How to Take Pictures of Cities: Architecture Photography

How to Take Pictures of Cities: Architecture Photography
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In the quest to take good shots of wildlife and nature, people often don’t realize that the city too offers a plethora of subjects that make for wonderful photographs. So much so that entire genres of photography have evolved, which deal with shooting urban landscapes. Learning how to take pictures of cities is not as daunting as it may seem. Photographing the city can be broadly dealt with under three headings: Architectural Photography, Street Photography and Night Photography.

Architectural Photography

  1. In short, it is shooting buildings and structures - whether modern or ancient. And there is a lot of way you can add life to these otherwise lifeless monuments. I always prefer shooting ancient monuments in context of its surrounding environment, whereas modern structures tend to look good even in isolation.

  2. Try to get a deep azure sky on the backdrop of a (usually brown) ancient monument. This can be done by using a very fast shutter speed and a narrow aperture. This photo here courtesy pwbaker makes the point.

  3. A wide-angle lens will immensely help shooting cityscapes. You can get a larger part of the city in front of you on your image, while avoiding the ‘flattening’ often introduced in telephoto lenses. The depth offered at a wide angle is always superior to a normal 35mm or a zoomed-in shot.

  4. That said, don’t be afraid to zoom in and fill the viewfinder with your subject. Just take care to include leading lines into the composition. Boring urban architecture gets a wholly different viewpoint when zoomed in on.

  5. If you’re shooting an oft-photographed monument, say the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, hunt out for unique and different angles. You may also try shooting from the side or from behind a monument, to capture the ‘other side’. This photograph, courtesy mugley, is a case in point.

    Have a different viewpoint

  6. Play around with shapes and textures. Zoom in close to capture the texture of a building, or use wider focal lengths to capture shape. A variation of this theme would be silhouettes. You really don’t need to wait till evening to get good silhouettes. You can shoot them in bright daylight too, by shooting against the sun and keeping a very fast shutter speed.

  7. Try to bring in Contrast. In terms of color, buildings, materials, shape….you get the general idea. It makes for very interesting shots. This picture by O Palsson brings in two contrasting elements - the round shape of the first building with the straight lines on the adjacent one.


  8. Its always good to know the ‘sunny f/16’ rule. Unless you have a tripod to eliminate shake, the best shutter speed to give you a well exposed image is the inverse of your ISO when you set your aperture to f/16.

  9. Another area to watch out for is reflections. It may be from water bodies, glass, metal or any other glossy surface. Depending on how you use it, reflections can make or break a photo. Here’s an example of how reflection has been very smartly used. Photo courtesy: OiMax[



Street Photography

  1. Learning how to take pictures of cities involves learning how to capture the essence of the city - its people, their uniqueness, festivals, markets, the color and vibrancy (or the lack of it) in day-to-day activities is what comprises street photography. Simply put, just take out your camera, get out of the car and walk into the heart of the city. Capture people going about their routine activities. To add more emotion, one may experiment with Black and White or Sepia modes.

  2. Involve people in your shot. Natives who represent a city would be a very good case in point. Say a bagpiper player in Scotland or a cowboy in Mexico. usually people are happy to let you shoot what they’re good at doing, so don’t be shy of asking.

  3. Shoot the urban in the sub-urban or rural areas. Likewise, shoot a busy urban center on a Sunday, holiday or a time when its without its usual crowd. Such contrast always lends a unique perspective to your pictures.


    Photo courtesy: Gianni Dominici

Night Photography

  1. This term is a slight misnomer, as the best night-time shots of the city are actually taken at during dawn or dusk. The twilight ‘Golden’ hours are what you don’t want to miss if you aim for a real winner. During this time - after sunset but before it’s too dark, there’s a period of time when the sky is bright enough, yet the city lights have been turned on. What’s more, the light intensity of the sky almost equals that of the city lights at this time, making it a perfect time to get capture both without over- or under-exposing the other. Photo courtesy: VJ_fliks

  2. Night

    Try out HDR. Keep a tripod handy and take multiple exposures. Convert them on your computer to a breathtaking HDR image.

  3. In preparation of your shot, you can check postcards or the Internet how people have previously shot the city. It will also help you find a good vantage spot, say the Victoria Peak if you’re shooting in Hong Kong, to capture a good view. It will also help you avoid a very common view and help you get a more unique shot.

    Light Trails

  4. Light Trails of moving traffic is my personal favorite which never fails to impress. Use a tripod, keep the aperture small to get everything in sharp focus and a good depth of field, and take long exposures to capture the vehicle trails, The contrast between the golden and red trails makes such photos very interesting. Experiment with exposure times to get varying length of light trails. Photo courtesy: ninja gecko

Taking pictures of cities can be a rewarding experience indeed. Try out these tips and do share your results with us! Happy clicking!