8 core points for Urban Landscape Photography
Usually, when you think about landscape photography, you automatically imagine the beauty of nature: mountains, ocean views, desert views, forests, stunning sunsets, vast fields, waterfalls, glaciers, and other wide-open scenarios.
That’s awesome, of course, it’s what we love. But there’s more…How about beautiful skylines and cityscapes? Metropolitan views and architectural interest can be placed in that vast area of urban landscape photography.
Urban landscape can be wonderful during the day and at night. Careful though, it shouldn’t be confused with that more dynamic field of photography which is street photography. Street photography aims at the representation of everyday life in the city. Including people, habitual moments, cafés, newsstands, and depicting life on the street is its fundamental goal.
Urban landscape photography can take many forms but it is usually more static and not as spontaneous. What characterizes landscape photography, and urban landscape photography as well is that the shot is always carefully studied.
In urban areas it is quite easy to find recurrent themes: large buildings and historic blocks; warehouses converted into lofts; degraded urban areas; elegant neighborhoods; central areas, etc. Creating a photographic project that gathers all these realities side by side can generate extremely satisfying results.
As you keep reading the article, you will find out about what we consider 8 core points of urban landscape photography to take into consideration in order to capture great images.
1) With a quick search online you can find the panoramic viewpoints of the city you’ve chosen as a subject for your urban landscape photo shooting
If you were to shoot street photography, your first step would be to head downtown and feel the energy of the city and how it changes with the passing of hours. Since we are talking about urban landscape photography, the one thing to do is find the most interesting viewpoints in order to capture skylines, different buildings, bridges, etc.
Many skyscrapers are built with highly reflective surfaces. Take this opportunity and take advantage of the effects created by light, especially during the golden hour (sunrise or sunset). Make sure you have a polarizing filter with you to eliminate glare or unwanted reflections from mirrors or bright windows.
Finally, if you are visiting a new city, Google maps will be a useful tool to find perfect spots and to find accessible places where you can shoot.
Keep in mind that not all areas of cities are always safe and sometimes, for this reason, it may be advisable to shoot with the company of a friend or avoid them altogether.
2) Take advantage of evocative elements such as rivers, reflections on the water, fountains, etc.
In cities where there is a river, it is certainly easier to find a good spot. Just settle on the opposite shore in order to have a broad view of the city.
Be mindful of the light. That’s key in any kind of photography. You can find the best position in the world but if the light isn’t right or if you can’t work with it in a satisfactory way to convey the emotion you desire, it can frustrate you and screw all your efforts.
When shooting an urban landscape photograph, you might want to take advantage of that magical time of day early in the morning, before and during sunrise or at sunset, when there is a glow illuminating the entire scene.
3) Focal length
Unlike “classic” landscapes, which are mainly photographed with wide-angle lenses, in the case of urban landscapes, it’s often preferable to use longer focal lengths. Wide-angle, with vertical buildings, can cause distortions, making the lines of the buildings converge towards the center of the scene. And this is an effect that we should try to eliminate or at least reduce as far as possible.
The use of longer focal lengths helps us avoid this effect. However, it also implies that we should find a position quite far from the area of the city that we want to photograph in order to compose the scene exactly as we would like it to be.
Moreover, the use of a longer focal length also generates the optical effect of zoom compression that brings distant buildings closer to the foreground, making the city look bigger and denser and the photo richer in detail and interest.
4) Panoramic shots
Given the need to use long focal lengths, many urban landscapes can be created by combining more photographs. This will allow having a greater amount of information, especially horizontally which is what we are looking for most of the time in landscape photography.
Accuracy is essential when creating this type of photo. You need a good quality tripod because it will be necessary to move the camera on the horizontal without changing the vertical, otherwise, it will be very difficult to create a fluid and continuous effect.
The ideal is to use a fixed focal length in order to minimize the possible random zoom range. And also, choose manual mode to avoid different focusing between the various shots. Finally, be quick so as to avoid light changes. In the case of night shots, consider a longer shutter speed.
5) Guidelines and patterns
City views are typically symmetrical but, depending on your location you can play with various guidelines that will make the shot more intriguing. Think of bridges or any architectural structure capable of guiding the eye of the observer towards an interesting focal point.
Look for patterns and textures like a special wall or a row of street lamps and other urban elements.
6) Look for evidence of the presence of people, without framing them directly
Whereas in street photography it is essential to give a sense of movement to your shots and communicate your interpretation of the vibe of a certain place and the people who walk across it and so people are usually considered a key element in this type of photography, in urban landscape, you might want to avoid that and instead you want to find elements which bear witness of human presence.
As we choose not to include people in this type of image, their presence can still be deduced from the traces they leave. Look for evidence of the presence of people, without framing them directly: clothes hung out to dry, lost items on the street.
7) Create your own story about the city
You need to capture your pictures in a different way. Create your own story of that city by turning the camera to vertical or using different lights, contrast, and angles. Some great photographies in an urban environment are successful because of the approach to familiar scenes with unfamiliar angles, and the good use of focal points, light, and shadows. You don’t always need to see the city skyline to understand where the photography was shot. Sometimes the photographs are underneath or above you.
8) Be open to new ideas
Sometimes the best locations in a city will not be found in the city center. While you walk between locations you will stumble into different structures, buildings, and streets that will probably amaze you because of their composition and contrast. By being open to new ideas you will notice how telling stories will become way easier.
Urban landscapes are among the most fascinating but also the most complex photographs to make. Especially when you are in a big city full of lights and architecturally unique, tall, spectacular buildings and skyscrapers.
There are countless ways to interpret an urban landscape. Depending on the atmosphere you want to create and your photographic style. The important thing is to choose the most suitable light and ideal weather conditions.