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15 Urban Photography Tips to Capture Breathtaking Shots

15 Urban Photography Tips to Capture Breathtaking Shots

Cities are vibrant hubs of life and energy. It’s precisely this raw beauty that makes them so appealing to visual creators. But if you've ever tried to shoot this type of imagery for your photography website, you already know just how hard it is to capture these characteristics on camera.

There are so many factors you'll need to take into account in order to capture stunning urban photography shots, from choosing the right gear and settings, to determining the best subjects and composition, and more. That’s why we've put together a set of guidelines that will help you tackle the most important elements of urban photography.

The 15 best urban photography tips to capture outstanding city landscapes:

  1. Explore your surroundings

  2. Learn to read light

  3. Capture movement

  4. Pay attention to detail

  5. Challenge your use of color

  6. Choose the right camera

  7. Invest in good lenses

  8. Select the proper settings

  9. Limit your gear

  10. Behave accordingly

  11. Plan your compositions

  12. Develop your own style

  13. Be patient

  14. Photograph people

  15. Think like an art director

What is urban photography?

Urban photography is a visual representation of urban spaces and everything that shapes their environment, from geometric and architectural structures to people and other living things. This varied discipline can merge with other genres, such as architectural, documentary, portrait, and fine art photography. One could actually say that urban photography is in the eye of the beholder.

A common misconception is that urban photography and street photography are interchangeable terms. However, they are actually two different types of photography. The clearest distinction between the two is their purpose. Whereas urban photography serves as a representation of contemporary life in a city space, street photography is a visual documentation of society within public spaces. Some may argue that street photography should be considered a subgenre of urban photography. Much like the answer to life, the universe and everything, it all depends on who you ask.

Essential urban photography tips to get you started

Let’s start with the basics. These five essential urban tips will help you get started in the field:

Explore your surroundings

With around 55% of the world’s population living in urban areas, urban photography is one of the most approachable genres. Even if you don’t actually live in a city, you’re likely to live in very close proximity to one. The very first urban photography tip we can give you is to walk around the city and get your photography inspiration flowing.

When thinking of taking on a new photo genre, it’s common to immediately envision exotic locations that dominate the best photography Instagram accounts. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you can take pictures that are just as great in your backyard. This is why one of the most popular photography tips for beginners is to simply take your camera with you every day and practice with what you’ve got.

urban photography tokyo city buildings seen from above

Learn to read light

Without light, there’s no photography. Without learning to understand light, there’s no photography career. Even if you don’t know the theory yet, you’ve probably found yourself transfixed by the beautiful colors of the golden hour of photography on more than one occasion. There are several photography apps that will help you track these periods to make the most of every scene.

But just because the golden hour is widely considered the best time of day to capture natural-light shots, it doesn’t mean you should leave your camera at home the rest of the day. There is a nearly unlimited number of photography books that can teach you all you need to know about how light impacts every scene. Reading at least a handful of them will help you become a better photographer than you could have ever dreamt.

black and white interior building urban photography

Capture movement

City spaces are all about movement, which is why movement is such a crucial element of urban photography. Whether you are shooting long exposure photography or high shutter speeds, your images should always convey the dynamism of the environment you’re shooting in.

This can be done either by capturing moving subjects, such as people or vehicles, or through the lines and forms of static elements like buildings and other urban elements. You should always ask yourself whether the shot you just took is an accurate representation of the energy of the city landscape you find yourself in.

monochrome city photography car stopped next to pedestrians crossing

Pay attention to detail

By default, most beginners in the world of urban photography tend to see the genre as a metropolitan version of landscape photography. Because of this, most of their work shows vast spaces and wide angle shots. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it’s important to know that urban photography is much more than skylines.

As you find yourself walking down the street, keep your head up and look for elements and shapes that stand out. Keep an eye on the details and textures of buildings, as well as how their shapes merge or contrast with their surroundings. Since this is a habit most people don’t practice, you’ll be able to capture striking images that are much more likely to draw people’s attention.

black and white geometric architecture

Challenge your use of color

Much like that little guy who lived in a blue world and had a blue house with a blue little window, we’re so used to seeing our surroundings in color that it can be difficult to see them in any other way. For this reason, shooting black and white photos can help you show certain spaces from a completely new perspective.

This is the rationale behind the fact that so many urban photography images are monochromatic. But does the lack of color actually make your images better? Well, not really. Color, like light, contrast, and composition, is just another element that makes your work what it is. That’s why you should pay the same amount of attention to color as you do the other components.

If you’re shooting digital photography, you can actually use any free photo editing software to see how your shots look with or without color. This process will help you train your sight to look beyond the obvious, and eventually you’ll be able to identify the value of color on a scene without any help.

tokyo street sign urban photography

10 pro urban photography tips to shoot amazing city landscapes

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to learn some more technical urban photography tips. And who better to learn from than someone whose work has been commissioned by a long list of renowned beauty, accessory, and hospitality brands?

Meet Sharon Radisch, a NYC-based photographer specializing in travel, fashion, and still life. Her unique minimalist approach makes her style easily recognizable across any genre. She has been featured in popular publications such as The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair Collection Travel, and TIME for Kids.

Sharon was one of the ambassadors of the Ultimate Photography Adventure, mentoring a lucky Wix photographer on an urban photography experience in Tokyo. All body images in this article were actually captured by her as part of her trip to Japan with the winner of this photography contest.

Take a look at the ten pro urban photography tips she shared with us:

Choose the right camera

It is said that the best camera is the one that you have on you. There are so many ways to create travel imagery that it would be hard to recommend just one type of camera, as the needs vary from person to person and what they are hoping to create. That said, I can tell you a bit about my experience and the evolution of my travel kit, and what works for me.

If you are serious about becoming a professional photographer, I would surely recommend a DSLR, and furthermore would highly recommend one with a full-frame sensor. When shooting on location for a job, I use a Canon 5D Mark IV. Since the body is pretty heavy, I also invested in a Sony A7R camera for personal travel photography projects. I love how it is full-frame, but still light enough to carry around for a full day of exploring. Recently, I have also added a Leica M6 to my travel kit and have been having a lot of fun shooting film photography.

I would also like to stress that you do not need the fanciest camera to create beautiful imagery. A camera allowing you to use manual settings is a great start. This way you can learn the basics of photography and have control over settings, like your aperture, shutter speed, iso etc. Remember – it’s not the camera itself, but what you choose to do with it that matters.

monochrome city photography wall texture and stairs

Invest in good lenses

There are no right or wrong types of camera lenses to have with you while shooting urban photography. I have had experiences traveling with both prime lenses and zoom lenses, and they both have their pros and cons. A fixed lens is usually a bit smaller and lighter to carry, but you are limited in the focal length. For years, I actually preferred to travel using only a fixed 50mm or 35mm. However, I did find it slightly limiting when shooting architecture, as I found myself wanting to shoot slightly wider for interiors and then also a bit tighter to capture details.

I have since started using a 24-70mm on both my Canon and Sony systems, as I find that it allows me to capture a more diverse set of images. A zoom lens will also allow you to hone in on unique architectural details of a space, which might otherwise get lost when shot at a wider angle.

urban photography balcony pattern

Select the proper settings

My personal preference is to shoot using the lowest possible ISO to preserve image quality. However, if in a pinch, I do find that the Sony A7R system is actually not too bad at the higher ISOs. When shooting indoor urban photography, I also choose to put my camera settings in “silent shutter mode” so that others around me cannot hear when I’m taking pictures. I think it is more respectful, especially when in a quiet space.

urban photography geometric architecture

Limit your gear

When shooting personal architecture photography projects, I don’t have too many camera accessories on me as I like to travel lightly. I will carry memory cards, batteries and a lens cloth. Sometimes, I will contact a location ahead of time to see if they permit small tripods.

When permitted, I’ll bring a small travel tripod with me, especially if I know that the location is low-light. If tripods are not permitted, try finding a little ledge on which you might be able to balance your camera if you need to use a slower shutter speed.

city photography framed on window

Behave accordingly

Do your research before photographing in a location, whether it is indoor or outdoor. Become familiar with the place’s photography and gear guidelines so that you can arrive prepared. Be respectful of the space and the people within it.

As mentioned before, if your camera offers a silent shutter mode, use it indoors so as not to bother others around you. If you would like to photograph someone indoors, ask their permission. And most importantly, wait for your shots. Don’t ask people to move out of your way, as they too are trying to enjoy the space.

modern architecture building with trees urban photography

Plan your compositions

Look for unique angles, details, materials and structural elements that inspire you. Observe how the light in the space interacts with the various textures and elements. When composing an image, think about what the final crop will be and what kind of geometry can be created within the frame.

Don’t be afraid to compose abstract images, create intentional blurriness, or break any photography composition rules. There is really no incorrect way to create an image. If something moves you, photograph it.

minimalist black and white building architecture photography

Develop your own style

As you photograph more and more and review your work, you will probably begin to see what is evolving as your photography style. It’s important to work on creating your own unique aesthetic, as that will be what defines your work. This is not to say that your style can never adapt or evolve, but try to find a sensibility that is apparent across all of your images. It’s this sensibility that will make your work unique and make it your own.

monochrome blurry city photography

Be patient

It takes time to compose an image, to get the perfect light, the ideal elements, and the right amount of people in the frame. Allow yourself that time. If you are not traveling with fellow photographers, save the locations that you wish to photograph for a different day when you can visit them by yourself. This way, you’ll have all the time you need to capture the urban photography shots that you have in mind.

If you don’t feel that the light was right, or that you didn’t get the shots you wanted, come back another day when the conditions are more favorable. Slow down, and try not to rush the process.

urban photography decisive moment person on stairs

Photograph people

One great way to show the scale of an interior or architectural location is to include people in the image. I’d recommend framing your shot and then deciding where in that frame a person would fit. Then, you can either wait for someone to move into that spot or feel free to ask someone to stand in for you. If you do the latter, don’t forget to ask for their email to send them a copy of the picture.

urban photography people crossing tokyo street

Think like an art director

While you’re out in the field creating city photography, think about how you will present the final images. Have an idea of the layout in which the images will be presented on your professional photographer website, and which images should go next to each other. This way you are sure to obtain all the imagery you need to tell a complete story. Make sketches beforehand and make yourself a shot list so that you don’t forget.

sharon radisch wix photography website

Written by Judit Ruiz Ricart and Sharon Radisch

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