When I mention landscape photography, what normally comes to mind is an idea of panoramic views, mountainous regions or spectacular sunsets over the sea. It is unlikely that you will imagine an urban environment with streets and tower blocks.
But you are wrong.
As I always say, in the collective imagination, it is believed that you have to go to some exotic location in order to take good landscape photos. In reality, however, even urban environments and cities are full of landscape opportunities. Here, it’s all about the urban landscape, and I want to give you 7 tips for getting the best images!
- DUSK AND DAWN
As I’ve already repeated a thousand times, the light is of fundamental importance in landscape photography as you are used to imagining it (mountains, valleys, etc.) and the best time of day for taking striking photos is either in the morning at dawn or in the evening just before sundown. At these two times of day, the properties of the light are ideal for photography, due to the fact that it crosses many layers of the earth’s atmosphere, being just above the horizon.
In an urban landscape, the same rules apply but they are of even greater significance. In towns and cities, the central hours of the day are characterised by an innate chaos – perhaps good for news reports – that is practically non-existent during the early hours of the morning. This mix of soft, warm sunlight reflected off the glass windows of the buildings and the deserted streets is an explosive cocktail for your images.
This combination is repeated in the evening at sundown. It starts with the golden hour and the orange light reflected off the street and buildings, but the best moment is probably the arrival of the blue hour. The blue hour is that moment just after sundown, when a very particular atmosphere is created, with the city that begins to light up with artificial light and the sky that glows with a very intense blue.
Use a good tripod and a slow shutter speed and give full expression to your creativity.
- THINK BIG BUT PHOTOGRAPH THE DETAILS.
As happens with natural landscapes, you may tend to look for frames and perspectives that highlight the immensity and size of the urban constructions, buildings and architectural mastery…
There is nothing wrong with doing this, but it is easy to end up taking unoriginal and not very striking photos. The solution for creating something original is to focus on the details by thinking small. There are any number of contexts in which you can observe the benefits of this technique: think of the street lamps in Venice, for example, so simple and yet also original and characteristic.
- LOOK FOR CONTRASTS
The suggestion of creating contrasts doesn’t mean waiting for the moment when the sun is most intense and creating “chiaroscuro” contrasts.
Creating contrasts in urban landscapes means searching, in your home city or in the city you are visiting, for photographic contexts or architectural elements that have nothing at all in common and that create, precisely, a contrast [W1].
A contrast could be a photo of an old church surrounded by ultra-modern tower blocks, or wealthy, luxury areas alongside run-down buildings.
You can also do something different based on this objective, such as photograph a child sitting next to [W2] an elderly person or a beggar in front of a luxury store.
The urban environment is one of the best contexts in which to discover contrasts.
- CAREFUL WITH YOUR COLOURS
Towns and cities have a wonderful feature that makes them so dynamic: as well as contrasts, they contain a multitude of colours, despite the fact that they may appear very grey and neutral.
However, in order to isolate them and make them a fundamental part of your image, you will have to use a telephoto lens.
- CAPTURE THE ENERGY
Towns and cities, aside from the earliest and latest hours of the day, tend to be very chaotic. This feature can be used to your advantage to obtain superb images of the urban landscape.
You must try to include a human subject, and his frenetic activity, in the images you produce. To do so, you need to use a very slow shutter speed (perhaps using a neutral filter) with a very narrow aperture. With this type of shot, you are able to produce the light trail of the people walking by and this enables you to obtain an image in which you see man interacting with his environment.
- CHOOSE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
I live just outside Venice and, as you may well know, it is one of the most photographed cities in the world. Even so, when I get the chance, I still try to take a quick trip into the city to take a few new and original pictures.
But how do you go about getting an innovative, original shot in a place that is photographed so much?
In reality, the trick is really simple: go to one of the most evocative and characteristic places in the city (all you need to do is look at the postcards for sale to learn immediately which places these are) and then watch where the majority of tourists place themselves to take their pictures.
Done? Great. Now, in order to obtain something original, you just need to avoid taking photos from the same position and perspective of the tourists you saw.
Is it difficult? Of course! But if you manage to find a new and interesting viewpoint, you will certainly manage to produce original images.
The rules of composition to adopt when photographing urban landscapes are the same as those you would use to take pictures of traditional landscapes. You have to look for elements to take in close-up, or take advantage of the reflections on a rainy day, or simply use the golden ratio (or rule of thirds, if you prefer) in the composition stage.
I don’t recommend you take on urban landscape photography with the aim of following every one of these seven tips. Start slowly by going out a few times a week and focusing on just one exercise at at time.
Over time and with perseverance, results should come easily and you will be able to see the difference in just a couple of weeks.
Freelance Photographer, Photo coach, Author and Blogger.