Some places are easy to photograph, stunning mountain vistas are hard to get wrong, and paradise beaches are always going to look gorgeous even if your horizon line isn’t quite straight. But cities can be tricky. They are overwhelming, busy and a kaleidoscope of sounds, smells and colours. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start with photographing them on your camera, so here are some tips to help you out. Wherever you are in the world, and whichever city you are traveling to next, try out these tips to get the best possible photos of the place.
1. Get up high
Exploring the streets of a new city can feel overwhelming, so getting up high is a great way to get scale over the city and see exactly what you’re dealing with. It’s also a great way to get breathtaking photographs, turning the shapes of a skyline into an epic landscape. Light is going to be your best friend in these situations, so try and visit a view point at sunrise or sunset. Otherwise, at night when all the lights are bright is going to give you an epic sense of scale.
2. Find unique markets and quirks
What makes a city unique? This is a very important question to ask when thinking about how to photograph a place. Think of unique markets and quirky streets where you’re going to get original shots. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, the Goldfish and Bird Cage markets were obvious places to start, creating unique images which one couldn’t quite get anywhere else in the world.
3. Look for street art and colour
Many cities are full of grey concrete high rises, sometimes the lack of open space and sheer volume of people can be overwhelming, but looking for colour is a great place to begin. Find pockets of reds, blues and yellows, as well as original street art which is going to make your photos pop. When I find a piece of street art of a colourful wall I know is going to make a great picture, I like to wait around a while and wait for the perfect person to walk into the frame. Then snap, you’ve got a great city shot!
4. Capture life on the streets and the people who make a city so special
Travel is all about people and in cities that is no exception. Cities are heaven for street photography and capturing people going about their day to day lives. Often crowds mean that you can blend into the background much better than you can in a small town or village. Try shooting from the hip if you are nervous at first.
5. Try black and white to show the city at its most raw
I love black and white photography for its ability to capture a place or face in its rawest state. Black and white really exposes the soul of a location or a person, and for cities it can really bring a place to life. You can do this in post-processing and perhaps mix it up with colour images of the city as well.
6. Many of the world’s best cities come to life at night – capture those hours
Cities are a dream for shooting at night, as this is often when a place comes to life. To capture these hours well, don’t be afraid to raise your ISO a little to make sure you capture as much movement as possible. I try look for pockets of light, like street food stalls, shop signs and even mobile phone light. Capture the things that happen in the late hours, people eating street food, wandering through backstreets or capture the motion of traffic.
7. Experiment with effects and shutter speeds to capture movement
Following on from the last point, capturing motion, traffic and the movement of people is often best done with slow shutter speeds and a tripod or something to stabilise the camera. Find a place with busy traffic or perhaps a pedestrian crossing, then set your shutter for up to 10 seconds to create a blur which will still capture movement. If you don’t have a tripod then try using the top of a bin or a street pole or fence; often in cities it’s easy to find something to hold your camera still. I also find cities a great place to experiment with focusing; sometimes lights can create a unique look when out of focus.
8. Food is often a highlight of a city, find what makes it unique
In many cities in the world, food is something which people travel especially for. Think about Rome and pizza or gelato, Hong Kong and dim sum, Tokyo and Sushi. Food is something which can really bring a place to life, and photographing it being prepared and people eating street food can also make for interesting pictures. Next time you’re headed out for dinner, don’t forget your camera!
9. Capture the chaos
Cities are kaleidoscope lands. They are an assault on our senses, and it can often seem overwhelming. We often might shy away from capturing busy crowds but in fact they can give us the greatest sense of being in a city. Try photographing street crossings, subway trains and busy traffic. You might be surprised with the results.
10. And the calm too
Cities aren’t always about big crowds and busy streets. Some of my favourite cities in the world are much more relaxed, and you’ll often find the best places by wandering down quiet alleyways and sitting in big open parks. Each city has its own energy, and travel photography is all about capturing that.
Do you enjoy photographing cities when you travel? What other tips can you share with us? Let us know in the comments below!
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All photographs by Annapurna MellorTweet