Urban Photography Tips & Techniques

Urban Photography Tips & Techniques

Street photography scenes of modern blue mopeds in front of an old brown building

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted.

Shooting urban photography can be a great way to capture the essence of city life. There are many interesting subjects to explore, and the challenge is making your photos stand out from the rest. Here are a few tips for taking great photos in an urban area:

Urban Photography Vs. Street Photography

While urban photography and street photography can overlap, they are distinct genres of photography with different focus points. Urban photography focuses on large-scale landmarks such as tall skyscrapers, bridges, and other man-made structures. Street photography captures more intimate scenes that often involve people going about their daily lives. This might include things like snapshots of traders at a market stall or artists performing on the street.

The goal of an urban photographer is to capture the energy and dynamics of urban environments, whereas street photographers seek to document moments from everyday life that would otherwise go unnoticed by most passersby.

Tips for Shooting Urban Photography

Focus on a single element

To get started, try focusing on one element at a time. For example, you could spend an afternoon photographing doorways, focus on capturing all things blue, look for signs of nature amid the concrete and steel, or look just for repeating patterns. Zeroing in on specific details provides direction and helps you create unique and compelling urban pictures.

Shoot Day and Night

The time of day can dramatically change the subject in urban photos, so try shooting during the day and at night. During the day, urban landscapes are defined by strong lines and dark shadows, while at night they take on a more surreal vibe with softened edges and glowing lights. By shooting urban scenes both during the day and at night, photographers can capture the full scope of the urban experience. 

Look for Contrast

Urban photography example of two buildings with contrasting geometry and textures
The two buildings demonstrate contrasting shapes and contrasting textures

Contrast creates interesting visuals, highlights certain features, and adds context to a scene. There are several ways to create contrast in urban photography. One way is to use contrasting color by including light and dark tones or using complementary colors. Another way to create contrast is by visually distinct patterns or contrasting smooth and textured surfaces. Finally, urban photographers can also create contrast by juxtaposing different subjects against each other, such as a modern building next to an old one, or capturing people in a busy street against the backdrop of a serene park.

Use Motion Blur To Capture Movement

Create motion blur and capture a sense of movement and energy in a cityscape by using a slow shutter speed to blur moving objects, cars, or people. By doing this, the photographer can create an artistic representation of the bustling activity that takes place in urban environments.

Use light and shadows to your advantage

Lights and shadows are important elements to create contrast, frame the subject, create silhouettes, and create interesting patterns. Look for areas where light and shadow meet; this could be between buildings, under bridges, or in alleyways.

Look for patterns and textures

Geometric Tile Wall with a window demonstrates patterns and textures and the rule of thirds
This tile was is a great example of how patterns can create interesting subects

One way to find interesting urban subjects is to look for patterns and repetition. For example, you might focus on the symmetry of a cityscape or the repetitive lines of a parking garage. Walls, sidewalks, and buildings can all make for interesting photographic subjects, especially when viewed up close.

Look Up

The “Look up” is a technique that shows scale by tilting the camera upwards which emphasizes the imposing height of buildings and other structures. This technique creates an image that feels visually overwhelming or captures unexpected details and patterns in the architecture. In urban photography, “looking up” is a way of revealing the hidden beauty of the cityscape.

Search for Everyday Life Details

When most people think of urban photography, they imagine photos of busy city streets or towering skyscrapers. However, urban photography can also include shots of more mundane, everyday objects, such as fire hydrants or parking meters. From the intricate patterns of paving stones to the ornate facades of buildings, there are endless opportunities for interesting urban photos.

Experiment with different angles and compositions

Millennium Bridge from a low angle - Downtown Denver
Get low and shoot from ground level

Experiment with perspective and framing. Choosing the right angle can be key to making your photos stand out from the crowd. Try looking up at tall buildings, or down at interesting patterns on the ground. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different framing techniques, such as using leading lines or negative space to add interest to your photos.

Camera Equipment for Urban Photography

Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens can be a great tool for capturing interesting photos in an urban setting. By using a longer focal length, you can compress the scene and make the objects appear closer together. A longer focal length is also a great way to zoom in on the details rather than focusing on an entire scene.

Wide Angle Lens

In urban photography, a wide-angle lens is the most popular choice for capturing the bustling energy of a cityscape. With a wide-angle lens, you can fit more of the scene into your frame, giving your photos a sense of scale and scope. Urban photography often involves large objects and limited space and a wide-angle lenses allows you to tall buildings and large objects from up close.

interesting subjects in urban Environments

Urban photography is a wide-ranging genre that can encompass everything from street scenes and cityscapes to portraits and architectural photography. When photographing in an urban environment, there are endless possibilities for interesting subjects. Here are just a few examples of urban photography subjects that can make for interesting images: 

Buildings and Street Scenes

Street photography scenes of modern blue mopeds in front of an old brown building
Common street scenes can include parked cars, scooters, or people walking

Capture the hustle and bustle of city life with shots of busy streets, iconic landmarks, alleyways, or train stations. Look for contrasting elements like vintage cars parked next to modern high-rises, or people in business attire rushing past graffiti-covered walls.

City Landscape

Skyline View of Austin, Texas High Rises
Austin, Texas Cityscape

Get a bird’s eye view of the city with shots taken from high vantage points. This can be anything from the top of a tall building to a bridge or elevated highway. Cityscapes are stunning at night, with the city lights twinkling in the darkness.

Capture Candid Shoots Of People or Posed Portraits

Street photography of a homeless man sleeping under a bench tells ironic story of society and homelessness
Street photography can tell the story of a person life or society, or make cultural and political statements

Urban settings provide ample opportunity for interesting portrait subjects. Photograph interesting people going about their daily lives, whether they’re working, commuting, or simply hanging out in the city. Look for unique facial features, colorful clothing, and interesting backdrops.

Architecture Photography

Gorgeous Textures and patterns of Old Architecture in black and white
Take pictures of an entire building or capture the smaller details to show the beauty of architecture

The architecture of urban areas can be fascinating, with a wide range of styles on display. From towering skyscrapers to historical buildings, there are endless possibilities for interesting shots. Look for interesting details, symmetry, or contrast when photographing urban architecture.

Bridges

Minimalist photography: Black and White Bridge
Mays Street historical bridge in downtown Round Rock, Texas

Photographing bridges can be an exciting and challenging aspect of urban photography. These iconic structures are often focal points in urban settings, drawing the eye with their striking designs and commanding presence.

Doors and Windows

Ancient Wooden Door In the streets of Munich, Germany
Doors with intricate details or beautiful colors make interesting subjects

They can offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who live in a city, as well as the history of the buildings themselves. Doors and windows can also be photographed in a way that highlights the geometric shapes and patterns that are found in urban architecture. 

Street Art and Graffiti

Street Art on a closed bar reads "disposable business" documenting current events of COVID-19 lockdowns
This street art documents the history of the COVID-19 lockdowns and makes a social statement on how society treats small businesses

Street art is a type of urban photography that focuses on capturing the graffiti and other forms of artwork found in urban areas. Many street artists use their art to communicate social and political messages, and their work often reflects the culture and values of their community is a popular urban photography subject.

Stairs and Fire Escapes

Fire escape stairs on the exterior of a building
Stairs of historical building

Stairs and fire escapes are popular subjects in urban photography, as they provide a unique insight into the urban landscape. Whether we are looking at winding staircases leading up to grand urban buildings, or a rusty fire escape scaling the side of an old warehouse, these structures offer a fascinating glimpse into a city’s history and culture.

Urban photographers use a variety of techniques to capture the unique atmosphere of the city. Whether it’s a photo of a busy intersection or a close-up of a graffiti-covered wall, urban photography often provides a new perspective on the world.

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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