Tips for Urban Photography

Urban photography can be a real challenge for a new photographer. But you can often leave your apprehensions and shoot with a free mind when you’re with peers. One of the best places to hone your skills and enjoy a bit of pure fun while you happily snap away is at a photography workshop. Jim Harmer from Improve Photography attended one recently, and he shares some interesting tips on how to improve your urban photography:

Use a Shorter Shutter Speed for Light Trails

You might think that the key to shooting great light trails is to use a really long shutter speed. A common approach might be to use an exposure of 30 seconds or so to capture a lot of light from passing vehicles. Here’s what you might get with similar settings:

Shooting light trails

Long Shutter Speed Light Trails

The problem with such a long shutter speed is that while you do get a lot of exposure for the buildings, the vehicles are only in the shot for about two to four seconds. So, the light trails themselves are a bit too dark.

Instead of using a 30 second shutter speed, set your aperture normally. Set the shutter speed to say, four seconds. Now set the ISO pretty high. Something like ISO 1600. Retake the shot. This is what you might get:

How to shoot better light trails

Shorter Shutter Speed, Higher ISO

As you can see, the light trails are much brighter now, while te exposure on the buildings hasn’t really changed.

Add a Point of Interest

Urban photography doesn’t always have to be about stark black and white shots with geometrical shapes dominating the composition. In the next attempt, the group teamed up to set up a shoot that also involved a model and a beautiful dress.

Urban photos using a model

This beautiful dress had 10 huge trains which helped produce stunning photos.

The dress with 10 huge trains coming out of it made for some amazing shots against the backdrop of the city.

Use Photo Stacking

Getting a clear shot of the Bean in Chicago without any people in the frame is almost impossible. It isn’t just the Bean in Chicago. It happens in every city around the globe wherever there is a major tourist attraction. So, how to achieve such a seemingly impossible shot? The answer is photo stacking.

bean chicago photography

One of several frames with people

Photo stacking for urban photography

Use photo stacking to produce an image free from tourists.

Photoshop allows you to do merge multiple photos together and create a composite image. All you need is several shots of the exact same compositions to stack together.

Change Your Perspective

Getting high up to shoot from a different perspective is sometimes the only way to change the monotony of urban photographs. That’s exactly what the group in the video did. They went up to the observation deck of the Willis Tower and took several wide angle shots from above the city. They even managed to sneak in a tripod to stabilize some of the shots!

Shooting from a high angle

Shot from the top of the Willis Tower in Chicago

Here’s some more photos from the workshop to leave you inspired:

photographing public transportation
using a model for urban photography
waterway photography in chicago

Watch the rest of the video for some more urban photo ideas.

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