Monday, June 22, 2009

Tips for urban photography (Part 2)

In Part 1, I listed my first 9 of 19 tips to meet the challenges of taking photographs in urban areas. Here are the last 10 tips to consider when taking photos in cities:
  • Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, PAContext — This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about context in this Blog. It’s really a reoccurring concept which is very important to learn. When I take pictures in a city, my goal for the shot is to convey a sense of place and show the local atmosphere and way of life. It’s not easy to do this, but if you can, it can lead to an outstanding photograph.
  • Most every landmark offers a myriad of potential views and unusual angles to capture its image, which allow you to express different aspects and qualities of an already well-known monument. When you arrive at a landmark, don’t just start snapping photos, don’t just stand in front and “call it a day.” Walk around and see if there are alternate views which are better at showing off the landmark.
  • Gargoyle at the cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, FranceSometimes the beauty, design and mystery of outstanding architecture is best achieved  by taking close-ups of the buildings. Consider a Gothic cathedral like Notre Dame in Paris. The details of the great cathedral really display the greatness of it. What better way to show off the details such as its incredible Gargoyles than via close-ups. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the wide-angle shot showing the entire church. I’m suggesting don’t stop with the wide shot found in any travel guide. Take additional photographs so you can really see a building's architectural details and sculptures.
  • Chinatown, San Francisco, CALook for bold vivid colors as you walk the streets of urban areas. They can make the basis of some wonderful photographs, really showing off the city. Don’t just look for colorful art either. Look for brightly colored walls, doors, shops, textiles on display, foods at an outdoor market, floral decoration of buildings and more. At the “golden hours” these colors are often markedly enhanced.
  • An interesting way to photograph a city’s over-shot landmarks is to use marginal weather; a dark cloudy sky, rain, snow, ice, etc. Weather can give a completely different look to landmarks, buildings and cities.
  • I like to take night shots of cities. At night, cities under urban lights have a completely different feel and mood. Think about how Las Vegas looks during the day, versus with all those neon lights in the evening. When taking night shots, don’t overlook capturing the moon in the sky too. It can make for incredibly interesting photographs.
  • Paris Metro, Paris, FranceDay or night, don’t hesitate to capture movement in your urban photographs. Among classic photographs are night photos of high speed highways which show the taillights of motor vehicles as red blur lines showing where the vehicles have been driven. While taking photographs in Paris, I took some of the Metro. Some of the photographs were taken of the subway pulling out of the station. The motion shown greatly enhanced the photos.
  • One of the major challenges of city photography is not taking pictures of famous landmarks and sites, but portraying the local atmosphere to create a sense of place. Cities consist of much more than beautiful and/or historic buildings, cathedrals, castles, and modern buildings; skyscrapers and low risers. They include urban congestion, traffic jams, crowded sidewalks and squares, stores, sidewalk cafés, art, fountains, parks and so much more. Not just that, amid all the hustle and bustle of the city are many intimate subjects to photograph which reveal a city’s mood, style, and life. Take photographs of children at play, animals, and pictures of the local population engaged in their daily activities; shopping, drinking coffee and eating a bagel and schmeer at Starbucks or sidewalk cafés. The diversity of life in cities should result in unlimited photographic opportunities, as long as you’re willing to seek them out, and keep your eyes open to the myriad of possibilities cities hold.
  • Bar in Olde City, Philadelphia, PAOften the best travel city photographs are not of the landmarks we see in travel brochures and web sites, but photos taken off the beaten path showing a particular facet of the city’s life. Don’t be afraid to explore the outlying neighborhoods of cities, instead of just staying in their central core and historic areas. Think about photographing markets, fairs, cafés, and overlooked public art.
  • The weather and lighting conditions will have an impact on your photography. Shadows from nearby buildings can ruin a shot, and aiming the camera in the direction of the sun can cause your subject to be a dark silhouette with no detail. If you spend several days in a city, consider revisiting areas at different times of the day which might open up tremendous photographic opportunities you might have otherwise missed.


Tom said...

Great finish to Part 1 Ned. I'll definitely be keeping in mind your suggestions for context, night shots and motion.

I've bookmarked both Parts 1 and 2.



Eric said...

I'm going to Las Vegas next week. I hadn't even considered taking my camera with me at night. I assume you really need a tripod for night photos. I have a Canon point and shoot and don't have a tripod. Can you suggest what I should do?

Sally said...

OK, so how did you get those neat photos of the Paris Metro which show people on the platform, mirrored on the train, and passengers in the train while it's clearly moving so fast?

The photos are great.

Ned S. Levi said...

Thanks Tom. I appreciate your kind words.

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Eric.

I use a tripod. In fact, I'll be writing a review soon of a new Gitzo "Traveler Series" tripod I recently was able to work with, but it's not essential for you to purchase an expensive tripod.

To start, your camera is small and lightweight. Many tripods from manufacturers like Velbon, which cost under $50 could work well for you.

You might consider a Gorillapod by Joby, which could work well as long as you have a platform to use it with, or a pole or something to attach it to.

Finally, good technique can work for you too. Steady yourself and your camera against a wall or pole for example, and you can get the steadiness you need to use a slow shutter speed.


Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Sally,

To get motion shots where you can see the motion in the photos you need to control your shutter speed. You need to reduce it so you get some blur of the photos.

I use shutter priority on my DSLR. That way I set the shutter speed to what I want, and let the camera determine the f/setting. (I always set the ISO on my cameras and never let the camera do it, as I want a whole lot more control than letting the camera control ISO gives me.)

Experiment with your shutter speed. I took about 150 photos overall to end up with about 15 I really liked at the Metro.

Digital photos cost nothing until you print them so don't be afraid to experiment and make mistakes.


Eric said...

Thanks Ned. I ordered a Gorillapod this afternoon.

Sally said...

Thanks very much Ned. I WILL do some experimenting.

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