How to improve your cityscape photography
Every photographer, at some point, has shot city pictures and understands the challenges - and joys - of this type of photography.
Capturing the unique, and sometimes dynamic, characteristics of a city skyline can be a gratifying experience as a photographer. If this genre is a particular interest of yours, then read on for some helpful tips on shooting cityscape images.
Wide-angle lens: A wide-angle lens (anything below 35mm) is a must-have for shooting any landscape or cityscape imagery. Keep in mind that the effective field of view relative to a full frame view depends on the sensor of your camera. When using wider lenses, focal length matters. You'll note the difference between 10mm and 15mm when compared to 195mm to 200mm.
Cost: Wider aperture lenses are typically more expensive. Zoom is even more costly, but you don't need to spend a lot for a lens that gets you good pictures. A decent quality 10-24mm f/4 zoom should suffice.
Tripod: Always keep a tripod handy for those times that you'll need them - and sooner or later, you will. One of those times could be (should be) when you're using a wide angle, and the extra stabilisation makes a big difference. Also, if you're shooting in the evening, under lower lighting conditions, or at sunrise or sunset, you'll need that tripod.
Remote trigger: If you shoot long-exposure images, then a handy item to keep around is a remote camera trigger, either a remote shutter or cable release. Remote shutters triggers the camera remotely, usually with the help of a separate unit attached to the camera. There are some apps to trigger the camera directly from your smartphone. Cable triggers are attached directly to the camera via a cable or wire.
Cityscape lighting is integral to the overall aesthetic of this genre, whether it's natural lighting/dynamic or artificial. However, the Golden and Blue hours of the day are ideal times for great city imagery.
The Blue Hour is the first 10 to 15 minutes before sunrise and after sunset. Shooting during those few minutes, you'll find vibrant, deep purples and blues. The diffused lighting during this time offers even light ideal for the landscape, filling shadows.
The Golden Hour is that first hour just after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. While the natural light is lower than you'll have at high noon, it's also the warmest glow of the day, allowing for some fantastic images. It can take some practice, and a good eye on the clock, to capture the best of this hour, but it's well worth your time.
You can find some apps that help you find the right time for the Blue and Golden hours.
Let's go back to that wide-angle lens we told you you'd need. How do you use it in your work on cityscapes? The more you know about the city landscape you're shooting, the better it is for using a wide-angle. If you don't know where the best spots are to use it, do some research either online or in practice - meaning get out and look for ideal places to shoot from like scenic overlooks. Some of the best views of any city are from a distance.
Some of the most iconic cityscape images include the motion blur of cars. They're much easier to shoot than you might imagine for long-exposure photography. Get out your tripod and set your camera to manual (or bulb) to get a long shutter speed.
You'll need to use your judgment to set the correct exposure. If the cars are moving fast, you can reduce the exposure time. If they're slow-moving, then use a longer exposure time giving you more streaks. You'll probably want to keep to lower ISOs as well. However, if it's dark and you're using a narrow aperture, consider a higher ISO instead.
Again, while capturing motion is relatively easy, you'll need some practice and playing around with values to capture the motion as you want it to appear.
How are you at capturing city details - that are often plentiful? If you're shooting city or any landscapes, you'll want to be using medium to high-resolution sensors. These allow you to capture the finer details typical of this type of photography. The extra megapixels make that possible. It's the smaller details, along with the more obvious ones such as signage or building facades, that can transform a scene and your final product.
Cityscape photography is a challenging, but rewarding photography that can generate some of the most iconic pictures you'll ever take. Because you can't manipulate your subject by moving it around, you have to set the scene by moving yourself to capture the best angle. Learning to manipulate your equipment is critical to the success of this genre. Practice makes a difference, and as does becoming comfortable working with narrow apertures, ISO values, and low lighting.