Urban photography is full of fantastic subjects for your camera: monuments, squares, markets, superb views, ancient or modern buildings, people. The urban environment offers a wide variety of subjects in a restricted area, more than any other existing photographic category. From a terrific night skyline to the day frenetic street activity, from close-up architectural details to busy markets, every city, big or small, provides plenty of exciting photographic opportunities.
Cities or towns in every part of the world, anyway, may reveal also quite a few technical and organizational “problems” for the travel photographer. Here are a few tips for getting the best from urban photography.
Before visiting a new city, you should have well in mind what you intend to photograph considering also your whole time available. Check on internet or read on a tourist guide which monuments or urban corners are the most appealing ones for taking pictures and, once you are arrived, take also a look to postcards to see the best views and the best light conditions.
If you have limited staying time, consider of taking pictures of people at the market in early morning (do not be intrusive and ask for permissions about portraits) detailed shots of monuments, streets or buildings during the day, panoramic views at dusk and city life at night (outdoor cafe in the square).
Try to wake up very early in the morning in order to shoot the most important monuments before the annoying crowd of tourists come. As light is a key element in urban photography, then take a look to sunrise orientation in order to work out which monuments or buildings are best photographed in the morning or afternoon light. If you don’t have enough time, consider to take pictures at dusk or night simply by selecting all those buildings that become even more appealing after dark because they are illuminated. If you managed to stay in town for awhile, then, try to go back to the already visited places but in a different time of the day. You will discover a totally new scene which will give you more photographic opportunities. For example, a busy city park on a sunny Sunday afternoon will be mostly probably quite empty during the week in the morning instead.
Many cities offer some great panoramas from the top of tall buildings like bell towers or skyscrapers. Consider also that high-rise hotels have bars and restaurants on the top floor with beautiful views and you don’t have to be a guest to take pictures from over there. Anyway, remember that the most obvious viewpoint in town might not be the best ones. In fact, when I was in Seattle, I made it to the view point of the highest skyscraper in town to take a skyline photo which included also the iconic famous Space Needle in.
In case of miserable and grey weather consider of taking detailed shots of buildings or monuments and reserve panoramic or street photos for night by using a tripod. Sunrise is also a perfect time for taking pictures in open spaces like parks or squares: few people around, magic light, a misty and more intimate atmosphere. Try to think different when you shoot photos of iconic monuments and push your creativity. An image of the famous Coliseum in Rome reflected in a puddle or the Tour Eiffel in Paris framed by a tree can be two samples. Take your time and observe carefully monuments and interesting building or corners in order to find the best perspective for a more creative photograph to shoot.
City is not made only of people or monuments but also of other interesting icons. For instance, if you are in Italy, order a cup of cappuccino in a bar and take a photo of it. If you are visiting a city in the Middle East, suk markets are an amazing colorful attraction for close-up pictures of spices, carpets, sellers and customers. When in New York, take a photo of the famous yellow cabs. These are just a few samples.
Talking about street photography, unless you don’t have unlimited time available, choose a district appealing to you and spend some time by discovering it in terms of interesting houses, picturesque corners, nice shops. Look for small, interesting details and street life to give your pictures a more appealing human dimension. If you are in Barcelona head to Raval neighborhood or to Fener neighborhood while you are visiting Istanbul. Your main aim should be to shoot a set of photos that capture the character and diversity of the city you are visiting.
Last, but not least, check if any iconic building of the city you intend to visit is not under scaffold for restoration works as this would ruin your photos for sure. This is another important element in urban photography. How may you know that? Simply, look for a webcam on internet where you can check the building live or, alternatively, ask locals living in the city where you are planning to go if a specific monument is under restoration works. You can do that on the web through a travel forum, for example.