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6 Tips & Tricks for Capturing Cityscape Photography

With buildings instead of trees and roads instead of rivers, photographing cityscapes can be just as rewarding as photographing landscapes and produce images just as beautiful.

Not every aspiring photographer lives within close proximity to beautiful landscape locations. If you’re one of these people, what do you do? Cityscapes offer an alternative “landscape” for you to focus your camera on. An added bonus is that you don’t need to live in or near a major city to make good cityscape photos, any urban area will do.

Here are some top tips for cityscape photography.

The bright lights of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine

1. Start late in the day.

Winter Roof Tops, Portsmouth, NH

My favorite time of day to photograph cityscapes is in the evening, starting as the sun is setting and continuing until well after dark. The warm light cast by the setting sun can make even the dingiest city scene look wonderful. Of course if your city of choice is as picturesque as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, all the better.

Memorial Bridge Under The Stars

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2. Start early in the morning.

Misty Morning In Market Square

While late in the day into the night is my favorite time to photograph the city landscape, I will also venture out very early in the morning as well. During the early morning hours you can capture the city before it becomes busy with people and traffic. Don't be surprised if you have the streets all to yourself.

An added bonus is that if you are out and about photographing the city before it awakes, be sure to visit the local coffee shop for some post shoot baked goods. You get the best and freshest selection if you're one of the first through the door when they open. Yum!

3. Explore the back alleys and side streets.

Church Street

4. Look for unique angles and compositions of conventional subjects.

Photograph street art. Graffiti can be beautiful and makes a good subject for an urban themed photograph.


5. Capture the seasons.

The photo below also shows another benefit of both long exposure and shooting at night, the light trails created by vehicle lights as they move through your compositions.

Holiday Excitement In Market Square

6. Have the right gear for the city.

As with landscape photography, you'll want to bring your tripod — you're going to need it. With exposure times often in excess of 30 seconds, there is no better way to ensure that what should be sharp in your photos remains sharp than by using a good sturdy tripod. Don't leave home without it.

As with conventional landscape photography, bring a wide-angle zoom lens — something in the 17-50 mm range will do. I like to explore and I don't want to be weighted down by a heavy camera bag full of every piece of gear I own so most, if not all, of my extra lenses stay at home. It's usually just me, my camera, tripod and a wide-angle zoom lens.

A remote shutter release is also a very good addition to your camera bag. Once the sun goes down, you'll likely be making some rather long exposures. Most cameras have a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds before you have to resort to using the Bulb mode. In Bulb, the shutter stays open for as long as you hold the shutter button down. It would take a very steady hand to press and hold the shutter for such a long period of time and not impart image blurring movement on your camera. A remote shutter release solves this problem, with the added benefit that most shutter releases will allow you to lock the button down for the duration of the exposure.

Now go out and show us the best your city has to offer.

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Jeff Sinon

Thank you. I’m mostly a nature and landscape photographer, but some times it’s refreshing to photograph something different.


I love Portsmouth. My son Sam worked at The Black Trumpet Bistro for years. He’s now Sous Chef at Joinery in Newmarket, another town loaded with photo ops!

Jeff Sinon

Yes! Newmarket definitely has a lot of potential for photographs. I’ve made several there myself, and will again.


Hi… i have nikon d7000… what is yhe best setup for this camera..

Jeff Sinon

Hi Terry,

I can’t really give you a “best” setup for the D7000, or any other camera for that matter, because it really depends on what you want to photograph. I can give you a few basics though. I’m a huge fan of Back Button Focus, and judging by the response I’ve received from workshop clients who I’ve shown BBF to, it’s a popular feature. Your manual or a little googling should get you the info you need to set your camera to use this feature.

Assuming you’re asking about camera setup for cityscapes, since this is what the article is about, I’d start with an aperture of between f/11 and f/16. I like to use smaller apertures because it’s small apertures that give the star-burst effect to street lights, etc. in the photo. Next I almost always have my ISO set at 100, or the lowest setting your camera has. If you’re planning on night cityscapes exposure times will often exceed 30 seconds so I’d recommend Bulb mode and a remote shutter release. You’ll have to experiment with exposure times to get just what you’re looking for. I’d also set your camera so the histogram displays during image playback on the LCD. That way you know right away if you have a good exposure.

I hope that helps.


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