Silhouettes in sunlight

Photographing cities: Five tips for better shots

Cities are energetic and magical places. Their people, buildings, rivers and diverse streets provide endless photographic opportunities. So why not grab your camera, get out and explore a city near you? We’ve come up with five tips to help you capture images you’ll feel proud of. Read on and learn how to improve your composition, cope with fading light and how to tell your city story.

1. Tell a tale of the city

All cities are historic and cultural melting pots containing thousands of different stories. As you explore a city, think about which of its tales most interests you, then dig a little deeper. Ignore well-known sights and try to find a unique narrative focal point that will invite your viewer into the world of your photo. This could be a historic Berlin building being restored, a chef at work in Rome or a group of locals heading out for a night on the town. The aim is to express how you feel about the city and to capture its essence in a single image. Try to leave your viewers curious about what they’re seeing and feeling intrigued to know more.

2. Shoot the city in motion

The movement of people, goods or transport create the beating heart of most cities. Think of Amsterdam’s bicycle-powered rush hour, Bangkok’s floating markets or Dubai’s relentless traffic. To capture the city in motion, try exploring it on foot until you chance upon a busy junction, then stop and take a few shots from an interesting vantage point. If your camera lets you, adjust its shutter speed. Once you’ve chosen a slower shutter speed (e.g. 1/60 second or slower), hold your camera steady and capture the blurred effect of people moving against a static landscape. Or try panning shots – where you move your camera at the same time as a moving object like a bike or car. These take a little practice but produce rewarding results and are fun to try with any camera.

3. Capture the city at night or in low light

Many cities take on a new life when night falls, though it can be challenging to capture the atmosphere due to fading light. If you're shooting at dusk, it can help to use a tripod. If you don't have one, lean against a wall and hold your camera steady to capture street scenes without blur. Try to shoot cityscapes in places which have bright lights – like Prague’s Christmas markets or London’s West End. Shooting light trails can also be rewarding. Why not find a high vantage spot, like a bridge or rooftop terrace and capture the street below? If you have a DSLR, experiment by setting your camera's exposure time for around 20 seconds. Adjusting your camera or device's ISO settings (if it has them) can also help you create great night shots. Try holding your camera still to prevent unwanted blur, and switch to an ISO of 1600 or 3200. Your camera’s sensor will capture much more light – even at night. Or why not simply play with the available settings on your camera to create your unique take on the city after dark?

4. Show the city’s contrasts

Some of the most striking city images show contrasts – between old and new, peace and discord or between a city’s cosmopolitan communities. Try to capture your own interpretation of this theme – for example, you might spot someone meditating in a busy Shanghai park, shoot a historic London building being dwarfed by a new skyscraper or the bustle of New York’s hipster quarter. Try visiting the same place at different times of day to capture different atmospheres. The morning serenity of a city square’s cafes can turn into a wild party after sunset.

5. Details can make a difference

It’s the small details that give a city its identity. Often hidden in plain view, capturing these fascinating features can make striking photos. Think of London’s ornate Victorian lamplights, the Paris Metro’s Art Nouveu station signage or the patterns in Lisbon’s distinctive pavement tiles. Look out for small and unique details of the next city you visit and think of interesting ways to shoot them.