4 Tips for shooting in cities

written by:
Elaine Li


4 Tips for shooting in cities

I was born and raised in a city, and it was only recently that I realized, I love shooting cities more than anything else. In a metropolis like Hong Kong, there is always something going on. Whether it’s crowds of people rushing through the streets, or cars leaving you in the dust; whether it’s facades of buildings and high-rises, or quiet alleyways in between. There is just so much to capture in terms of photography.

Here are some tips to make good use of your time in a city:

1# Make good use of LIGHT

Light is important in photography no matter what you shoot. In cities, it is particularly interesting since there’s both natural and artificial light that you can play with. During the day, with bright sunlight, capturing architecture with barely any people and/or shadows always make for an interesting photo. At night, the neon colours add a more cinematic vibe to photos.  I often shoot long exposure car trails, as you can really capture the essence of the city with cars blazing through the highways. You can also try shooting car trails during twilight, where you can capture both natural and artificial light in the same frame. Remember to shoot with a tripod when shooting at night! My personal favourite is the BeFree carbon fibre Travel Tripod, since it’s lightweight and easy to carry around.

2# Sense of SCALE

Grand cityscapes often look impressive; but to make the photo more interesting, you can compose it featuring elements like a person’s silhouette, a taxi, or trees to add a sense of scale. When taking photos with one-point perspective, try lowering your angle and shoot from the ground, tilting your camera upwards to further emphasize the grandeur of the buildings along the streets.

3# Perspectives

What makes cities so interesting to shoot is that the same place can look completely different from a different angle and perspective. You can shoot the same building focusing on the facade, or include a human element. I suggest looking at the surroundings and finding something that is interesting that you can include in the foreground. The shots below are taken at Yik Fat Building, a very popular spot amongst photographers. Some of these feature natural elements – a nice juxtaposition with the urban jungle vibe.

4# Life

The people are the gears, and the city is the machine. It’s the people – the moving parts – that make the city come to life. Whenever I visit a new location, I not only focus on the architecture and buildings, but also the people who live or work there. Shooting people in an urban context is more challenging than shooting motionless structures, since you’re capturing a moment that will never happen again. I love telling stories through these shots. It adds a touch of emotion to the image, and leaves a stronger longer lasting impression.

Elaine Li

Hong Kong

Elaine is a Hong Kong-based art director and freelance photographer. She specializes in city and street photography, and is known for her urban exploration and rooftopping work. With her passion in photography and power of social media, she has garnered over 150k following on Instagram, and work with a variety of brands as a social influencer.

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