5 Tips For Photographing Urban Landscapes

Have you ever wandered around the town, looking at interesting urban architectures? There are so many beautiful structures in the city, but we often miss out on photographing them.

Myself, I live in Singapore and there are tons of city landscapes I can shoot, I just wish I had the time to do it! It’s no excuse, really. Singapore is such a small city – I should get out on the streets more and just observe and shoot photos of everyday life and people passing by.

Photographing urban landscapes can be challenging

And if you’ve ever tried taking pictures of urban streets and landscapes, you’ll know it can be a really challenging task. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, the photography may not have an “eye” for buildings. Taking photos of buildings requires some knowledge of perspective and composition, so that the photo does not come out boring.

Secondly, the photographer may be bogged down by crowded city streets. I find it very hard to take good photos if the street is really crowded, and people are jostling by. In order to help you improve your city photography, let’s look at 5 tips for photographing urban landscapes.

1. Get Permission

If you’re going to go about the street to take photos, make sure you get permission. This has two considerations.

Firstly, some buildings don’t allow photography inside. Specifically, I know some churches, museums and public places don’t allow cameras. So make sure you understand the rules behind taking photos before you whip out your camera and help start snapping away.

Secondly, if you’re taking photos of people, do make sure you ask for permission. While some folks are ok with their photos being taken, it is technically quite rude and obtrusive if you went up to someone and start taking photos straightaway.

2. Angle Your Shots

The first tip I always tell my photographer friends is to “angle it”. What this means is that you should try to photograph a building at an angle. Don’t take it straight on or from the front.

What you want is to turn your camera up towards the building (at an angle of about 45 to 60 degrees) and aim for a corner of the building. The perspective will make the shot look a lot more interesting.

3. Get Out There Early

One of the things about taking urban photos is the crowd. If you’re out taking photos of buildings or streets, it may be useful to get in early. Wake up before dawn and head to the streets when there’s no one in sight. This is good for two reasons.

One, if there are no people on the street, it’s easier to prepare your camera gear (e.g. tripods) and frame your shots.

Second, you may intentionally want to capture an empty street or building and being there early ensures no one is around. The other way is to take photos at night.

I once perched myself on an overhead bridge at night and set up my tripod for time-lapse photography. Time-lapse photography, as you might know, is tough to get right. So I had to ensure I had no one around me so I could set up my gear and tripod properly.

4. Get In Close

If you’re out on the street taking photos, it also helps to get in close. What I mean is to go up to people, or maybe a group of people, and take their photos.

Get their smiles, weird looks, or whatever expressions you can see. Street scenes by themselves can be boring – but if you inject the human element, they become a lot more interesting.

I’ll tell you a story. There was once I was in Kuala Lumpur, strolling down the central shopping district (Jalan Tun Razak). I noticed a sleeping dog in an alley – a black dog. The sun was out, the alley was quite deserted, and I thought it’d make a fabulous picture. I took a photo of the dog up close – with his wrinkles and facial features evident in the photo. All this against a grimy alley in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. It was a fantastic shot.

5. Look for Unusual Sites

Another suggest I have is not to just go for standard places of interest. It’s easy to head to the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, etc. and take pictures. But those photos are so common. If you’re in a new city, try to look for interesting places which are not on any tourist guide book.

For example, one of the places I like to check out are – believe it or not, construction sites. These show the up and coming places that are going to get introduced in the city.

I was once in Shanghai on a work trip. Shanghai had a construction boom and everywhere you could see construction sites. Well, suffice to say, I went around picking up photos of construction sites instead of standard places of interest. These photos are real treasures and really show a story of a city under intense development.

Another idea is to look for everyday places. Sometimes, I like to shoot people taking their breakfast in a café in the morning during rush hour. These photos help to reflect some really common moods that the lay person can identify with.

If you notice, the media sometimes uses this trick. Photographers head down to the city and take photos or videos of the crowd during peak hours, just so to introduce stories about the general population.

Wrapping Up …

I certainly hope the above has helped you understand urban photography more. Apply these tips the next time you’re out in a city and trying to take photos of people or buildings. I’m sure your photo ideas will get more interesting the more you practise. Until next time, have a great time taking photos!