sunset city Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

Essential Guide to City Photography: Types, Gear and 14 Creative Ideas

Most photographers eventually find their way to city photography. It's a natural fit; after all, cities are full of interesting people, architecture, and street scenes. But even if you're comfortable shooting in urban environments, it can be tough to know where to start.

What type of city photography are you interested in? Which gear do you need? And how can you be creative with your city photography?

In this guide, we'll answer all of those questions and more. By the end, you'll be ready to start capturing stunning city photos that tell a story. So let's dive in.

What is City and Urban Photography?

Generally speaking, city photography is any photography that takes place in an urban environment. It consists of artificial and natural elements, from skyscrapers to busy streets and public parks.

An urban environment is a place where people live and work close together. This includes both small towns and large cities. So whether you're shooting in New York City or your local town center, you're doing urban photography.

Types of Urban Photography

Now that we know what city photography is, let's look at the different types of city photography you can pursue. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you a good idea of the possibilities.

overlook photo of cityscapes

Photo by Darmau Lee on Unsplash

Street Photography

One of the most popular types of city photography is street photography. This involves taking photos of people and scenes in public places like streets, parks, and markets. Street photography can be candid or posed, focusing on the environment or the people within it.

Architecture Photography

Cities are full of interesting buildings and architecture, so it's no surprise that many city photographers focus on this subject. Architecture photography can be wide-angle shots of entire buildings or close-ups of intricate details. Either way, it's a great way to show off the unique character of a city.

Night Photography

Cities are also beautiful at night, so night photography is another popular type of city photography. This involves taking photos after the sun has gone down, often using long exposures to capture the city's light. Night photography can be challenging, but it's also very rewarding.

Geometric Photography

This type of city photography focuses on the shapes and patterns found in urban environments. Geometric photography is all about finding interesting compositions, often using leading lines to draw the eye into the photo.

Gear and Camera Setting for City Photography

Camera

The type of camera you use for city photography is up to you. Many city photographers use DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, but you can also get great results with a point-and-shoot or even a smartphone.

photo of city with night lights

Photo by Tom Ritson on Unsplash

A lightweight camera is often a good choice for city photography, as it will be easier to carry around with you all day. But don't sacrifice image quality for weight. A heavy camera might be a pain to carry for short sessions, but it will be worth it if it takes better photos.

The important thing is to use whatever camera you're comfortable with.

Lens

The type of lens you use for city photography will depend on the type of photos you want to take. A wide-angle lens is a good choice for architecture and landscape photography, while a telephoto lens is better for portraits and street photography.

If you're using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you'll have the option to swap out lenses. This gives you the flexibility to choose the right lens for each situation. But if you're using a point-and-shoot or smartphone, you'll need to choose a single lens that will work for all your city photography.

A 50mm lens is an excellent example of an all-purpose lens for city photography. It's not too wide so you can use it for portraits and street photography. But it's also not too long, so you can still get some nice landscape shots with it.

Camera Setting

The best camera settings for city photography will depend on the type of photo you're taking. But there are a few general tips to keep in mind.

photo of cityscape from a distant view

Photo by Rohan Gangopadhyay on Unsplash

City photography often involves taking photos in low light. So you'll need to bump up the ISO to get a decent exposure. The tradeoff here is that a higher ISO will result in more noise in your photo. But if you're shooting in RAW format, you can always reduce the noise later in post-processing.

Shoot in shutter mode to capture city lights.

Program mode is an excellent all-purpose setting for city photography. It will give you decent exposure without having to worry about the details. Your camera will automatically select the shutter speed and aperture for you.

If you're using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, then you should set it to manual mode. This will give you complete control over the exposure so you can get the perfect shot.

photo of night cityscape

Photo by Giovanni Cheng on Unsplash

If you're in manual mode, try these settings

  • ISO: 200-3200
  • Aperture: f/2.8-f/11
  • Shutter speed: 1/60-30 seconds
  • Tripod: Optional
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Image Stabilization: On
  • Picture Style: Neutral or Landscape

Golden Rules for Shooting Urban Photography

1. Security Comes First

This is the most crucial rule of city photography. You must be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to avoid being mugged or attacked. Don't carry around too much gear, and keep your camera hidden when you're not using it. It's also a good idea to research the areas you'll be shooting in advance.

2. Be Respectful

photo of city view from a high building

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Urban photography can be sensitive, so it's important to be respectful of the people and places you're photographing. Please don't take photos of people without their permission, and don't invade anyone's privacy. If you're unsure whether taking a picture is appropriate, it's probably best to leave it be.

3. Know the Laws

You need to be aware of a few laws when shooting city photography. The most important one is the trespassing law, which prohibits you from entering private property without permission. You could be arrested and fined if you're caught breaking this law. So it's always best to get permission before taking photos on private property.

4. Be Comfortable

Since the city can be a hectic and chaotic place, it's important to be comfortable when you're shooting. Wear comfortable shoes so you can walk around easily, and carry an extra pair of clothes so you can adjust to the changing weather conditions. It's also a good idea to have snacks and water with you to stay hydrated and energized throughout the day.

Tips and Ideas for City Photography

1. Capture the City in Motion

city photo under clouds

Photo by Tanner Boriack on Unsplash

Look for busy streets and try to capture the hustle and bustle of city life in your photos. This can be done by using a long exposure to blur the movement of cars or people or by Panning your camera to follow the movement of your subject.

2. Look For Graffiti

Graffiti can add an exciting element to city photos. Look for graffiti and other forms of street art to add color and interest to your photos. These Artworks often display the city's unique personality.

3. Get up High

One of the best ways to get a different perspective on the city is to shoot from above. You can climb to the top of a building or hill or rent a helicopter or drone. This will give you a unique perspective of the cityscape you can't get from ground level. You'll be able to see the city in a whole new way, and your photos will be that much more interesting.

4. Look For Interesting Architecture

Many interesting buildings and landmarks in the city make great subjects for city photography. Look for unique architecture with interesting lines, shapes, and textures. Pay attention to the lighting and try to capture the cityscape in a unique way.

5. Look for Color

Look for colorful buildings, signage, and other elements that can add vibrancy to your photos. Pay attention to the city's color palette, and try to capture it in your photos. Look for contrasting colors, and use them to create interesting compositions.

photo of colorful cityscape beside a river

Photo by Richard Tao on Unsplash

6. Use Archways to Frame Photos

Archways are a great way to add interest and depth to city photos. Look for archways that frame city streets or other interesting scenes. Shooting through an archway can help to create a sense of space and scale in your photos.

7. Include People in Your Photos

You can capture the city's energy by including people in your photos. Look for busy streets and try to capture the hustle and bustle of city life in your photos. You can also take pictures of people in cars or public transportation (with permission, of course). You will always find interesting characters and stories by photographing the people in the city.

8. Look for Reflections

This can be done by finding puddles, ponds, or other bodies of water that reflect the cityscape. Mirrors can also be used to create reflections of the cityscape. This can add an interesting element to city photos.

9. Shoot at Night

Shooting at night can be a great way to get unique city photos. The city lights can add an interesting element to your photos, making the cityscape look completely different at night. Just be sure to bring a tripod and plenty of batteries, as shooting at night can be demanding on your equipment. And don't forget to respect people's privacy when shooting at night.

10. Look for Patterns

city night photo

Photo by Giovanni Cheng on Unsplash

The city is full of interesting shapes and lines, so look for repetitive elements that can add interest to your photos. Pay attention to the geometry of the cityscape, and look for ways to incorporate it into your photos. Try to find symmetry and balance in your shots, and look for geometric shapes that can add visual interest.

Conclusion

You don't have to limit yourself to any type of city photography. You can also be creative with your city photos, whether experimenting with composition or trying out new editing techniques. The sky's the limit when it comes to creativity, so don't be afraid to experiment.

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