There’s much more to urban landscape photography than meets the eye. It’s good practice to imagine each still as a moment to a larger story. A flash of sodium vapors gleaming from within an underpass as a road leads off to a bustling city. Streaks of graffiti painted across a brick wall with passersby strolling the foreground. The electric vibrance of night where neon lights from a stretch of businesses reflect off nearby puddles.
Where your typical landscape photography captures natural and picturesque environments, at the core of city landscape photography are man-made structures, some of which are eroded by the sands of time and others tower overhead as human marvels standing over a hundred stories tall.
When you break it all down, there are various ways to capture urban landscapes, from streetside and elevated to nighttime, architectural, and long exposure compositions. Follow along to discover 6 tips for creating beautiful urban landscape photography.
1. Consider Weather and Time-of-Day
The natural or artificial light you work with has a lot to do with how your city landscape photography turns out. You could have a clear blue sky with no clouds and the sun hanging high overhead, and think your photos are going to deliver what you’re experiencing through your naked eye. But later when you inspect your photos, you find that they’re blown out and unusable. What went wrong?
An overcast sky with plenty of clouds is actually better for outdoor photography. This is the case because the clouds naturally diffuse the harsh sunlight which creates more compelling light. In fact, depending on your location and the time of year, high noon isn’t usually the best time for photography.
We recommend checking your sunrise and sunset hours. These times are known as ‘golden hour’ as sunrays belt from over the horizon, making for a gorgeous golden glow. The light isn’t too harsh and it essentially paints over nearby buildings and bodies of water.
Which brings us to…
2. Light Control Solution
There are ways to better control unwanted light, capture deeper colors all the while reducing glare and reflections. And that’s through the use of lens filters like Neutral Density (ND) and Polarizer (PL) filters.
The secret ingredient for professional city landscape photographers hinges on their ND filters. A solid ND distributes light filtration through your lens, allowing you to control how much enters through your f-stops. We prefer Quartzline NDs for a few reasons. For one, Quartzline is reliable and you won’t need to worry about color shift, plus there are 16 anti-scratch and anti-oil Coating Layers, which are ideal for moving quickly in metropolitan areas.
Now, if you use your smartphone as your choice of camera, you too can up your picture quality with lens filters.
For example, Polar Pro redesigned Litechaser Pro for iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. So, if you have the latest iPhone, the Litechaser Pro gives you something solid to grip and includes an improved slide-lock filter mount for mobile-optimized filters.
3. Night Time Urban Landscape Photography
Some of the most mysterious and eye-catching city landscape photos are taken at night. But, you may be wondering how you get enough light to your sensor to achieve deep colors and dark shadows without it looking like a Rorschach test. Well, cities, unlike natural environments, are full of light pollution at night from streetlights, electric signs, passing headlights, and countless buildings.
Shooting urban photography at night with varying artificial lights is a great way to punch up your portfolio. There are plenty of setups that produce different perspectives, like the romantic cityscape of Manhattan to the heavy industrialization of Detroit.
Just first make sure that you have something solid to rest your camera on to ensure sharp results.
4. Solid Foundation
Razor-sharp focus is essential to beautiful urban landscape photography. Sometimes all you need is a sturdy brick wall to lean against or a friend’s shoulder to steady a shot. However, this isn’t always the most ideal solution.
In order to achieve pristine detail at night, you’ll need to remain still for a longer exposure time. Luckily, with the right tools, you can capture memorable moments with the use of limited lighting sources with a firm base.
The Apex Minimalist Tripod Base is a solid choice for setting up and balancing your shot. It’s super light at just 16oz. and compact enough to easily store in your backpack.
5. Urban Landscape Composition
The immensity of large-scale city environments draws the eye, so the effectiveness of your urban landscape photography depends on how you frame it. So, here are a few rules to consider such as your focus, foreground, and background.
And once you know the rules, then you can break them!
Be it streets, tracks, alleyways, corridors, or rows of buildings, we are naturally drawn to leading lines. Take advantage of an expansive depth of field and you’ll notice part of what makes city landscapes so enthralling.
We are symmetrical creatures and are attracted to finely balanced and proportioned imagery. So, whether you discover a landmark or large structure, frame your shot up down the middle for an ideal effect.
Reflections can prove to be both useful and a pain. During the day, you’ll probably get a lot of reflections from windows and glass off of buildings. That’s where a solid PL filter comes into play. For example, with Quartzline Circular Polarizer filters you can shoot through windows to remove reflections and minimize glare. This is particularly useful for city landscape photography.
There are also benefits of reflections, like framing up a puddle or mirror in your foreground that reflects a nearby sign.
Creating beautiful urban landscape photography starts with your eye. What interests you? From here, with the right balance of technique and gear, you too can capture professional-looking city landscape imagery.
Crafting and shaping both natural and artificial light is key for the best results, and with the right filters and equipment to stabilize your camera, you’ll be impressed with what you capture!