For today’s Photography Basics post I want to talk about:
For those who might not be familiar with the phrase, a cityscape is like a landscape except you replace the land with all kinds of man-made things, mainly, a city. I haven’t always been a fan of these images until I gave it a try myself. If you’re interested in capturing better images of your favorite cities, read on.
Time Of Day
Time of day is important in shooting cities and so is vantage point. These two work together to produce either dull, blanched city images or stellar imagery fit for MOMA. Or at least your wall at home.
If you have the option of picking the time of day (i.e. you are not on a scheduled tour with no flexibility), then I suggest you grab a photo planning tool like Photographer’s Ephemeris, LightTrac or Photo Pills. These are all tools I have purchased with my own pennies and that I have used for years. They each do photo planning a little differently but they all work very well.
With one of these tools in hand, figure out your vantage point for a city shot. This can be fairly easy with the help of Google Earth and the myriad of geolocated photos within. See where others have taken city photos and find a fitting location.
Next, using one of the above tools, plan your time of day. If you are shooting your local city, you will know when the best time to shoot is (hint: sunrise or sunset) but if traveling, the tools will help make sure the sun is where you want it.
Where do you want the light? Ideally behind or to the side of you for starters. When you get a little more practiced, especially in post-processing, you can place the sun behind your city for some interesting effects.
Here’s an example with two shots of Seattle. They are about 20 minutes apart, but the angle with regard to the setting sun is the key to a different feel in each photo.
What you are looking for when picking time of day and vantage point is nice warm light on the city, if you are going for the pretty effect. Try to avoid the middle of the day as it can wash out the brilliance of all that glass and brick. And don’t forget dusk (the Blue Hour) as a great time to mix cool light with warm city flare.
I have expounded before on the advantage of using a polarizing filter when specifically shooting images of Seattle, but this tip goes for any city.
A polarizing filter works best when the main source of light is 90 degrees to the direction of your lens. Off to the right or left, that is.
A polarizing filter will also help in reducing reflections on glass (as well as making the sky in your cityscapes more ‘punchy’ and defined) and this may be a good or bad thing.
If the light is coming from directly behind you, the filter will have little to no effect. If the sun is directly in front of you, you may get a ghosted image of the sun in your frame if your filter does not have an anti-glare coating on the inside.
Here are two quick examples of Seattle with and without the filter:
Use Panorama Techniques
This technique is easy with modern smartphones as the mode is built in. But if you are shooting with a camera that does not automatically stitch your images, take a look at this post on Digital Photography School for more info.
Shooting panoramas is most handy when your city is big and you are close. Two examples I can give are Lima, Peru and Brisbane, Australia.
The vantage point of Lima still didn’t allow for the city in one image. And Brisbane was just too close . So to increase the amount of detail, I shot them each as a panorama and stitched them in the computer.
The best way to get inspired, for me, is to view inspiring images. Take a look at these shots on Fine Art America for a view of quality images from all over the world. Performing an image search on the likes of Flickr is also a good way to find what you are looking for (for instance, here is a search for “cityscape San Francisco” with dazzling examples).
Lastly, don’t forget to return, return, return to the scene of the crime. Again and again. Cities have moods and those moods change with the seasons, events, weather, etc… No two sunsets are exactly the same and they bring different light.
Maybe there were no clouds in your shot today, but there will be next week. Is there a clearing storm in your area? Get out and shoot the gloom and the light!
Show Me What You’ve Shot
On a personal note, I love the inspiration I receive from other photographers’ images. Please feel free to share a link to your own cityscape images below. While you are at it, help us all out and tell us a little about from where you took the shot and what city is pictured.
Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.
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