A well-captured urban landscape photograph can capture the beauty of a city while retaining its human elements.
In this guide, we’ll be covering urban landscape photography and tips for urban/city landscape photography.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
1. Research & Explore
The first tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is to research and explore.
Research the Place
While I’m all for going out on a whim and hoping to find a beautiful spot, it’s easier to do a little research beforehand.
If you are in a new location or are looking for spots or cities to take some urban landscape photos of, or you’re going urbexing, Google will be your best friend.
Search up the best spots to take photos near you, search up the best towns or cities near you, and search up the “tourist” spots near you as they will often have beautifully built structures that are waiting to be photographed.
Research the Weather
Ahh, the weather has blessed me on certain occasions with beautiful lighting and atmosphere, and it has also rained on my parade (literally).
Along with researching the place(s) you will want to explore in terms of photography, it’s important that you also research the weather.
It takes 5 seconds to check the weather these days by just searching for the forecast on our phones.
Make sure you check the weather on the days you are planning to capture a photo.
An urban landscape photo with clear blue skies tells a completely different story than one that has dark rain clouds.
Researching is crucial to any urban landscape photographer. After researching it’s time to create a plan which leads us into our next tip.
2. Have a Plan
The second tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is to have a plan.
“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin
This is one of my favorite quotes and while it can be applied to anything in life, let’s focus on this message in regards to urban landscape photography.
Once you research the location and weather of the area you want to photograph, it’s time to come up with a plan.
Based on your newfound knowledge — what day of the week do you want to go? What time of day for lighting purposes? What season is it? Is it tourist season? Are you bringing anyone with you? What gear will you be using?
These are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself before heading out.
It only takes a few minutes to figure out the answer to all of these and it will ensure you are prepared so you can just focus on capturing the image.
What separates the pros from the amateurs is the process of planning.
Things rarely go according to the plan 100% and you will often have to make some adjustments on the fly.
A plan is often accompanied by some backup plans as well.
Let’s say you researched everything — you know the place you are going to photograph, the time of day you want to go, if it’s tourist season, etc.
You get to the spot and find that they are doing construction on a certain area that ruins the shot — you didn’t plan for this!
Well, luckily since you did plan out your day and did your research, you can quickly Google and find that article or post you were reading that listed the best spots and move to another location.
Bonus points if you already had a backup plan.
3. Perspective & POV
Now that we’ve covered some pre-shooting tips, let’s dive into some actual urban landscape photography.
The third tip is regarding perspective and point of view (POV).
Your perspective and point of view will impact your images and the stories they tell.
A few ways you can change your own perspective and POV of the scene before capturing it is to:
- Try different angles such as high and low shots
- Move around the scene to see different focal points
- Try landscape and portrait camera orientations
- Try a different lens
All the greatest photographers are “great” because they allow the viewer to see an image through their perspective and point of view.
What story are you trying to tell through your image? And then keep asking “why” you want to tell that story.
Now let’s dive into a few composition tips that can influence your perspective on a photo.
4. Leading Lines
The fourth tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is the use of leading lines.
Leading lines is one of the most basic composition rules in photography and is used to make your photos look more aesthetically pleasing.
Leading lines can add depth to a photo as well as a new perspective or certain POV.
Anything can be a leading line, look for objects such as roads, walls, bridges, or anything that can form a virtual queue and direct the eye to the actual item (point of interest).
Often, the leading lines should lead to a destination of sorts, it can be an interesting landmark or another subject.
Picture yourself standing in the middle of the road and looking down the road. Our natural tendency is to follow the road and reach a destination.
The same principle applies when we use leading lines in a photograph.
5. Rule of Thirds
The fifth tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is the rule of thirds.
The Rule of Thirds is one of the most basic photo compositions and must be known by photographers.
In the rule of thirds, the photographer simply divides the area of the photo into nine equal squares and puts the POI (point of interest) on the point or line on the plane that is divided into 3 x 3.
Now, it’s called a “rule” but rules can be broken.
I personally use the rule of thirds as a beginning frame and composition to see if it works, if it’s not working in the image I am going for, then I put the point of interest slightly further to the left or to the right of the line intersection.
You have to feel it out, but the rule of thirds is a great composition tip to fall back on.
The 6th tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is to utilize reflections when possible.
Capturing the reflection of a landmark or other interesting scene in an urban landscape environment is a beautiful composition trick.
Capturing reflections will create a new depth and perspective to the image while also bringing balance and symmetry to your image.
The 7th tip is regarding lighting.
Just like any photography type, lighting is crucial and can make or break an image.
There is only so much daylight in a day in 24 hours (unless you’re in Alaska).
I personally love shooting during golden hour, which is the time right before sunset. It creates beautiful, cinematic-looking images.
The 8th tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is to keep it simple.
Nothing is worse than looking at a cluttered landscape photo where you can’t tell where the focal point is at.
When looking at a scene, pick your main subject or focal point, and then your image and composition should revolve around that.
At the core, urban landscape photos are a simple subject.
The simplicity is also within the beauty of landscape photos in general — with the lack of need for staging or other preparations that come with other types of photography such as headshots or portraits.
It’s recommended to try and aim for only 3-4 subjects or focal points within an image. If you add too many the image may become cluttered and it will not draw the viewer into the image.
9. Control Exposure
The 9th tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is to control exposure.
If you are a newer photographer, you may be relying on your camera’s automatic exposure.
There is nothing wrong with this and can take a lot of the guesswork out of the shot, however, auto-exposure modes aren’t always consistent.
To take your urban landscape photography to the next level, it’s important that you take control of your exposure by shooting in Manual mode.
Take time to learn your camera and how to shoot manually and you can paint the picture that you envisioned in your head without relying on the picture the camera wants to take.
10. Manual White Balance
The 10th tip is to set your white balance manually.
The white balance can affect the color of your image. It can make your image very blue or very orange depending on the setting.
If you are going to be in a setting where the lighting is constantly changing, then having an auto white balance could affect consistency throughout the images.
If you do not mind fixing every individual image in post-production then by all means use auto white balance, but if you want finer control, set it manually.
11. Great Depth of Field
The 11th tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is to use great depth of field.
Great depth of field comes from using a higher f-stop such as f/16 – f/22 on your camera, which will allow you to capture more of the scene in a sharper focus.
A great depth of field is the opposite effect from what most portrait photographers go for when they have a shallower depth of field such as f/2.8 to create that creamy bokeh look.
While again, just like the rule of thirds, it isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s just recommended for landscape photographers.
12. Sharp Images
The 12th tip is to get a sharp image.
It’s no doubt that having a sharp image is crucial for any type of photography unless you are going for a creative looking blurry photo.
In order to ensure you have a sharp image, focus on these areas — high f-stop, stabilization, lens, and post-production.
As mentioned, shooting at a higher f-stop will ensure everything in the scene is in focus which will result in a sharper-looking image.
Stabilization is crucial for a sharp photo.
Make sure that when you are capturing your urban landscape photo, you reduce camera shake as much as possible.
The most obvious way to do this is by placing your camera on a stable surface such as using a tripod, or monopod, or just using your natural surroundings such as placing your camera on a table or ledge (avoid narrow ledges so you don’t drop it).
If you are photographing handheld, this is when you will want to be most cognizant of your camera shake, especially if you are shooting at a lower shutter speed!
The camera lens that you use will also determine how sharp your photo can turn out.
For example, most default kit lenses that come with a camera will tend to shoot “softer” images while the more expensive glass/lenses will be sharper.
In post-production, you can increase the sharpness of your image by adjusting the clarity or sharpness setting depending on the software you are using.
While this is true and like magic, if you have a blurry image in the first place, while you can fix some of it in post-production, it will be harder than if you have a sharp image straight out of the camera.
The 13th tip is to use a tripod.
As mentioned in our previous tip, a tripod is a beautiful piece of equipment for any urban landscape photographer.
When you are using it, make sure that the tripod legs are extended all the way so it doesn’t all of a sudden fall on and breaks your camera!
Also, if it is windy, make sure to bring sandbags with you so you can stabilize the tripod and that it doesn’t tip over, especially if you leave it unattended for a few minutes.
Don’t become another tripod horror story.
14. Consider a Polarizer
The 14th tip when it comes to any landscape photography, in general, is to consider using a polarizing filter.
As a landscape photographer, you will often be shooting in the sun so this little piece of equipment is great for that!
15. Lens Choice
The 15th tip when it comes to urban landscape photography is lens choice.
We’ve already touched on this a bit when it comes to producing sharp images, but your lens choice also helps with the story you want to tell.
Whether you want to highlight the details in your landscape or capture the whole landscape, a wide-angle lens is the best choice.
The lens length I recommend is 16mm – 35mm length.
Try out these lengths and see how it changes your own compositions by capturing the entire landscape!
What is Urban Landscape Photography?
Urban landscape photography is defined as photographing an image within a city or town with the goal of capturing nature or man-made features while also bringing the viewer into the scene.
Urban landscape photography is just landscape photography that is done in an “urban” setting such as a city or town.
Urban landscape photography is also referred to as cityscape or city landscape photography.
If you have ever taken a photograph of a city skyline or a photograph capturing the landscape of a city, then you have already taken an urban landscape photo without even knowing it.
If you travel a lot, urban landscape photographs are one of the best ways to document your experience in a new city or town.
When Did Urban Landscape Photography Start?
Around a decade later, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype and photographed a Parisian street which was titled Boulevard du Temple.
Funny enough, it appeared the first two widely regarded images in history were urban landscape photos.
The Importance of Urban Landscape Photography
We touched on this a bit before — the importance of urban landscape photography is to capture and preserve the scene around you.
Whether you are traveling and want to capture the current city you are in or you want to capture a man-made marvel — the choice is yours.
With just like any type of photography, this preservation and capturing of something that is important is what draws many to the art of photography.
Urban Landscape Pictures (Examples)
- Lens Cloth
- Smartphone or Tablet (Optional)
- Scout Locations and Plan Ahead: Research and explore different urban areas to find visually appealing locations for your urban landscape photos. Look for architectural gems, unique cityscapes, interesting street scenes, or iconic landmarks. Plan your shoot by considering the best time of day for lighting and the potential for interesting elements like street activities or light trails.
- Choose the Right Gear: Select the appropriate camera and lenses for urban landscape photography. A wide-angle lens (e.g., 16-35mm) is commonly used to capture the expansive cityscape and architectural details. Consider bringing a tripod for stability during longer exposures and a polarizing filter to reduce reflections and enhance colors.
- Compose the Shot: Focus on composing your shot to create a visually engaging urban landscape photo. Experiment with different perspectives and angles to capture the essence of the city. Incorporate leading lines, symmetry, patterns, and foreground elements to add depth and visual interest. Pay attention to the rule of thirds, balance, and framing to create a well-composed image.
- Utilize Light and Shadows: Pay attention to the quality and direction of light in urban landscapes. Golden hour (early morning or sunset) and blue hour (just before sunrise or after sunset) often provide soft, warm, and dramatic lighting. Utilize the interplay of light and shadows to create depth, highlight textures, and add a sense of mood to your images.
- Capture the Urban Atmosphere: To truly capture the essence of urban landscapes, focus on capturing the unique atmosphere and energy of the city. Look for interesting street scenes, bustling crowds, or urban activities that can add a human element and a sense of scale to your photos. Experiment with long exposures to capture light trails from vehicles or create a sense of motion.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on urban landscape photography and learned some new tips!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between cityscape and urban photography?
Cityscape photography focuses on capturing the overall city skyline or prominent landmarks, often emphasizing the architectural beauty and grandeur of urban environments. Urban photography, on the other hand, encompasses a broader scope, capturing the essence of urban life, street scenes, people, and the overall vibe of a city, going beyond just the cityscape itself. It includes elements of street photography, urban culture, and the human presence in an urban setting.
What is considered urban landscape?
Urban landscape refers to the photography genre that captures the visual representation of urban areas, showcasing the built environment, infrastructure, and human-made elements within a city or town. It focuses on the urban setting as a whole, including streets, buildings, parks, bridges, and other man-made structures, often highlighting the relationship between the urban environment and the people who inhabit it.
How do urban photographers make money?
Urban photographers can make money through various avenues such as freelance work and by licensing and selling prints.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business and photography blog called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.