How to Shoot Great Photos in the City

Showcase the place you live or visit with these city-specific tips

What to Know

  • Find elements unique to the city (such as the geography or the architecture) and include candid images of people in your shots.
  • Examine your targets up close, or get an aerial view to highlight specific details and create juxtapositions.
  • When shooting photos of city skylines, use a wide-angle lens to capture as much detail as possible.

This article explains how to shoot great photographs in cities.

Find What Makes the City Special

Shooting photographs in a city provides some interesting challenges, including odd lighting conditions, crowds of people, strong light contrasts, and interesting angles. But, these same elements can help you create some of your best photos.

Look for elements unique to the city, such as Chicago's Cows on Parade art installations that feature artist-inspired fiberglass cows throughout the city. Photographing many instances of the same theme could make a fun album to share with friends.

Geography Is Part of the City's Story

Look for geographic elements unique to the city. For example, if a city, like Denver, is located near mountains, shoot images that include them. Or if the city, like San Diego, is near a beach, use it as a backdrop for your photographic story.

Weather can also be part of a city's story. If you time your visit right, you might just get to photograph San Francisco under a blanket of fog.

People Are Part of the City, Too

Williamsburg, people walking on the sidewalk
Maremagnum / Getty Images

Don’t forget to shoot candid images of the people who are part of the city. A shot of an iconic storefront or restaurant, for example, will tell an even better story if it features someone who lives in that neighborhood. Just be sure to receive proper permission from anyone that you’re using in a photo.

Put Your Feet on the Street

Finding interesting angles from which to photograph your chosen subjects is nearly impossible while craning your neck out the window of a taxi or tour bus. So, put on your walking shoes and examine target areas up close. Look for ways to highlight unique architectural details, juxtapositions (such as a city garden with skyscrapers in the background), or quirky streets or shops.

Explore All Angles

Cities uniquely offer the opportunity to get a bird's eye view. Go to a high level of a tall building, parking garage, or observation deck to photograph from a top-down angle. Similarly, you can shoot up at tall buildings and other large structures from the ground. While you're experimenting, try shooting both horizontal and vertical photos. Some cities have companies that offer helicopter tours that you may offer additional angles from which to photograph city views.

If you’re looking to end up with as much of the city as possible in your overview photo, you may need to shoot with a wide-angle lens, rather than a telephoto lens.

Be Prepared for Contrast

Large buildings can create some tough conditions because of sharp contrasts between shadows and light. Look for glass buildings to create some interesting reflections. Try a few different settings with several photos to make sure your exposure is correct.

Consider Night Photos

Some cities look better, or possibly just very different at night from how they look during the day. For example, the National Mall in Washington D.C. is lit up at night, providing a very different visual experience than you get during the day. Consider shooting some night photos that show off the lights of the city, especially of buildings that feature unique lighting.

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