City Photography Tips

High angle view of Lower East Side Manhattan Downtown, New York City, USA
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Shooting photographs in a big city provide some interesting -- and challenging -- opportunities. You’ll be challenged by odd lighting conditions, strong lighting contrasts, and interesting angles but those same items can help you create cool photos. Use these city photography tips to improve your results when shooting in urban areas.

Tour the Area, but Keep the Camera in the Bag

Start by taking a city bus tour, one that hits all of the best "sights," especially if you’re unfamiliar with the city. It's true that city bus tours might result in all of the same "touristy" types of photos, but rather than shooting photos while on the tour, use the bus tour to figure out which landmarks and city sights you really want to photograph. By taking the bus tour, you’ll have less of a chance of wasting your time later on places that you don’t want to shoot.

Put Your Feet on the Street

Seeking interesting angles for photography in the city is nearly impossible while craning your neck out the window of a taxi. Do some walking to find cool photography opportunities. Try a variety of angles in the city. Shoot both horizontal and vertical photos. Or try shooting from the base of a building toward the top of the building, to create a uniquely interesting angle.

Moving on Up

Climb as high as you can to shoot some original angles. The top of a parking garage or an observation deck on a tall building will give you a completely different perspective on a city landscape.

Some cities have companies that offer helicopter tours that you may be able to use to shoot an overview of the city. Or if the city is in a valley, perhaps a nearby cliff or large hill could give you a great overview of the city. These types of overview photos can be difficult to shoot, but they’ll definitely give you an image that very few other photographers have.

Have a Wide-Angle Lens Handy

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.

People Are Part of the City, Too

Don’t forget to shoot images of the people who are part of the city. Each area of a city has some unique characters or iconic storefronts and restaurants with great people that can help you to tell the story of the city. Just be sure to receive proper permission from anyone that you’re using in a photo.

Weather Is Part of the City's Story

Look for weather that’s unique to the city. For example, if a city has quite a bit of snow, look to shoot images of the city during the winter time. Or if the city is near a beach, use that feature to help you tell the story of the city. If you’re shooting on a poor weather day, though, make sure your camera is protected from the elements.

Be Prepared for Contrast

Large buildings can create some tough lighting conditions because of sharp contrasts between shadows and light. Try a few different photos using a variety of settings to ensure you have the best possible exposure. Look for glass buildings to create some interesting photos of reflections. However, be sure to try a few different settings and shoot a few photos to make sure your exposure is correct.

Consider Night Photos

Some cities just look much better at night than they do during the day. Consider shooting some night photos that show off the lights of the city, either overview photos or images that highlight specific areas of the city with buildings that have unique lighting.

Find What Makes the City Special

Finally, look for things that are unique to the city. For example, some cities use themed street art all across the city, something that you won’t find anywhere else. Collect a series of these photos that you can use in a slideshow about the city.