When thinking of landscape photography, what often comes to mind are photographs of mountainsides or desolate beaches, but landscape photography is not limited to the wilderness. With a little preparation and forethought, great landscape photographs can also be taken in urban settings. Here’s a quick primer to get you on the right track.
1. Foreground, middleground, and background
Treat urban landscape photography just like you would traditional landscape photography. You need to think about how a viewer’s eyes will flow through a scene, and the eyes often flow best when there is a clear foreground, middleground, and background. A landscape photographer will find an incredible background and then survey the area for a complementary foreground. Do this same thing in the city and don’t focus solely on the incredible architecture in the background. In the photo above, notice how the eyes start on the flower urn, are brought into the scene by the middleground of Bow Bridge and then end up in the background of the trees and building.
2. Make everyday objects beautiful
In traditional landscape photography maybe it’s a flower, a river, a tree, or a mountain that gives a photograph its primary interest. In urban landscape photography, it’s not only about buildings. Figure out ways to make advertisements, textures, graffiti, soda cans, shop windows, cars, and umbrellas beautiful. There are an incredible amount of objects that can be captured in this way, and if you think of them in the same way that you might think about capturing streams or flowers, then you open yourself up to a whole new world of beautiful content to photograph.
When many people think of urban photography they think of classic black and white, or sepia toned photographs of buildings and street corners from the past. I do too. But ditch that! The world was colorful back then and if photographers had access to color film many would have used it. You can still create black and white photos, but don’t ignore the beautiful colors all around the city.
4. Light is key (and always pay attention to the location of the sun)
When you’re walking around a city, the quality of light changes constantly depending on where you are. One second you could be in the bright sun while the next second you could be in the shadows with a small stream of light peeking through. Even reflective buildings and signs can completely change the quality of light surrounding you. It is important to pay attention to where the sun is in the sky and how it is reacting in the environment.
Don’t only notice what’s in the scene, notice the quality of light on it as well.
5. Photograph at night
The quickest and easiest way to improve your urban photography is to go out at night. Don’t just take advantage of the golden hours; continue on into the night as the artificial lights take over. The city takes on a completely new atmosphere, with romantic, classic, or ominous moods. Bring a tripod of course and watch buildings that were boring by day take on a completely new feel.
Also, not as many people photograph at night as during the day, so it is any easy way to make your images stand out.
6. Mix the old and the new
Above is a shot of an old door in Florence with a bright orange pizza delivery menu sticking out of it. If you are in a city with a lot of old architecture, don’t only try to capture photos that seem like they were taken hundreds of years ago. That’s been done already and the modern photos are what will be the most unique in the future. In addition to capturing the architecture in classic ways, try to figure out ways to capture the old architecture with a modern twist.
7. Create a relationship between people and the background
Often photographers shy away from including people in their landscapes. In many cases I can understand why, but often they are missing out. People add interest and help us connect with the scene. They add an element of life that would otherwise be lacking. Frame an interesting background and wait until the right people enter and complete the scene. Don’t just wait until anybody enters the scene; wait until the ideal person enters. Be picky. An incredible background will only be made worse with an uninteresting looking person added to the frame, there has to be a connection between the two.
About the Author:
James Maher is the author of Essentials of Street Photography, which covers everything about the genre even down to specific post processing techniques that can bring the best out of street scenes.
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