Tonje Lilleås

How to shoot urban landscapes

I’m an outdoor and landscape photographer, but that doesn’t mean I’m in nature all the time. Part of my landscape photography is shooting urban landscapes, and today I’m sharing 7 tips on how to shoot urban landscapes.

What is urban landscape photography?

In short the definition of urban landscape photography is capturing images of cities and towns. However it’s not as simple as shooting cityscapes of skyscrapers in golden sunset light. Don’t misunderstand; that kind of images absolutely has a role in urban landscape photography. But there is more to it than that.

Urban landscape photography also differ from street photography. There most definitely are crossovers between the two, however they are not identical. Where street photography captures daily life in a public place, urban landscape photography has more in common with what we traditionally call landscape photography.

You see for urban landscape photography it’s the urban landscape, not the people that are in focus. And as photographers we approach an urban landscape very much in the same way as we approach a natural landscape. So with the difference between street photography and urban landscape photography in mind, let’s move on to our 7 tips on how to shoot urban landscapes.

7 tips on how to shoot urban landscapes

1. Treat it like a natural landscape

As mentioned an urban landscape has very much in common with a natural landscape, so treat it as you would if you were shooting a mountainscape or even a woodland shot.

Think about cleaning up the scene as much as possible through your composition. Make sure you have balance, contrast, leading lines and depth in mind. In urban landscape photography getting a clean image can be even more difficult than in nature, there’s often a lot of visual noise. However at the same time urban environments often offer more obvious and strong leading lines or contrasts. Use the environment to your advantage the same way you would in nature.

It goes without saying that light is important, so scheduleing your shoot when light is soft can be beneficial.

Want to know more? Here’s a few tips on landscape photography for beginners as well as how you get the most out of a landscape photography location.

2. Take a second look

If we look aside from the obvious skyscraper cityscapes, it’s sometimes difficult to find urban landscape images to those of us not used to shooting urban landscape photography. One of the best tips I can give you is to look at scenes more than once.

Ask yourself what could be points of interest in the scene in front of you instead of focusing on everything that makes the scene too busy or unbalanced. Then try to move around, change your angles and your focal length to find a composition that emphasizes the point of interest. If you put in a bit of work to capture the image it usually pays off.

3. Reflections

I love how it’s always possible to find good reflections in an urban landscape. You see, you don’t need a huge lake to reflect a landscape. Most of the time a puddle is more than sufficient.

If you’d ask me for just one single tip of how to shoot urban landscapes my answer probably be; head out just after it’s been raining. You’ll be able to shoot so many great reflections, even on the hood of a car parked along the street.

4. Focus on the details

One of the main things I’ve learned about my landscape photography the last few years is that I’m most satisfied with my images when I focus on the details. I rarely shoot wide panorama views anymore. I much prefer focusing on the details in the landscapes. With urban landscape photography this becomes even more important.

Urban landscapes are full of interesting details; shapes, angles, lines, colors, contrast in textures, you name it. Focusing on the details will give you different images than other people shooting the same scene, as people often will notice different details depending on what they gravitate towards. I’ve had people tell me” that image is amazing, where did you shoot that?”, not noticing that I shot it in their backyard.

5. Look up… and down

You don’t have to photograph a large city to find interesting compositions by looking up. Often a lot of the work has been done for us by the architect designing the buildings that surround us. However it’s our jobs as urban landscape photographers to make sure we capture an interesting image and not just merely document the architects work. (In other words; composition, leading lines, points of interest… you get it by now).

I also think there are lots of possibilities to get interesting images from above. Either by using a drone or getting on a rooftop. Just make sure you comply to local rules and regulations.

6. Imagine people in your scene

The best urban landscapes, in my opinion, are the ones where you can imagine people in the scene. Not actually being in the image, but where the scene itself is so strong and gives so much context that you can imagine how people would act in and interact with the scene. Trying to imagine people in the scene can often help you capture that kind of strong urban landscape image.

7. Urban landscapes comes to life in the dark

Because urban landscapes by their nature are full of light even after the sun has gone down. Shooting urban landscapes where light trails are included is a cliche, but it is for a reason. Also think about how wonderful the reflections of the city lights could be in a puddle. Or why don’t you use the glass facade of the closed (and dark) library as a way to reflect the surroundings?

So that’s it; these are my 7 tips on how to shoot urban landscapes. I hope you found this post valuable and that it made you want to head out and shoot your surrounding urban landscapes. If you did, please consider subscribing to my blog and following me on Instagram. It would really make me happy.

And remember that even for urban landscape photography, there’s always more to explore locally!

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