10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: John Cunniff / CC BY 2.0

While most landscape photographers enjoy photographing sweeping mountain vistas and rushing rivers –there’s another type of photography that you may want to try your hand at as well –cityscape photography.

Just because they may be short on trees and fields, doesn’t mean that cities are lacking in drama or beauty. There are plenty of fascinating details just waiting to be discovered in the city, and great landscape photographers are at an advantage when it comes to drawing those details out.

If you’re able to compose landscape images –then you’ll be able to make the switch to cityscapes easily. Here’s a look at a few tips that will help you to create some amazing urban images –while capturing the excitement and energy that cities have to offer.

1. Timing is Everything

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Davide D’Amico / CC BY-SA 2.0

When it comes to getting the most out of your cityscape, timing is important. While it’s true that you can capture cities at any time of the day, urban environments tend to photograph a lot better at certain times of the day –and during certain weather.

  • Early Morning

Early morning is a great time to photograph your city at a time when few people see it. Very early morning also means that fewer people will be out, you and your camera will have the streets largely to yourself. If it’s a clear day, the early morning golden hour can be a great time to capture the city, as it will be bathed in beautiful golden light.

  • Just Before Dusk

Alternatively, late evening can also be a great time to capture urban landscapes. During this time of day, the sun will appear lower in the sky, which means beautiful, saturated colors. If there’s a storm rolling in, all the better –afternoon storms can result in some exciting cloud formations, and can add some excitement and drama to your cityscape images.

  • After Dark

Finally, at night, the city is illuminated with beautiful lights –making it a perfect time to capture light trails, or buildings that are aglow. Take advantage of this time, and use it to create some unique and spectacular images.

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2. Work With the Light

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Lenny K Photography / CC BY 2.0

Heading out at the right time of day can reward you with the type of lighting you are looking for –and paying attention to the direction of light will also help your images to turn out better. When you’re shooting in the day, in most cases you’ll want to shoot with the sun behind your shoulder for minimal shadows, decent illumination –and a sky that’s clearer blue as well.

3. Look for Leading Lines

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Davide D’Amico / CC BY-SA 2.0

Cities present the perfect opportunity to incorporate leading lines into your images. Lines are a great way to create a sense of depth and distance in your compositions, and can also be used to lead the eye on through the photo, to a focal point, or the disappearing point at the horizon. Roads, light trails, and buildings can all create eye-catching lines that you can use when composing your images.

4. Look for Water

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Sergey Norin / CC BY 2.0

If you’re out at night, you’ll want to look out for opportunities to include water in your compositions. At night, the water will reflect the lights of the city, adding much-needed light and color to your photos. While some cities are located at the edge of the water, even cities that are inland can present great opportunities for reflections –just wait until after a rain storm to head out. The city will be awash in water, and you’ll be able to capture the lights that reflect off of the puddles and wet surfaces. The colors will be more vibrant and saturated as well.

5. Draw Out the Details

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Michael Thuemmler / CC BY 2.0

Paying attention to the details is especially important when it comes to cityscape photography, but the great thing about cities is that they’re never lacking in details. Keep your eyes open for interesting elements that you can showcase in your images, and frame your shots in a way to draw out the details, without overwhelming the composition.

6. Include People In Some of Your Images

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: antonio / CC BY 2.0

If there are people about, why not include them in your images? Capturing the crowds or incorporating a lone passerby into your composition can help to add detail and even a focal point to your images. You could also blur your shutter speed slightly to capture the moving crowd, and to create a sense of motion. If you want to capture shots without the crowds, use a very slow shutter speed to blur them out, and remove them from your images altogether.

7. Bring Your Tripod –Or a Substitute

10 Tips for Amazing Cityscape Photography

Image: Matt Nelson / CC0

When it comes to shooting cityscapes, especially at night, you’ll need a steady surface to support your camera. Usually, you’ll want to bring a tripod, however some cities have started cracking down on tripods in public –if you find yourself in one of these areas, consider bringing along a couple of small beanbags instead. Use them to help steady your camera if you need to set it on a stable surface.


8. Use a Wide-Angle

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Lenny K Photography / CC BY 2.0

One of the best lenses for cityscape photography is a wide angle. Focal lengths between 12-35mm are ideal –and it’s worth investing in this lens if you’re serious about nightscape photography. Wide angles will allow you to capture a wide skyline, and will also allow you to accentuate the sense of depth in a photo –resulting in converging lines, and creating a sense of distance between the foreground and background. You could also consider renting a wide-angle to see how you like it, before you shell out for one of your own.

→ Related reading: Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Canon DSLRs and Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Nikon DSLRs.

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9. Get Up High

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Greg Knapp / CC BY 2.0

Let’s face it, there’s a lot to see in the city –and the best place to see it is often from a distance. To view the city in all of its beauty, you’ll want to find a vantage point that will offer you the best views. You’ll want to research ahead of time to see what buildings will allow you access to the top floors –then be sure to take advantage of this chance to capture a bird’s eye view of the city. You may also want to look for a distant point that affords great views of the skyline. Skylines are especially beautiful at night when the city takes on a beautiful glow –something you can capture by using a tripod and a slow shutter speed.

10. Look Up

10 Tips for Cityscape Photography

Image: Patrick Bombaert / CC BY 2.0

While you’ll want to capture some of your landscapes from vantage points, working among the city can present some great opportunities for getting up close to skyscrapers, bridges, and other amazing pieces of architecture. When wandering among the buildings, look for opportunities to capture looming buildings directly above you for beautiful and eye-catching photos of architectural wonders. Getting down low, and using a wide-angle will help you to fit it all in.

While it’s important to relax and enjoy yourself when you’re out capturing images –remember to be aware of your surroundings, and stay safe. It’s also a good idea to go with a friend –especially if you’re planning to tour unfamiliar places at night.

Finally, remember to have fun! Capturing cityscapes can be a challenge, but it can also be enjoyable and extremely rewarding and with a bit of practice, you’ll soon be adept at creating beautiful and eye-catching urban images.

Have you tried cityscape photography? Share your tips with us!

License links: CC BY 2.0, CC BY-SA 2.0, Public Domain

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