A cityscape is the urban equivalent of a landscape. Townscape is roughly synonymous with cityscape, though it implies the same difference in urban size and density (and even modernity) implicit in the difference between the words city and town. Suburban and industrial areas, building sites and railway yards also become subjects for cityscapes.
A dramatic cityscape is one of the powerful images we have in photography. It can convey a sense of wonder, power and beauty, often all three together.
Some ingredients that make up a great cityscape composition:
- The Right Time, The Right Place
- A Sense of Scale
- Position, Time and Weather
- Long Exposures in the Blue Hour
Cityscapes do not have to be a wide angle, grand scale images. By using a telephoto lens, you can zoom in and isolate specific areas on an image, that help identify the location without revealing the whole scene. Big Ben’s clock face slightly zoomed out is a perfect example of this, and you would know you in London. The right time and right place, this well known idiom is very apt for shooting cityscapes. Along with other types of landscape photography, position, time and weather are the vital ingredients that can make or break a good cityscape.
One powerful visual technique in cities, is to use a long exposure during in the blue hour. This will add headlight trails to your already brightly lit neon signs, conveying a sense of motion and dynamism to the image. Water is a great enhancer of cityscapes, many of the worlds great cities are built on an around water, Venice being a perfect example with its numerous canals. The use of the water’s reflections to add texture to the scene leads your eye to the subject. As well as water, elevation is a powerful tool in the cityscape photographer’s arsenal. Getting an elevated viewpoint can create new insights on a city and add a sense of scale.
As with much outdoor photography the best time to shoot a cityscape is during the Golden hours, however, big brightly light cities can also look awe inspiring during the Blue Hour, that hour after the sun sets when the sky is a deep, rich blue.
Medieval cities are best shot in the dawn or dusk light, where the soft yellows are their best, will always give the scene a timeless feel. However for the more modern cityscape, this requires something different; the hour from sunset will be a great time to shoot, the last rays of light reflecting from the modern glass and steel edifices, and the neon lights punching into the darkening blue sky.
Cityscapes are wonderfully satisfying to shoot, but you need to be patient. If you visiting a new city for the first time, use online images, postcards or magazines to help find the most popular sites, and try improve on that image. Find your scene, your time of day and set up your camera. Take a step back from the camera and survey the scene in front of you. Watch it as the light changes, and look for details that define the scene. During the Golden and Blue hours you will need to work fast but not in haste. Composing and capturing your shots methodically will give you more time to watch the scene for the next spectacular moment and image. Truly a case of less is more.
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