Cityscapes are one of the most popular types of photos that people like to capture. They are also relatively easy to execute compared to say action photography where you are dealing with moving subjects. You will usually be able to use a tripod and take your time so blurred photos shouldn’t be an issue. But a great cityscape shot isn’t always a given and requires some planning and preparation in order to achieve. So here are the 5 key components that you need to nail in order to capture great cityscape shots.
Like any type of landscape photography, the first part of a great cityscape shot is that you need a great location to shoot from. Cityscapes by their nature require open space in front of you. So the obvious option is always to head to the river as this gives a natural clearance to the skyline. But this will usually also mean that you might end up with the same photos that everyone captures. Which isn’t necessarily something to avoid as often the reason for that is that those are the best locations.
But the great thing about city photography is that there are always new places to capture photos of the skyline from. Whether it is a new rooftop bar, a viewing platform or even sometimes just buildings being demolished that can give a new line of sight, the ever-changing skyline of a city means you can capture new photos all the time. You just need to be on the lookout for potential new locations.
So your first step for a successful shoot should be to research and find great spots to shoot from. Google maps and Google Street view has certainly made things a lot easier in this day and age. But don’t stop there. Check out local photographers’ accounts on social media and even tourist boards who will often announce when new things are happening. Keep a list of locations on hand so that when the conditions are right you can head straight there to capture the photos you want to take.
The light that you have in a scene is arguably the single most important element in your cityscape photography. A stunning scene won’t come out as an amazing photo if you have a flat and uninteresting light. But great light doesn’t mean beautiful sunshine. In fact, sometimes a moody or stormy sky can provide much more dramatic results. So don’t think of great light as just sunshine, but instead as “interesting light”. Ideally, you should aim for a light that gives something that is unusual or that enhances the scene in some way.
Often this does mean sunlight in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon which can give a scene a beautiful golden glow. In addition, this sort of soft light helps to enhance contrasts and shadows to give the photo more depth and feeling. So if you find that you are getting these kinds of conditions head to one of your locations to capture cityscape shots.
Now that we talked about light, I should also mention the sky as well. The best cityscape shots will also have a great sky as well possibly with dramatic clouds or even just a lovely colour. For example, just a few fluffy clouds in the sky can make a huge amount of difference to a photo versus one which has nothing but clear blue sky. Of course, the holy grail of this type of photography is the dramatic colourful explosions of colours that might happen at sunrise or sunset. These types of skies can transform a cityscape shot into something spectacular that will “wow” the viewer. Obviously, a dramatic sky doesn’t happen every day so you’ll have to wait for the right conditions.
TIP: Be on the lookout for days where there is a strong wind as by using a slow exposure you will be able to capture the clouds moving as streaks in the sky to add some dynamism into your photos.
One of the most common mistakes that I often see from amateur or newbie photographers when taking cityscapes is trying to cram too much into their composition. Think of your skyline photo like any other photograph. There needs to be a point of interest that is the focus of the image. So for example on the image below the main point of interest is the Empire State Building. Try to compose your image in a way that showcases the point of interest and if that means having to crop out other elements then so be it. Also, remember that you don’t always have to show the entire skyline. You can sometimes crop into your scene by using a telephoto lens to just focus on a small area.
The final step in ensuring your cityscape shot is stunning is to edit it properly. So spend time tweaking your image ensuring that the colours are correct and enhanced, contrasts are looking good and you have cropped the image if needed. I would always start by first correcting your white balance. Then move onto the essentials like brightness, contrasts and even curves to really make your image pop out. You can also choose to add some more saturation and vibrancy to your image (or even reduce it for a more muted look).
One really important aspect to check on your image is that your verticle lines are straight. This is something that is easy to do on Lightroom with a simple click. This will fix the effect known as “converging lines” where it looks like buildings are falling backwards.
A great cityscape shot can look amazing anywhere. Whether its in a magazine or printed and framed to be hung on a wall, the iconic cityscapes of the world can provide wonderful photo opportunities. The great thing about cityscape photography is that it is relatively easy to master and do well. Once you know the basics and practice your composition a little, the only thing that you will need is the right conditions. Think about the elements above the next time you are planning on taking cityscape shots and you may just end up with some stunning results.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.