picture of a building with mirrored glass on the front and obviously I got good reflections on the glass. Wasn't planned that way but it did make me realise that the photos have to have something to make them stand out.

    Thanks, will be remembering this in future.


  • Jay November 16, 2011 03:23 pm

    Nicely written and the sample photos included ad just enough in therms of a visual sense of what you mean. Thanks so much, this will be very useful in the future.

  • ccting November 16, 2011 03:23 pm

    Wow.. Well i have only 1 len - 18-55mm kit len.

  • Jim November 16, 2011 01:05 pm

    Your reminders are just in time as I leave for Hong Kong on the 18th.

  • kartik November 16, 2011 12:08 pm

    "...there are days when I don’t want to carry anything heavier than my sweet 50 mil!" - I couldn't agree more.. There have been days where i have consciously made the choice of only carrying that one lens and have ended up with better shots coz i'm less worried about changing perspectives by changing lenses.. i just look more instead and change my perspective by changing my angles rather than lenses. :)

  • Scottc November 16, 2011 11:59 am

    Nice tips! I tried to stay "focused" in Venice and found it quite difficult......

  • Stu Rosenbaum November 16, 2011 08:24 am

    Great tips Valerie! I spent a couple days in Paris earlier this year, and focused on taking photographs of various breads at the bakeries, meat at the butcher shops, and fruit at the fruit stands.


  • Alex Banakas November 16, 2011 06:31 am

    This exact thing happened to me when I visited NYC for the first time last month. I was there for a day and a half and ended up with a bunch of buildings that I have no idea what they are, and numerous other cliche things, and only ended up with a few standout images.

    Thank you for the article and the recommendations.