9 Tips for Shooting Stunning Cityscapes: First Steps in Urban Photography

Rating: 4.33 based on 6 Ratings
  By Pascal Schirmer
9 Tips for Shooting Stunning Cityscapes: First Steps in Urban Photography www.sleeklens.com

Cityscapes are one of the most captured scenes in the world. Tourists are taking hundreds of photographs with their mobile devices every time they visit a city and share them on social media. But, how can you stand out of the mass?

I’ll show you, how to take better cityscape photographs with these 9 easy steps:

1. Arriving Early

For my photographs, I arrive up to two hours before sunset on my location. This extra time gives me the opportunity to check out different compositions and choose my favorite one. Another advantage arriving early is that I don’t have to set up my gear in the dark.

If it’s possible, I recommend you to scout your location before photographing. So you can find special situations, like checking out where the sun goes down, when does the sunlight shine through the buildings or when the lights of the bridge are turning on.  This information about the location is all you need to find the perfect vantage point.

2. Shoot in RAW

If your camera can shoot in RAW you should do so

. The advantage of shooting in RAW is that you can always change the white balance and do a better post-processing later in Photoshop. When shooting in JPEG you only get a compressed image file while RAW files stay uncompressed and give you the possibility to adjust lights and darks in Photoshop.

3. Blue Hour / Golden Hour

The best time shooting cityscapes is the time around sunset or sunrise. Right after sunset, the sky is getting darker and the buildings turn their lights on. The clue shooting wonderful cityscapes is to wait for the perfect balance between the natural light and the artificial light.

Especially the peak of blue hour is perfect for shooting cityscapes. The contrast between the blue sky and the yellow lights gives a nice touch to your images.

4. Camera, Tripod and Remote Release

First of all: You don’t need expensive gear for shooting cityscapes!

Every beginner camera with a kit lens, a tripod, and a cable release is everything you need. Using a tripod is always a good idea because you have to take a closer look at your composition by setting it up. When you are shooting at the blue hour it’s necessary to use a tripod anyway because you are getting long exposure times up to 30 seconds.

Another important tool is the remote shutter release. To get sharp and crisp images your camera has to be absolutely still. Even pushing the shutter release on your camera causes vibrations. To avoid these vibrations you should always use a remote shutter release.

But always remember not to block the sidewalk with your tripod and the rest of your gear while shooting at busy places.

5. PM or AM?

You always have two possibilities to shoot the blue hour. You can shoot in the morning or in the evening. Both sunrise or sunset can be beautiful. But you have to think of what you want to capture. In the evening it is usually busier than during the early morning hours. For example, if you are shooting skyscrapers in a financial district, most of the lights will be turned on in the evening because there are people working. In the morning nearly everybody is sleeping, so there are fewer lights and less traffic on the roads.

Well, do you want a busy atmosphere or a sleeping city? There is no wrong choice but it influences your shot.

6. Leading Lines

Where you live you may don’t have always amazing landscapes around you. That’s the advantage of cityscape photography. Nearly every city can be used. A good composition is what you need for shooting beautiful cityscapes. By choosing your vantage point, make sure to look for leading lines. In cities, you always have bridges, streets or train tracks. Try to use them to let them lead into your image. This will focus the viewer’s eye right into your cityscape. For cityscape photography, you don’t need perfect weather. If it’s raining you can use the reflections of water puddles to create amazing photographs. Even a sky with clouds drifting into your image can be used as leading lines. Just be creative.

Another important point for well-balanced compositions is the rule of thirds’. Just try to compose your picture section into thirds: One-third sky and two-thirds cityscape.
Rules are meant to be broken, but if you’re not sure about your composition this is a good way to play safe.

Beside every creativity, please don’t get yourself into dangerous situations just for taking the perfect shot. That’s not worth it.

7. Keystoning

When shooting architecture and cityscapes make sure that the horizon is straight and all parallel lines of your capture do not converge. The problem about converging lines is, that the buildings look like they are falling backward. When you have to tilt your camera to get everything on your image always remember to correct it later in Photoshop/Lightroom.

8. The right Settings

As you are working with a tripod, long exposures are no problem. To get a really sharp image you should shoot in aperture mode using an aperture around f8 to f14 and set your ISO to the lowest native value of your camera (Mostly 64, 100 or 200). If your camera can’t focus because it’s already too dark you can switch to manual focus and focus on the city lights. Zoom in 100% in live view and focus until the lights get as small as possible. Let the camera choose the shutter speed automatically.

9. Using Telephoto distortion to your advantage

Most cityscapes are taken with a wide-angle lens. But why not try something different? Due to the bigger focal length, you get something called telephoto distortion. If you look through your camera everything comes closer and gets compressed. Two skyscrapers which far apart seemed to be closer now. This effect on a complete Skyline looks just great and I can really recommend to try it by yourself.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it!

Rating: 4.33 based on 6 Ratings
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Pascal Schirmer

I was born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1990. I’m a self-taught photographer and architecture student. My passion for photography started four years ago when I bought my first camera. I had no specific direction and tried all kinds of photography like people, macro and wildlife. One year ago I started to focus on landscapes and cityscapes.

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Comments (1)

  1. Kim T. Johnson Guest

    Great advice backed up by terrific examples. Your opening shot of Köln is outstanding.