Top 4 Tips for Photographing Urban Landscapes

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  By Jonathan Ma
Top 4 Tips for Photographing Urban Landscapes

Today, cities and urban metropolises are sprouting all over the world. These vast urban landscapes create a world of opportunity for photographers. Urban jungles are lots of fun for photographers because there are so many angles, heights, styles, and exposure settings available for them to play with. Many urban landscape photographers like to travel around the world to different cities to capture the unique features of each location.

Long Exposure

One of the most common practices when shooting urban landscapes is to use a long exposure setting. This is easily achieved and produces great results. Long exposure records the light over time, so it helps the viewer to recognize and sense the movement of light throughout the scene. For example, in the photo above we can see light streaks from the movement of the traffic on the streets below. This technique is most often used at night. During the day, a long exposure setting is not very practical because the photo can get blown out if there is too much light. The length of the exposure will depend on how much light there is and what f-stop you are using. Between 10 and 30 seconds is a good place to start experimenting. The shorter the exposure, the more defined the light will look. Longer exposures will create a smoother look. The key is to find the balance between the two. When taking long exposure photos, the key is to keep the camera steady. The best way to do this is to use a stable tripod with the self-timer setting or a remote control to control the shutter. This is especially important because oftentimes urban landscape photos are taken from on rooftops or other high areas where the wind can cause issues with blurriness.

The Transformation of Night

Cities look entirely different at night. During the day, the over hue and color is determined by the sun. At night, the colors are determined by the lights – from buildings, street lamps, headlights, and other light sources. Because of this, try taking urban landscape photos not only during the day but also at night. Although long exposure settings look great at night as the previous paragraph has highlighted, they are not strictly necessary. Take a look at the photo above. It captures perfectly a single moment in time in this large and bustling Asian city. To take an urban portrait like this on a short exposure to capture the moment, a fast lens is needed. A fast lens is generally one in which the aperture can open to f/2.8, f/2.0, or bigger. When the maximum aperture is big like f/1.8, more light can enter the camera and hit the sensor. This results in a shorter exposure time. Another option to take short exposures is by increasing the ISO. Certain full-frame cameras such as the Canon 6D provide great image quality even when set at high ISO settings, so that is a good option.

Get in the Action

When taking urban landscape photos, it is easy to forget that sometimes getting in the middle of all the action can provide spectacular photos as well. Instead of setting up a tripod and sitting in your hotel room all night, why not try getting out into the city and taking some street photos? This helps to give your wide-angle shots some context and relevance. A good place to start is in the downtown area of the city. Or if you know of a district that you’d like to check out, feel free to explore the nightlife of the town.

High Dynamic Range Photos

Another technique to try out with urban landscapes is HDR – high dynamic range photos. Dynamic range refers to the range of tones from black to white in your picture. A high dynamic range means that there is a large range of colors between white and black. The easiest way to recognize an HDR photo is by determining how much detail you can see in the grays of the photo. For example, the photo above has a lot of detail in the water (grays). To take HDR photos, the most common method is by using the bracketing method on your camera. This enables you to take several pictures of the same scene at different exposure levels. Then in post-production software, you can combine the images to create an HDR photo.

Happy shooting!


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Jonathan Ma

Jonathan Ma is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. The natural beauty that surrounds this area has helped him to learn to appreciate art and photography. Jonathan's favorite styles of photography are nature and sports photography. He enjoys learning and teaching others what he knows.

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