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While many landscape photographers will take the free weekend to run over to the countryside and capture a blissful landscape where the mountains touch the sea, others choose to work with what they’ve got at home, in the city. That is, of course, urban landscape photography.

Today we’ll talk about shooting Cityscapes. Even if you haven’t done this type of photography before, surely, you’ve seen photos of cities shot during dusk, showing the sky glow after sunset, city lights and car trails. Such a photograph can have a powerful effect due to the mixture of different light sources, capturing at the same time what is a chaotic urban world, and a peaceful calm that is the natural sky. For the same reason, it can be very challenging to capture properly.

In this article, we’ll go over the basic techniques and practices required to capture awe-inspiring cityscapes. Let’s get started.

#1 The essentials

One tool that is an absolute must for this type of photography is a tripod. Technically, you could capture a cityscape with a hand-held camera, but if you really want to capture the full potential of a said scene, make sure you have a tripod. Firmly fixing your camera on a tripod will enable you to take the time you need to properly frame the wanted composition, find the optimal settings and finally, use long shutter speeds.

Depending on the situation, it might prove difficult to find a good spot far enough from a city in order to capture the whole scene, especially if you want to include a decent amount of sky in your composition. That is why another piece of equipment you should consider using is a wide-angle lens. While this is not essential and you could shoot cityscapes with almost any focal length, using a wide lens (10-20mm) will make your job easier and possibly contribute to a better shot.

#2 Timing

Cityscapes are most beautiful during early mornings (dawn) or in the evenings (dusk). If you choose the former, shoot before the sun rises over the horizon. In case of the latter, let the sun set behind the horizon before you start shooting. This is by no means a strict rule you must follow, but skies do tend provide more contrast and stronger colors when the sun is down. This is especially important when you consider the high dynamic range that is present in such a scene. The hour is late and there are deep shadows within the city, so we don’t really want strong highlights from the sun to battle with on top of that.

#3 Shooting modes

Just like with any low light photography, one should beware of noise. For this reason, we recommend shooting either in Aperture Priority (Ap) mode or Full Manual (M). In fact, we’d say the former is your safest bet unless you are specifically aiming for very long shutter speeds.

Setting your camera to Ap mode allows you to set the desired aperture and ISO, while leaving the shutter speed on automatic. Set the aperture to f/8 or a higher, to make sure the depth of field reaches far enough to encompass the city. For ISO, we recommend setting it as low ISO100 or ISO200. This way you ensure that details are sharp and there is no noise.

# Playing with multiple exposures and longer shutter speeds

Now that we’re over the basics, let’s consider how we could add some special effects to our cityscape.

  1. Use extra-long shutter speeds (20-30s) to achieve those beautiful car light trails that move along busy streets. For an even better trail effect, aim to capture the cross roads between streets.
  2. Take multiple shots of the same scene with different exposures, then blend them together in post-processing to create wider dynamic range. This is to ensure balanced exposure across the image, avoiding underexposed shadows or overblown highlights. We’ll go over this process in detail in the next article.
  3. Use an ND filter and extremely long shutter speed to create an impression of cloud movement over the city. Again, this means capturing at least two separate photos of the same scene. One for the sky and another for the foreground, and blending them together in post-processing.

This is just short guide with basic tips and some extra goodies that should help you capture beautiful cityscapes. Make sure to come back soon when we talk about HDR processing in Photoshop, where you will learn how to merge multiple photos with different exposures into one. Happy shooting!

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