Mastering Urban Photography | Digital Photography Tutorial


Mastering Urban Photography | Digital Photography Tutorial

I like to think of urban photography as a photography discipline in its own right, similar in some ways to landscape photography but rather than rolling hills, placid lakes, tall mountains and winding rivers, it features everything from tall skyscrapers to rundown factories, classical architecture to bustling city-scapes.

Mastering Urban Photography Digital Photography Tutorial
Mastering Urban Photography Digital Photography Tutorial

While it is easy to associate the word urban with decay or disrepair, it can also mean metropolitan or public. Urban offers the photographer a huge amount of variety, quite often on the photographers own doorstep, that gets ignored due to its familiarity. We shouldn’t overlook the potential of the nonrural locations near us to provide interesting and beautiful photographs.

What to Photograph?
There is no single answer to this, because no two locations are the same. There are some basic compostion techniques to follow, but really, anything goes. If it looks good to you, nothing else matters.

When I’m looking to shoot an urban scene, I look for the things that inerest me personally. I love old houses, as these tend to have really nice detailing and brickwork that you don’t find in modern houses. As you walk around a town or city, keep your eye out for buildings that look a bit different (n fact its good practice to do this whereever you are, as it leads to all sorts of promising photoshoot locations.)

Other places of interest are tall buildings that tower over its neighbours, modern buildings that extensively use glass (although these photograph much better when surrounded by other modern glass buildings or very old structures so you get a good contrast.) Glass itself can cause problems due to reflections and the way it reflects light, but it can also create fanstastic image sif the reflections are used to good effect.

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As well as buildings that are still in use, there are usually areas within towns and cities that have seen neglect, and this can lead to rundown, empty and abandoned structures that can make great photographic subjects. Sometimes getting in close and picking out the smaller details can work really well, so don’t think that if you are photographing a building, you have to get the whole structure in the shot.

Also think about the angle you are shooting at. Sometimes thinking outside of linear lines and straight on compositions can lead to some great photographs.

Mastering Photography – Urban Photography – Street Scene
Critical to urban photography (as with landscape photography) is the time of day you decide to shoot. Early morning (daybreak) is good, as the streets tend to be empty and the light isn’t harsh, allowing you to setup your kit and take photographs without people and when the shadows from the buildings are longer.

If you are not shooting at daybreak, then the other end of the day can also be good, although the streets don’t normally quieten down to the same extent, and depending on the time of year you get the early drinkers or the late shoppers.

Of course, you may want to have your scene with people in it, in which case you may want to pick peak periods, such as the morning rush hour. Just be careful not to get in the way of people on their way to work.

What Photographic Kit?
If you are using a DSLR camera, urban photography really demands a good stable tripod, and optionally a remote shutter release. In the same way as traditional landscape photography, its important the the details of urban photography are as sharp as possible. The only way to acheive this is to use a tripod, and the remote shutter release will allow you to take photographs without having to touch hte camera and introduce camera shake.

Choice of lens can also be critical in urban photography. Looking at the best urban shots on flickr indicates that a wide angle lens is a must, such as the Sigma 10-20mm lens, if you intend to get a wider expanse of scene into the shot.

If you are using a point and shoot camera, you should still try to use a tripod where possible. Having tried this in the past, you can sometimes feel a little self-concious mounting a smallish camera on top of a tripod, but it will enable you to get the best result. If you haven’t got a remote shutter release, you can use the self timer to reduce camera shake, but be aware of change that may occur to the scene in the time it takes to count down and take the photograph.

Mastering Photography – Urban Photography – Street Scene
It would be remiss of me to talk about urban photography and not mention some of the dangers that you may face as a photographer.

Firstly, be aware of what you are photographing. Its likely that if it is a building you are shooting, the owner might not appreciate your artistic efforts. Asking permission beforehand is always an option to eliminate any problems. Some buildings, such as government and military installations are off limits and you will get into trouble for attempting to photograph them.

Secondly, if there are people in the shot, they can feel antognised by your actions, so be aware of your surroundings and the feelings of others. Again, while you can photograph a street scene with people in it, focusing in on one person repeatedly can result in a harrassement charge.

Thirdly, if you are using a camera publically, be aware that there may be those around you who would like to take it from you. While its a relatively minor danger, if you are shooting (especially at dusk) in areas of a city you wouldn’t normally go to, you need to be sure you are not putting yourself in a dangerous situation.