Five Tips for Great City Shots

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This month’s photo challenge subject is “city”. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to post a handful of tips on how to get some great city shots.

One – The rules of natural light still apply. Though tall buildings may cast shadows and provide shade during midday, the light still ends up being flat and uninteresting. The most opportune time to photograph great cityscapes in the daylight is early morning or early evening. Early morning is also a great time to avoid the unfortunate result of congested cities – smog. You also have the added benefit of arriving at a time when less people are out and about, if you’re looking for a more “deserted” feel to your photographs. Sunset allows for beautiful, long and golden rays of light to beautifully illuminate buildings, or cast others in silhouette, which also makes for a compelling photograph.

Two – Get a variety of perspectives. In order to get as much of the city into a shot as possible, use a wide-angle lens. Tilt-shift lenses are great for shooting a building without distorting it’s proportions. A fish-eye lens definitely distorts but also captures interesting angles. Zoom lenses will allow you to close in on architectural details. Bring as wide a variety of lenses as you are able, to capture encompassing shots of the city.

Three – Scout out your night shots during the day. If you would like to get some long exposure night shots in order to capture city lights or traffic trails, scout the area ahead of time. Become familiar with the layout of the city in the daylight, and determine which areas will be SAFE at night. Find areas that will allow you to set up a tripod or accommodate some sort of stable surface for a long exposure shot.

Four – Play tourist. Many tall buildings have observation decks that provide stunning views of the cityscape. Many bridges have observation towers that one can climb for great views of city lights reflected on bodies of water. If the city is in a valley, often times one can find a nearby lookout point or road turn-off that provides for excellent views of the entire city. Take a bus tour or a hosted walking tour of the city. Ask the locals – your hotel concierge, a bartender, a cab driver – for the best places to get a great view of the city. They’ll know.

Five – Go for unique shots. Do a side-by-side of the city during the day, then the same shot framed at night. Be a little daring (but always safe! for yourself and your camera!) – hang a Gorillapod over the edge of a building or bridge. Create uniquely framed shots between arches or other structures. Capture movement. Pull people into your shots to create a sense of intimacy or of the excitement of a crowd. Find out about any local festivals, open air markets, free concerts, and the like. Capture the specific and particular “feel” of the city that you’re in, and what makes it different from any other city.

I hope you’ve found these tips to be helpful. If you have additional advice for capturing great city shots, or have experiences to share, please tell us about them in the comments!

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “New York City Sunset” by Ferguson Photography on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “New York #25″ by Join the Dots on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Brisbane City at Night” by Omad on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Chicago – Cloud Gate & Stone Container Building / City Reflection” by David Paul Ohmer on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “City Refraction, City Reflection” by lrargerich on Flickr Creative Commons.

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