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Every city is a bustling hub of culture, art, business and the whole range of human activities that make up our shared experience of the world. This makes cities some of the most exciting places for photographers to work because they can really capture the heart of a civilization and the people who create it.
City photography has a huge audience because so many people and potential clients live in urban areas and have a natural interest in seeing new perspectives on the environment they are a part of.
General Tips for City Photography.
The following are a some of the things to keep in mind when it comes to photographing cities.
- Be sensitive to the people around you. Remember that the city streets are not your own home studio and some people will not want to be photographed. In public places you are allowed to photograph crowds and groups of people but if somebody asks you to delete a photo of them be understanding and do so!
- Dress appropriately. You may be out for several hours and the weather might change so the last thing you want is to have to return home early because you were under dressed and got too cold! Bring a waterproof jacket and a spare sweater and make sure that your camera bag is waterproof and will withstand the elements too!
- Take some refreshments with you! Bring a flask of hot tea or coffee with you or if you prefer some fruit juice. Pack a few snacks as well to keep your energy levels up while you are pounding the streets looking for that perfect shot.
- Use the architecture to frame your photos. The city has incredible features everywhere that can be used to frame your photos including archways, lamp posts and even the walls of narrow streets. Keep your eye out for the natural opportunities that the urban environment gives you to create stunningly framed photos.
- The man made environment creates amazing contrasts between light and dark that you can use to your advantage. When you are looking for a great shot be sure to utilize the natural and unnatural lighting within the city. Often you can find sharp contrasts which can instantly turn a good photo into a great one!
What kind of Gear Should You Use for City Photography?
It’s always worth having a good camera with you when you are undertaking any new project and city photography is no different. However, unlike wildlife photography, there are certain risks associated with being in some parts of the city while flashing around expensive equipment! So always keep your wits about you and don’t enter parts of the city which you know might be dangerous or where you could have your equipment stolen. Safety is something that is always on my mind when I am walking around and photographing Philadelphia.
However, that said, the vast majority of most cities are completely safe and present you with a wonderful tapestry of possibilities that you can explore to create some truly outstanding photography; and so with a little common sense you’ll be fine and should have nothing to worry about.
Depending on what you are trying to achieve you will want to use different equipment. For casual, day to day photography, you might be best served by a smartphone which is small, easy to use and you’ll always have with you.
However, for more important photography projects you will want to make use of a better quality camera where you can control the settings in manual mode, use different lenses and make creative use of shutter speeds, aperture and ISO settings.
If you are taking photos using a slow shutter speed, such as light trail photography or high rise photography, then a tripod is an essential bit of kit that will allow you to keep your camera still. A tripod can be an extremely useful item to have with you but you should also be aware that in some cities and outside of certain buildings large tripods are banned!
A good set of weather appropriate clothes are always necessary to make the most of your city photographer trips.
What is the Best Time to Do City Photography?
The city never truly sleeps and its characteristics change throughout the day and night. During the rush hour periods the city is packed with commuters and people opening up their businesses while in the evenings the atmosphere completely changes. Ask yourself what kind of emotions, scenes and feelings you are trying to capture in your photography and then figure out when and where you can find it!
Imagine the difference between photos of a jazz bar at 10 am compared to 10 pm! A quiet, empty jazz bar in the pale morning light might feel mournful, desolate, lost, isolated or strangely surreal. However, at 10 pm with a band on stage and a packed house a photo of the same space would be lively, full of points of interest and color!
The whole city is like this as well and any place will change throughout the day giving you different options and choices of photos.
However it’s not only the human activity that you need to consider. If you want to take photos that have a warmer light then make use of the ‘golden hour’ that lasts for about an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise. You can also think about using the annual seasons to bring out select features of the city. During the winter, on a snowy day, a statue draped in white looks very different to the way it does on a sunny summer’s day with a bunch of cheerful birds perching on its head!
The night time allows for iconic city scenes with the lights producing a great canvas for you to let loose some inventive photography. Reflections on windows, water, tall buildings and the streets make a vivid phantasmagoria of bright colors on dark shadows.
What types of Scenery can You capture with your City Photography?
The city is divided into several zones. In the heart of the city, the center tends to be the focus of financial services and businesses and is often characterized by high rise buildings, modern architecture and small public parks. Traffic is usually heavy and the streets are crowded and busy. In Philadelphia, this part of the city is known as Center City. In New York it is Manhattan.
In the city center you can, for example, focus on high rise photography to capture the relationship between humans and their enormous man made environment. You can also shoot great projects around the transit activity, including the traffic, trains, trams and road ways, including light trail photography, minimalist images that bring out the elements that form the hectic scene and general portraits of the characters who make up the city’s population.
Further out from the city center you have the suburban and light industrial districts. In many of the light industrial areas of cities throughout the country you can find interesting abandoned warehouses and urban spaces that provide you the chance to portray your vision of the industrial features of a bygone age contrasted with the encroaching modern world.
Suburban areas are a strange halfway zone between the city and the countryside and although you can get some interesting photos in these areas you have to be aware that many people may not want their homes to be photographed! All cities around the world have parks which are unique and often embody the history, culture and heritage of the place with statues, monuments and structural artifacts that are extremely related to the space within which they exist. There are many interesting ways that you can incorporate the city’s parks into your work.
10 Types of City Photography that You can Try Today.
- Street Photography. Seeking to capture the essence of the shared life we experience on the streets of our cities. This broad category encapsulates a wide range of subjects including street vendors, shop fronts, skateboarding parks and much more.
- Portraits. Taking photos of interesting people that you meet, regular characters and local celebrities all make wonderful portraits and can really give your audience a glimpse into the life of the city.
- Architectural Photography. Cities are home to some of the most interesting and unique architecture and consequently it provides a photographer with a creative eye the chance to take photos that will change the way their audience sees the urban environment around them.
- Cityscape Panoramas. If you get to a high up vantage point then you can take some amazing cityscape photography from your bird’s eye view position. Sunset and sunrise are often the most dramatic time for these photos but night time images can be great as well with the city lights picking out the roads and paths below you.
- Experiment with different lenses. Using a specialized lens can help you create some really unique pieces of work. A fish eye lens is great fun to work with and a wide angle lens lets you capture a broad view of a busy area. Zoom lenses are also a fantastic tool that allows you to take otherwise impossible shots.
- Explore the patterns that make up the buildings and streets of the city. Repeating patterns that are made by windows and other urban features can make interesting pictures that can either be minimalist or make use of extreme positive space to compose busily vibrant photos.
- Graffiti. Most cities have a lot of graffiti that ranges from the highly artistic to less sightly ‘tagging’. Finding and photographing graffiti in the city can be the basis of a fun photo project adventure.
- Use Reflections. Making use of reflections, whether they are from windows, lakes or the wet streets at night, can add depth, movement and points of interest to your work.
- Silhouettes are powerful. Looking for the silhouettes in the city is a good way to give your images a strong foreground and background. Silhouettes can also bring out the shapes of objects, accentuate the contrast between light and dark in your image and be used to focus the viewer’s eye on certain parts of the photo.
- Time Lapse Light Trail Photography. If you want to capture the movement of the city there is no better way to do that by using a slower shutter speed of between 10 to 30 seconds per frame to record the light trails around you. You’ll need a tripod for this but the results can be outstanding if you get it just right!
City Photography is a Huge Genre to Explore.
Cities offer photographers one of the most exciting and varied environments to create unique work that can really capture the essence of the modern world. No matter where you live or what time of the year it is, there’s a million amazing photos just waiting for you around every corner!
What do you like about city photography?