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Urban photography is not street photography. Street focuses on the people of a city, usually as individuals. Elements of the city may be included and may add to the scene, but the focus is put on the person being photographed. Urban photography looks at the city with a much larger perspective. The buildings, traffic, urban wildlife, skylines, bridges, parks, streets, crowds, and alleys all make up part of urban photography. By capturing elements of the city, you capture what its essence is. But photographing a city in a way that makes it stand out can be tricky. So here are some things to think about during your next venture downtown:
Perspective can play a big role in urban photography. In fact, it is perhaps one of the most important components and the one that helps separate an interesting photo of a city from a snapshot of a building. The perspective of your shot can greatly affect its mood and aesthetics. A tip for avoiding a boring shot is to stay away from places where people would normally view things. For instance, most photos from a sidewalk would feel fairly bland because everyone views the buildings, streets, and people from the sidewalk. Instead, look for places where you can get a different view of things. Perhaps an elevated crosswalk or window from a high-rise. Maybe from the steps of some subway stairs going underground or looking around a bench or parked car. Just look around and think of areas that might give you a unique perspective.
For most of the day, anyone can see what the city looks like in broad daylight. The sun creates hard light on the buildings with bright white highlights and deep black shadows. This is often the worst time of the day to shoot as the harsh contrast creates unflattering photos. However, there are two brief times during the day in which many do not get to see the city, or not for very long, at least. Most folks are either in the shower getting ready for work or already at the office with a cup of coffee. Some might catch a glimpse of the magical sunrise light softly illuminating the city streets on their way to work, but this lasts only a moment. Sunrises and sunsets are the often the best times to capture a city at its peak beauty. The side lighting creates a soft warm glow on the sides of buildings while the sky creates a background of pink, purples, and reds. The diffused light that appears before sunrise and after sunset can create a completely different look to an area compared to the mid-day light. So be sure to visit your favorite locations during different times of the day to see when the lighting is best.
While you might feel it necessary to travel around a big city by car, you'll often miss many great moments when you do this. Any big city contains unlimited photographic possibilities. There could be a dozen photo ops just walking down one block. Therefore, it's always better to take it slow. If you really want to explore the ins and outs of a city and capture its true essence, you have to walk the streets and take in everything it has to offer. So many moments can pass by through a taxi window, but taking the time to walk from location to location gives you the freedom to look around and observe your surroundings fully before moving on. If you're looking to photograph a couple of specific locations, consider using a bicycle. Bicycling allows you to travel much faster than walking in places where you want to travel through, but still allows you to stop at any time and snap a photo should a good opportunity appear. Much like wildlife photography, urban photography takes lots of observation and patience. You may not get the best photos on your first time out and about. But revisiting locations and working your scene will increase your chances of capturing that beautiful urban shot.
Written by Spencer Seastrom
Image credit: pedrosala / 123RF Stock Photo