Urban scenes aren’t always considered landscape photos, but they certainly count. From bustling big cities to sleepy small communities, urban landscapes are a subset of landscape photography well worth exploring. So what do we need to consider when making art in the human jungle?
Consider Leading Lines
Leading lines are a fundamental element of photography composition. This technique implements natural and man-made lines in your image to lead the attention of your viewer. The iconic urban landscape photograph of a busy neon colored road leading to a major city is a classic example of this. Our eyes catch first the colorful line of cars in the foreground and naturally follow them downtown. Urban landscapes are one of the best places to explore this technique, with power lines, roads, buildings, windows, and more all creating obvious lines for you to use.
Adding Movement to the Image
Architecture may be static but it need not appear so in the final photo. What moving elements can you capture to add energy? Cars, trains, animals, and even people can add a creative flair. The best way to manipulate the feeling of motion is with shutter speed. This works especially well with a city landscape image where the perspective is “big and bustling.”
Even if it’s a quiet day, I can slow the shutter speed of my camera to create a blurred motion from objects passing through the frame. How much I slow the shutter speed depends on the motion of the object. A particularly fast-moving subject, like a subway train on full tilt, may allow you to shoot handheld at maybe 1/200ths of a second and still capture motion blur on the train while the background remains frozen in time. For slower subjects like people in New York City’s Times Square, you’ll need to use a longer exposure. This also depends on how fast your subjects are moving.
But you’ll also need to consider the lighting since shutter speed is one of the main elements of the Exposure Triangle. The more I slow the shutter speed the more light enters into the camera and vice versa.
Fortunately, over-exposure is fairly easy to deal with by manipulating the other two elements of the Exposure Triangle. I can narrow my aperture to counteract the increase in light. This is often the best measure since in landscape photography we want to have plenty of depth of field, which aperture controls.
I can also opt to lower my ISO if I don’t want to change my aperture. While raising the ISO can introduce noise grain into the final photo lowering it does not. The main issue with a slow shutter speed is that shooting handheld eventually becomes impossible. So I better be using a tripod once things get to around 1/60ths of a second, even with in-camera or in-lens Image Stabilization.
Even the suggestion of motion is handy for urban landscapes. A road makes us instantly think of travels. Trails in parks, used or not, also have this effect. But adding people helps cement the narrative we want. This photo would be far less appealing without the jogger as a foreground point of interest. With the jogger, a story is being suggested instead.
Photo by DanielReche
Change Your Perspective
Adjusting the photographic view beyond that of head height can drastically alter the flavor of a particular view. You might try looking down from up high onto a beautiful square. Or instead of getting a standard shot of an interesting building, tilt the camera to add a quirky feel. Walking right up to the building and pointing your camera straight up gives emphasis to the height of structures like skyscrapers. Artistic angles can also become apparent from this viewpoint.
→ Related reading: How Perspective Impacts Landscape Photography
One of my personal favorite techniques is bringing my camera down low, even lying on the ground if necessary. I’ve been known to lie down in the middle of a city whether people are around to wonder or not. And being willing to compromise your dignity slightly can get you an intriguing angle like this one.
Follow The Pack
Go where others have gone before you. Especially if you’re in a major city. Because let’s face it: there’s a 99% chance someone has already pointed a lens at the area you are, no matter how creative and unique your view is. So it’s a great idea to get online and Google photogenic locations in the urban area you hope to capture your landscapes at. People are more than willing to show off their captures and you can find addresses with detailed directions and even GPS waypoints to ensure you capture the urban landscape image you’ve always dreamed of. Take directions such as “the parking garage on Broadway and 15th has easy access and a stunning view at the top” from photographers who have already done the hunting around and legwork for you.
Photographers usually think of trees, mountains, and wide open spaces when the words “landscape photography” come to the forefront. And they’re usually right, but urban is as valid definition of landscape as forest. Just remember to try and capture as wide a field of view as possible to ensure you’re still fitting into the landscape definition. A lens with a focal length of 35mm or less is generally considered “wide angle,” and the wider the better. Just make sure you consider each of the points above as you work. Good luck in the wilds of the urban jungle!