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Cityscapes and Buildings

 

In this section you are going to view a city from distant to real close-up. Every point has different features and needs. But a city offers an infinitude of photographic possibilities. Outside the city are there views that can be taken of the city on the horizon or looking down into the city? Inside the city what are the major landmarks worth shooting? Closer to buildings where are the interesting details? How do you shoot interiors of buildings that capture their magnificence?


Cityscapes:

 

To be fair many cities don't lend themselves to long shots. The geography works against them. New York is blessed in that sense because you can shoot the city from across the water creating wonderful skylines and reflections.

© € Estatik €

Shooting a cityscape in this way is much like shooting a landscape. You want to pay attention to the composition - in particular where the horizon line is going to be. Dead centre across the frame is likely to be boring and static - go for the rule of thirds. Lock the camera down on a tripod, aperture around f/11, ISO at 100, shutter speed to control exposure.

© Anek Suwannaphoom
Cityscapes at night can be particularly effective. The camera setup is pretty much identical. You might want to experiment with light trails from cars if they are in view - this will need longer shutter speeds.

Some cities offer boat trips so you can look back at the city. A tripod is not going to be your friend on a rocking boat! You will need to shoot handheld, so go for a faster shutter speed to eliminate any chance of camera shake. Keep the aperture at around f/11 but bring the ISO up if you need to. On a bright day you may easily get 1/500th of a second at ISO 100.

If you are in a city that operates helicopter viewing tours that can be exciting in its own right as well as letting you shoot something most people never get to see. There is a lot of vibration in helicopters so you will need a fast shutter speed. They are often flying fairly close in to the city, so use a wide angle lens to capture as much as possible (you can always crop later). If you are shooting through a windscreen then make sure the camera does not focus on the glass - you can set a manual focus for infinity.

© Peter Fey


In the City:

 

Look for tall buildings you can shoot from.  Again in New York the Empire State is an obvious example.  In older European towns look for the local castle.  These are always on the top of hills and have towers or other lookout points.

© Geraint Rowland
Look at shots going across the city into the landscape beyond.  Look down into the city - use a wide angle to capture the whole city.  Keep looking down but use a long lens (100-200mm) to look for patterns like rooftops.  Look straight down for vertical shots of people or cars.
 
Keep the camera strap around your neck!

Also, while you are here, don't forget to shoot your travelling companions with the vista behind them. Take a selfie.

© D'Arcy Norman


Buildings from the Street

 

Buildings are big, streets are small. To get a whole building in frame you will need a wide angle lens (towards 24mm). The wide angle lens will let you capture the whole building, but use a longer lens for details and more interesting lines.

Wide angle distortion is inevitable; you won't get perfectly straight lines. You can reduce them by making sure the camera is as square to the building as possible. So stand at 90 degrees to the building, do not tilt the camera up or down. Or you can go the other way and use that distortion as part of the image - lean right back and make it a feature.

While looking up - are there features at higher levels of the building? When walking streets often the next floor up is so much more interesting than the ground floor. Repeating patterns of windows can make interesting abstracts.

© See-Ming Lee

© Kenny Louie
Look for views at the end of the street. You can use the close up street to provide a frame leading down to the building of interest at the end of the street.

Watch out for sunshine and shadows. In bright sunshine you will get very strong light and shade - to the eye it may look fine but in a photograph will have too much contrast.

Most, but not all of your shooting will be hand-held.   Shoot in aperture priority at f/11 with ISO 100, let the camera work out the shutter speed.  Just make sure it is not too slow and risking camera shake.


Building Interiors

 

The first issue you hit shooting indoors is the light.  Overall brightness will be low and the light colour may be a mix of natural and artificial light.   If one type of light colour dominates then use the appropriate lighting preset.  If not then shoot auto-white balance and save RAW files to give you options later in software.
 
With low light levels you want longer exposures on a tripod - if that is possible.  You want aperture around f/11.  If that leaves your shutter speed too slow you need to boost your ISO (bigger numbers).

© Klovovi

You will find it surprising how little you can see even with a wide angle lens. You will need to shoot as wide as you can to get a decent chance of shooting the whole of a room. Just like shooting building exteriors the wide angle lens will distort your image. Again either shoot square to the room (in the centre of the space, 90 degrees to the far wall) or make the distortion a feature by shooting from a corner or tilting upwards.

© Zoetnet
Don't forget to look at the ceiling. There are some fascinating ceilings in many older buildings; just the plasterwork alone can be terrific.

Look for details: using a longer lens are there interesting little features or details you can shoot.  Some museums, particularly those about an individual, are often set out to look quite natural.  Can you take a shot of an interesting environment?   Use wider apertures to throw backgrounds out of focus.
 
You want to avoid using flash if you can.  Firstly there is a good chance that flash photography will be prohibited anyway.  Secondly, flash light often kills the very ambience that was appealing in the first place.  Use the natural light of the building where you can.

Still life at Gaudi museum

© Christopher Sessums
In modern buildings there are often many abstract or geometric shots to be found. While moving around a building keep cropping images as you go. Rotate the camera to give different angles and perspectives.

 

 

You don't have to travel further than your nearest town.  Imagine you have to put together the photographs for a brochure about your town.  Get six great shots that really explain what your town is about.