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Capture Cityscapes Like a Pro

Often some of the most rewarding photo opportunities are hiding in plain sight. Urban planning and generations of architects have created wonderful cityscapes the world over, and they can make for incredible photo opportunities. As with all photography, a bit of knowledge and planning goes a long way, so here are some tips on capturing cities in their best light.

The Kit

Cities are vast, so we recommend a wide or ultra-wide lens to capture as much of the city as possible.  Of course, you may want to capture a city in the way the human eye sees it, in which case a standard prime lens such as the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G or the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED will do the trick. If you are experimenting with low-shutter speeds, a tripod is always preferable to even the steadiest of hands. 

Golden Hour vs Blue Hour

The early bird gets the worm when it comes to cityscape photography, but luckily sunset provides a second bite of the cherry for those who aren’t morning people.

Golden hour, as the brief periods of time shortly after sunrise and before sunset are collectively known, are the sweet spots for capturing cityscapes. The low-hanging sun provides warm and colourful light, which emphasises the characteristics and silhouettes of the buildings you’re trying to capture. For those hoping to capitalise on the twinkling lights of office blocks, ‘blue hour’, the estimated 20 to 60 minute period after sunset is ideal because the lights are visible and the outline of the buildings are still clear. 


Light Trails

Light trails are one of our favourite ways to add some extra dynamism to cityscape photography. The colourful streaks of light left behind by traffic can truly make a cityscape photo pop. Long exposure photography is best captured in manual mode, and depending on the time of night, with a minimum shutter speed between 10 to 15 seconds. We recommend adjusting your ISO settings as low as you can, and setting your aperture between f/8 and f/16.

Upon further reflection

Water is your friend. Whether oceans, lakes or rivers, many cities the world over are built adjacent to a major body of water. Historically, this was a commercial decision that allowed for increased trade, however, it had an unexpected knock-on effect for photographers. Rivers and oceans can provide and lend your photos a degree of motion, while lakes are often ideal for capturing reflections because they are more likely to have a calm, undisturbed surface. Man-made water features can be equally effective at reflecting the architecture of skylines.

Converging lines

When you are shooting large buildings, converging lines are a constant challenge. This is the illusion when parallel lines appear to be leaning towards each other and buildings can look like they are falling backwards. This effect becomes most noticeable when angling your camera upwards and is heightened with a wide-angled lens. If possible, seek out a position further back or higher up from your subject matter. 

Sometimes it can be easy to overlook the beauty that is right on your doorstep. Whether it’s the city you’ve always called home or discovering an urban landscape for the first time, the creative potential of cityscape photography is boundless.