Too often we do not have the time, patience and possibility to travel to exotic countries in order to photograph the breathtaking landscapes we would love to. On the other hand, most of us either leave or work in a city, which offers an unimaginable number of photography opportunities. It is up to us to be able to reinvent the scenarios we got used to in a novel way.
I like seeing cityscape photography as a branch of landscape photography, which is set in an urban environment. We can use the architectonic elements of a city – modern and ancient – in order to find and create appealing compositions.
I love this genre for several reasons. First of all, because it is incredibly accessible. Indeed, you can carry your camera with you during your commeute and capture great photographs as you get to work – at sunrise – and on your way back – most likely at sunset. Secondly, it will not break the bank. When travelling abroad, reaching a large city is often less expensive than getting to more remote locations. Routes are served by more frequent flights and more airlines, which mitigates transportation costs enormously. Similarly, the availability of several hotels reduces accommodation costs as well. Finally, it forces you to be more creative. It is very likely that you have been walking by an interesting photographic opportunity several times. By getting used to it, you might have lost touch with its beauty. However, by approaching your daily commute with the eyes of an urban explorer, you can reinvent a boring urban scenery into an artistic photographic opportunity.
Mastering cityscape photography is far from being simple. As any other genres, it requires extensive practice. What makes this photographic style even more challenging is the chaos of the city.
I would like to share with you some tips, which might help you to find an order in the mess of our cities.
Tip 1: Scout Your Location
As I mentioned before, one of the major advantages of this genre is given by the possibility of walking by an interesting spot multiple times during your commute, lunch break, etc.
This gives you the chance to understand how the look of that specific spot evolves as light and weather conditions change and time passes. A specific place might transmit a certain mood early in the morning, while it might lose all its appeal during the day, as the light gets harsher.
Moreover, in the your spare time, you might be able to scout for new locations and go back to the same place several times in order to understand the best angles, conditions and equipment to photograph it. This is a luck that most landscape photographers cannot experience due to the remoteness of the locations that they would like to photograph.
Planning you photograph is extremely important because most of the times you will have a limited time frame to capture the optimal conditions. On the one hand, light changes really quickly, especially at sunset and early in the morning. On the other, you might be under time pressure due to your commute to work. Therefore, I would encourage you to take note of the conditions and perspectives that you would like to photograph and of the equipment you need to carry on the day of the shoot – such as tripod, flashes, etc.
Tip 2: Go Long
As you might have experienced, cities tend to be incredibly messy and busy. People, cars and even pets move incredibly, quickly and frantically. This might look like a hurdle at first but if could be transformed into an artistic opportunity instead.
Indeed, by increasing the exposure time, you should be able to capture the movement of the subject within you frame. This should allow you to transmit to the viewer the same feelings that you experience in your busy city. Moreover, if you increase the exposure time enough, you might even be able to make all the moving subjects disappear. This is a great idea in order to capture the architectonic beauty of your city without the distraction of the human presence. Finally, by using a long exposure, you might be able to capture a nice and smooth movement in the clouds. I personally love the contrast between the stillness of the buildings and the flow of the clouds.
The drawback of long exposures is that they require you to be extremely careful. As I mentioned in a previous article, even the smallest vibration might cause camera blur and the image would be unusable. Therefore, you should make sure to use a steady enough surface. Luckily, most of our cities have plenty of rigid and sturdy surfaces. If during your scouting sessions you realised that you require to carry your own equipment, I would recommend to use a tripod.
Tip 3: Composition Matters
Composition is as important for landscape photography as it is for cityscapes. It is really important to arrange the elements within the frame to make your photograph as appealing as possible. In order to do so all the parts of your image should not be distracting, while allowing the viewer to focus on the main subject.
In order to find the best composition techniques for the objective that you would like to achieve, I would encourage you to research and be inspired by the great masters of landscape photography, such as Ansel Adams, Sebastiao Salgado and Franco Fontana. If you would like to read through a quick article, I would invite you to have a look at my article on composition.
Cityscape photography is a great oportunitt to look at your city through new eyes and from a novel perspective. I can esnure you that by experimenting and practicing you will become a better and more creative urban photographer. The benefits of the incresed creativity will spill over the other genres too and the quality of your images will improve significantly.