Cityscape Photography For Beginners

You know that wallpaper of the New York skyline that every boy had in their bedroom from the years 2012 to 2016? That is the magic that is cityscape photography.

From the Chicago skyscraper to San Francisco’s downtown, images that capture the beauty of manmade structures are considered cityscape photography.

Cityscape Photography For Beginners

It is an intriguing subject matter because no photo will be the exact same!

Below is a complete guide for beginners to understand the tricks and skills that it takes to capture cityscape photography.

From the right lens to use to bringing elements of nature to your images, you will become a pro of cityscape photography in no time!

Understanding Cityscape Photography

A photographic technique called “cityscape photography” focuses on capturing urban environments, particularly skylines.

The focus of cityscape photography is man-made elements like streets and big buildings, much like how natural vistas are the topic of landscape photography.

Cityscape photography is an incredible form of photography to find your creativity in.

Exploring architecture, skylines, and other manmade structures is an excellent way to define your style without the need to rely on other people or nature to get the perfect shot.

Depending on your equipment, you can take city photography from a variety of angles (from the ground to the top floor of a tall structure), and you can record both day and night cityscapes.

Equipment Needed For Cityscape Photography

Now that we have more of an idea of what cityscape photography is, we can begin to discuss the equipment you are going to need.

Not everyone has the means to go out and buy the latest equipment. It’s all about working with what you have in your kit already and making the best of it.

Below is the equipment that is best for getting those incredible city-wide shots:


Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Lenses

You should think about using focal lengths in the middle of the range to capture the “typical” cityscape. This is similar to 24mm through roughly 70mm in 35mm units.

You can also work with ultra-wide and fisheye lenses. Especially in dense urban settings. However, these will be less versatile for different environments compared to a midrange zoom.

Even if you’re situated a little further out from the city and want to capture a traditional skyline shot, telephoto lenses can be useful for cityscapes.

All the buildings appear to be the appropriate size in relation to one another when you step back and zoom in thanks to some good perspective compression.

Make sure to play around with the lenses you feel most comfortable with and discover what works best for you in different settings.


Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Tripod

Many photographers prefer to travel light when on a cityscape shoot but if you have the muscles, bringing your tripod is always a good idea.

A tripod may not work for every photoshoot but it can offer great benefits when the time presents itself.

On the one hand, using a tripod for the evening and blue-hour cityscape photography should be clear. However, it can be just as useful during the day.

With a tripod, you can apply a neutral density filter or image averaging to reduce the number of people in your daytime photos.

When it comes to shooting cityscape photography, you can get away with a smaller travel-sized tripod. This will make it easier when dealing with uneven landscapes.

Consider just anchoring your camera on a railing, platform, or other secure surface as a last resort.

Even if you can’t utilize long exposures, you can still get better pictures than if you just used your hands.

Other Accessories

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Other Accessories

You are going to need a discreet bag that has plenty of room for storage. Cityscape photographers opt for darker-colored bags as opposed to bright colors. This makes it less likely for your gear to be stolen or noticed.

You may also want to pack some filters. A popular filter for cityscapes is a strong neutral density filter to diminish the light coming into the lens. The other is a circular polarizer that can be used to lessen or improve reflections off of water and glass.

7 Tips For Cityscape Photography

With your bag packed and ready to go, it is time for some tips to get you that perfect shot.

1. Golden Hour & Blue Hour

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Golden Hour & Blue Hour

While the structures of the city aren’t going anywhere, there are certain times of the day that make for the best lighting.

This is often just before sunset (golden hour) or shorting after sunset (blue hour).

The soft light at certain times of day enhances the details of your subjects, notably the imposing building facades.

Of course, the difference is that in the low light of blue hour, after the sun sets, city lights will be more visible.

2. Small Aperture

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Small Aperture

You know those cool shots of the city lights where they glow around the edges? That is accomplished with a small aperture burst.

The starburst effect is done with a high f-stop number that refracts the light and provides a cool shot of the city.

A small aperture won’t work for every shot but it makes for an interesting play on the lights every once and a while.

3. Focus On Unique Elements

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Focus On Unique Elements

Each city is unique in its own way and it is your job to capture that with your photography.

This is a challenge many photographers face as it is hard to make rectangles and lights look different in every photo but it is a great challenge to win.

You want to focus on the elements of your subject that make it unique. From the long white beaches to the mountains in Hong Kong or even the Empire State Building in New York.

Anything that makes your shot unique to you is going to turn out incredible.

Consider the fundamental building blocks of composition when you are feeling a little lost.

Leading lines and patterns in the city’s lights and colors can be used to draw the viewer’s eye across the frame and produce a stunning image.

These effects can be strengthened with a little dodging and burning, which will help you focus attention on specific areas of the frame.

4. ISO

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - ISO

An important element when shooting cityscape images you are going to need to have a good understanding of light and how to make it work to your advantage.

Having a high ISO will brighten your images but it can also bring too much noise to the photograph.

Use the lowest ISO you can get away with while keeping this in mind. You won’t require a high ISO if you are mostly taking photos in direct sunshine.

However, once the sun sets and night sets in, you’ll need to raise the ISO to get adequately lit pictures.

5. Play With Light Trails

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Light Trails

Light trails can make a rather regular-looking image, fun and exciting.

Create a long exposure with a slow shutter speed and train your camera on passing cars. This will give you an awesome light trail when the city comes alive at night.

Look for other sources of light you can use such as office building lights and street lights.

This is a creative way to play with the artificial light sources around you that adds to the photo without being over the top.

6. Neutral Density Filters

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Neutral Density Filters

As mentioned above, this is a great filter to have in your bag when shooting. Especially, when shooting during the hours of the midday sun.

The brightness of the sun at this time can wash out your photo and ruin the intensity of the colors or the strong edges of the buildings.

To combat this, use a polarizing or neutral density filter, which will stop sunlight from overpowering your camera’s sensor.

You will get even lighting across your images that makes it easier to manipulate at the moment.

7. Use Nature

Cityscape Photography For Beginners - Use Nature

There is more to city life than just structures and equipment. Cities also include walking pathways, parks, and waterfronts.

Bursts of nature are incorporated when cityscape photographers try to convey the essence of a city from the viewpoint of its citizens.

Position yourself with a wide-angle lens in a park or on the river, and be open to the photos that may emerge.

While cityscape photography is all about capturing the buildings and shapes of city life, it is important to add some humanity to the images. This makes it relatable and will take it to the next level.

Final Thoughts

Cityscape photography is great for any photographer to master. It takes a lot of skill to capture the right moments using the right angles and lenses.

For beginners, it can be hard to know what you need for a particular moment.

We have a comprehensive guide detailing how you can become a pro at cityscape photography.

With the right kit and a few tips, you can capture some of the most breathtaking images of the city around you. You just have to be willing to go out and capture it!

It is time to pack up your gear and find the best spots in your city.

Laura McNeill
Scroll to Top