The cityscape is one of the most acces­si­ble gen­res for a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. The city offers plen­ty of space for film­ing: from post­card pic­tures with land­marks to street pho­tog­ra­phy. How, on what and at what time it is bet­ter to shoot the city, read in this arti­cle.

Clas­sic shot from St. Peters­burg / Pho­to: unsplash.com

How to shoot a city with nat­ur­al light
What to shoot the city on
How to pho­to­graph cityscapes
How to remove a crowd of peo­ple from a pho­to
How to shoot a night city
How to Catch the Blue Hour
How to choose set­tings for shoot­ing a city at night
How to remove a road with smeared head­light marks

Shoot­ing a city in nat­ur­al light is both easy and chal­leng­ing at the same time. On the one hand, dur­ing the day there are few­er prob­lems with cam­era set­tings and you can work with­out a tri­pod. On the oth­er hand, nat­ur­al light is con­stant­ly chang­ing, which means you have to catch it.

What to shoot the city on

To shoot a city land­scape, you don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need cool equip­ment: you can get good pic­tures on a DSLR, mir­ror­less, super­zoom, and a smart­phone.

Wide-angle lens­es are good for clas­sic land­scapes and fore­short­ened pic­tures (for exam­ple, for shoot­ing from a low or high point). Lens­es like the Canon EF 11–24mm f/4 are best suit­ed for these shots, but sim­i­lar shots can be tak­en with a reg­u­lar kit lens.

Clas­sic cityscape / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Tele­pho­to lens­es, such as the Olym­pus M.Zuiko Dig­i­tal 75–300mm f/4.8–6.7, allow you to cap­ture detail and cre­ate the illu­sion of a flat­tened space: it seems that objects are clos­er to each oth­er than they real­ly are. When choos­ing a tele­pho­to for urban land­scapes, the aper­ture ratio of the lens is not too impor­tant. You can take rel­a­tive­ly dark mod­els with a min­i­mum aper­ture val­ue of 5.6 or less.

Sev­er­al dis­tricts of the city in one pic­ture. Such pic­tures look beau­ti­ful from the top angle / Pho­to: unsplash.com

A drone will also be use­ful, as the city looks unusu­al from above.

TV tow­er. Frost. Jan­u­ary. Drone / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

It is advis­able to get a good tri­pod: it will come in handy for many of the tricks that will be dis­cussed below.

How to photograph cityscapes

If you want to get more than just a bor­ing shot of a land­mark, you have to think and run. For exam­ple, you can catch inter­est­ing weath­er:

The pic­ture of the mon­u­ment becomes more inter­est­ing in the morn­ing mist / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Fog or rain­bows are hard to pre­dict, so it’s a good idea to car­ry a cam­era when walk­ing around the city. It is clear that it is incon­ve­nient to con­stant­ly car­ry the entire set of equip­ment, so you can buy a small com­pact cam­era, for exam­ple, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100M5A. It fits per­fect­ly in a bag and even a pock­et.

Look for the right time for your frame. Good pic­tures can be tak­en at sun­rise and sun­set.

At sun­set, you can get beau­ti­ful sil­hou­ettes / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Land­scapes have one advan­tage over pho­tograph­ing peo­ple: nature changes slow­ly, and you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to think, choose the best time to pho­to­graph. Look, for exam­ple, at the clas­sic pho­to of Nevsky Prospekt in St. Peters­burg.

Sun­set on Nevsky / Alexan­der Pet­rosyan / Pho­to: petrosphotos.livejournal.com

You can get such a pho­to only in Sep­tem­ber and April — at this time the sun ris­es exact­ly in the align­ment of the avenue behind the Admi­ral­ty. A solar cal­cu­la­tor will help you choose the opti­mal time.

Sup­pose you want to rent a train sta­tion, which is locat­ed at the cen­tral point of this map and is locat­ed with the main facade to the lake. To get a pho­to with more or less direct sun at the end of August, you need to be there at 6 am / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photostore.Expert

In the solar cal­cu­la­tor, you can also enter the date of the future shoot­ing and find out where the sun will be, for exam­ple, next Feb­ru­ary.

Look for angles. You can shoot land­marks from a clas­sic angle, as on the cov­er of this arti­cle. And you can approach the prob­lem in a more orig­i­nal way. So, the low­er angle makes the build­ings more mon­u­men­tal.

Low­er view with empha­sis on the colon­nade / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Also, the city often looks inter­est­ing from above. To take such a pho­to, use a drone or just a high shoot­ing point: from the win­dow of a tall build­ing, from a large hill or an obser­va­tion deck.

Bird’s eye view / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Look for reflec­tions. Reflec­tions are a great move often used when shoot­ing cityscapes.

For reflec­tion, you can use both a reser­voir and pud­dles / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Look for details. Anoth­er type of shot that can be eas­i­ly cap­tured in the city is abstract rhyth­mic shots where archi­tec­ture turns into tex­ture.

Such pic­tures are easy to get in urban areas / Pho­to: unsplash.com

How to remove a crowd of people from a photo

It hap­pens like this: you shoot a pop­u­lar attrac­tion, around which peo­ple are con­stant­ly hus­tling, but you want to get a beau­ti­ful desert­ed shot. You can come there at dawn, while every­one is sleep­ing, or you can “con­jure” a lit­tle with the shoot­ing.

Orig­i­nal image: there are a lot of peo­ple and cars on the street / Pho­to: photoshopcafe.com

All you need is a tri­pod, cam­era or phone and a min­i­mum knowl­edge of Pho­to­shop.

To begin with, we put the cam­era on a tri­pod at the desired point and take a few pic­tures. The num­ber of shots depends on how crowd­ed your pho­to is. The more peo­ple, the more takes.

Then open Pho­to­shop, in the tab File/File choose a team Scripts/Scripts/Statistics/Statistics.

After that, a dia­log box will open where new set­tings are set / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

In the graph Stack Mode / Select stack mode choose the mode Medi­an / Medi­an and click on the but­ton Browse. Select a set of pho­tos.

After that, press OK and wait / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

It may take Pho­to­shop a cou­ple of min­utes to merge the pic­tures and remove ele­ments from them that are not repeat­ed. In our case, these are cars and peo­ple.

The final result will look like this:

Com­plete­ly desert­ed inter­sec­tion / Pho­to: photoshopcafe.com

A sim­i­lar effect with­out addi­tion­al post-pro­cess­ing can be achieved by shoot­ing at very slow shut­ter speeds (sev­er­al min­utes). Mov­ing objects sim­ply won’t be cap­tured. The only dif­fi­cul­ty is that it is prob­lem­at­ic to use long expo­sures dur­ing the day — most like­ly, you will over­ex­pose the frame. To use this method, you need an ND fil­ter, which reduces the amount of light enter­ing the lens.

It is believed that the best time to shoot cityscapes is blue hour. This is the time before sun­rise or after sun­set.

There are three rea­sons why land­scape painters love blue hour:

  • the sky is not yet inky black, it has col­or — it looks beau­ti­ful in the pic­tures;
  • the illu­mi­na­tion of build­ings and lanterns are already on, which adds vol­ume to the pho­tographs;
  • most often at this time there are almost no passers-by on the streets, and cars on the roads. This allows you to take pic­tures with lit­tle to no visu­al noise and spend less time post-pro­cess­ing pho­tos.

The only prob­lem with the blue hour is that it is rather fleet­ing.

A typ­i­cal blue hour shot / Pho­to: unsplash.com

How to Catch the Blue Hour

The blue hour does­n’t have to be exact­ly 60 min­utes long — it all depends on your geo­graph­ic loca­tion and time of year. The essence of the blue hour is that the sun, which is already (or still) hid­den behind the hori­zon, illu­mi­nates the sky, but not the earth. Thus, the sky acquires a beau­ti­ful col­or and bright­ness suit­able for pho­tog­ra­phy.

There are for­mu­las that allow you to cal­cu­late the blue hour, but the eas­i­est way is to use one of the online appli­ca­tions. For exam­ple, the same Sun­Calc, which we talked about above.

The blue hour is indi­cat­ed by blue stripes on the time­line / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

How to choose settings for shooting a city at night

You def­i­nite­ly need a tri­pod for blue hour pho­tog­ra­phy. It will allow you to get an image with a min­i­mum amount of noise.

The opti­mal cam­era set­tings for shoot­ing evening cityscapes are select­ed as fol­lows:

  • first set the ISO to the min­i­mum val­ue (most often it is 200);
  • We select the aper­ture val­ue based on the plot. If the com­po­si­tion is mul­ti­fac­eted (for exam­ple, in the front — a tree, in the back — high-rise build­ings), the aper­ture should be cov­ered so that the objects do not “fall out” of focus. If there is one main object in the frame, you can work on open aper­tures;
  • we set the shut­ter speed to the one that the cam­era offers with these set­tings. It can be very large — it will not hurt the land­scape.

If a tri­pod is not avail­able, bench­es, para­pets, and oth­er sta­ble parts of the urban envi­ron­ment can be used instead.

Long expo­sures turn water into a mir­ror, and stars into star tracks / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

If the angle and plot require hand-held shoot­ing, you can use life hacks, which we wrote about in detail in this text.

How to remove a road with smeared headlight marks

Work­ing with a tri­pod allows you to shoot beau­ti­ful shots with light streaks that “leave” pass­ing cars.

Long expo­sures stretch the head­lights into stripes. Pay atten­tion to the sky: the pho­to was tak­en dur­ing the blue hour / Pho­to: unsplash.com
The stripes that cross out the frame also look beau­ti­ful / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There is one dan­ger: if there is enough light out­side, then at such a slow shut­ter speed, even at the min­i­mum ISO val­ue, the frame can be over­ex­posed. In this case, you can close the aper­ture more or use an ND fil­ter.