For the longest time, I’ve had trouble shooting cityscapes and nightlife during my trips abroad. As a photographer, I knew where to take the shot. But didn’t know how to take the shot. I used to think it was more important to focus purely on the subject, but this philosophy gave me nothing but lifeless stills. After a lot of practice and a lot of research, I discovered ways to improve my urban photography skills abroad.

1. Late to Bed, Early to rise

One important tip in urban photography is to beat the crowd. Getting up early enough or staying out late ensures that you can take your photos without interruptions from passerby’s. For most urban photographers people are a welcome addition to the scene. However, there are also a lot of subjects best framed without any added components. For instance, you may need a clear view of the main road but its difficult to get with people casually strolling by. There are also subjects best filmed at specific times of the day. For instance, an old cathedral comes to life at night when indoor lighting is present. A good way to beat the crowds is to set an alarm for the time when most will be indoors.

2. Focus on Buildings

Urban areas come complete with buildings of many shapes and sizes. Try leaning up against buildings in order to take an upward shot. This adds an interesting perspective to a photograph and can even turn your photo into a work of abstract art.

3. Light it Up

Looking down on a major interstection at night in Seoul, South Korea.

Cities often come alive at night. it’s a completely different atmosphere from the hustle and bustle of the day. Capturing the city lights at night is a great way to improve your urban photography. Start by turning off your flash and decreasing your shutter speed to capture city lights clearly.

4. Reflections

Skyline of midtown Manhattan in New York City with landmark skyscrapers

can add a lot of depth to your photos. They also add different perspectives. Perspectives in photography are a way to do the one thing you set out to –tell a story. Urban areas are full of reflections. Office buildings, cars, restaurant windows, and puddles are just a few ways you can utilize reflections to your advantage.

5. Include the locals

Including the local crowd in your shots is a great way to enhance your images. A major goal of photography–like any other art form–is to tell a story. Cityscapes often have the most to say when people are included in the shot. The lives of the individuals you film play a major role in that story. You may want to select a camera that doesn’t make you standing out in the public, or even just the camera lens like a prime lens. you may capture a person waiting for a train or someone scurrying to work. You may even capture someone in a moment that would make your photo appear to be wrought with emotion. You can start by photographing still subjects, but for more exciting shots, try to capture people moving with slow shutter speed.

6. Rethink your Perspective

Concrete architecture concept. Abstract construction background with sky. 3d render illustration

The perspective from which you photograph your subject says a lot about the image. It can add or take away certain elements in a photo. It can add drama, structural detail, or even action. For instance, a photo of a lamp post taken head-on may not have any depth at all. The heavy focus on the subject removes background elements that could add to the photo. The photo itself may even appear two-dimensional. The same lamp post shot from a different angle becomes a beacon for dramatic entrances as elements in the background breathe new life into the shot. Try shooting your subjects from multiple angles. You can add even more depth by increasing or decreasing your distance from the subject.

7. Study the Weather

red coffee cup with smoke on water drops glass window background

A great tip for filming the urban scenery during your travels is to study the weather. Literally. Every shot has multiple elements that add to it and the weather is just one of the many. Weather plays a major role in the effect your images have on the viewer. It also affects how your subjects are portrayed. As an example, a business district shot amidst a dark and stormy evening could evoke feelings of anguish or despair. However, the same business district shot on a warm sunny day could evoke feelings of glee or jubilation. Take note of how these weather changes affect your subjects and ultimately your images.

Piecing it together

Urban settings can offer a touch of pizzazz to an otherwise boring portfolio; the hustle and bustle of the day, the vibrant nightlife, and everything in-between. All of these things create character and depth in photos as they paint a picture in the mind’s eye. All you have to do is capture them. But before you do, remember, there are many aspects to take into account than just the subject. Angles, weather, time of day, and even the subject itself all play a role in how your pics pop.

James Miller