"We don't really want meaning from
our photographs. We seek
experiences to feel intensely alive."
Seeing & Looking
Like views of NYC?
Check out this award-winning video of night sailing under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges ( a Jimages Film production).
Photographing famous cities challenges our vision. We need: planning, flexibility, timing, persistence and a sense of humor. Here’s a count down of 10 tips, to inspire your next urban adventure:
Tip #10: Allow Extra Time, Plan Ahead
Allowing enough time is always a concern when traveling. The success of your trip depends on it. So, before you visit a new city, carve out blocks of unstructured time to explore its vistas. Keep your sense of humor and be open to surprises.
Think ahead to anticipate what you may need. For instance, imagine a shopping trip. Asking a question in advance like: “Does the market there take credit cards?” might save you time and a long side trip to find an ATM in a novel city, if you were unaware that vendors only took cash.
Tip #9: Go Out on the Water
Great cities often have unique water views. Spend time exploring their rivers, harbors and bays. Board a water taxi, sailboat, or steamship.
Tip #8 Focus your Project
For stronger images, choose a central theme to guide your subject matter. For instance "architectural angles" or "abandoned corners" are potential topics that narrow your range of urban subjects. Staying focused on core themes will strengthen your portfolio. In and around New York City, I photographed a range of subjects, but concentrated on a central theme of “women in the city.”
TIP #7: Pack Light, Go Dark
The meaning of traveling light, granted, is pretty subjective. I try to minimize weight and also choose dark-colored gear. Does this mean leaving the flash, portable Canon printer, and extra lenses behind? Yes, but less is more when traveling far and wide.
Why dark colored gear? Flashy stuff can get stolen. To be less conspicuous, cover up any brand logos up with tape. If you take a DSLR, also bring along a smaller point-and-shoot, because some folks are intimidated by bulky cameras. Before departure, double check you brought along chargers or extra batteries. Leave the carbon fiber tripod behind and grab an even smaller, lighter one.
Tip #6: Keep your Gear Dry
For those who love the water, coastal cities can offer memorable photo experiences. However, out near the ocean and in conditions when rain or sea spray is likely, electronics can suffer. Keep them dry. Instead of wearing your heart on your sleeve, pack your camera and lens in one. Pack rain gear in the easy to access parts of your gear bag so it a) protects your camera from getting wet and b) lets you cover your valuable gear quickly in a downpour. Take an umbrella for shooting in the rain.
Tip # 5: Pano in the City
Try an urban panorama. Many hybrid cameras, micro-4/3rds and cell phones feature auto-stitching to help you create fun panos. As you pan across a scene, remember to put interesting subject matter at the fat left and far right sides of your panorama frame.
Tip # 4: Starry, Starry Nights
When you photograph a famous place, plan to visit it at twilight or at night. If you pass by a good scene in harsh light, make time to return during those special luminous moments. Night photography is great for learning: it makes us slow down, be aware of the light’s intensity and color, and rewards our good shooting techniques by requiring a tripod.
Exposure is the key. Urban night photography helps photographers master proper exposure. At night, we have to balance higher ASA/ISO settings with time exposures that use slow shutter speeds. A tripod will help you get the exposure right, without blur from long time exposures. Pack a Neutral Density filter (unless your camera has one built-in) and a remote cable release.
Tip # 3: Add a Human Touch
Architectural detail is a common theme in urban photography. To add scale, and a personal touch, include a reference to people along with your architecture shots.
Tip #2 Make a Video
Sailing down the East River at night, I set my DSLR on a sturdy tripod, and concentrated on the lights and architecture of four East River bridges as we sailed from New York harbor to Long Island sound. Later, editing the clips, and adding music, the process kept me engaged, and the result, Water Under the Bridges , is the featured video at the beginning of this article.
Tip #1 Print It to Share
Assemble an album of your urban exposures. Ask friends what their favorite images are, then curate them and make prints of special shots. Online printers include Shutterfly, mPix, adoramapix and many others. Fuji and Canon have new small, portable home printers. To cherish your travel, frame and matte your best work. A hard-working store owner naps while his masks keep watch on Manhattan’s lower east side.
Before you visit a new locale, search the web for strong images of the areas you might visit. Learn what that city has to offer, both visually and culturally. For instance, special cultural events take place at certain times, and you can allow extra time to capture them. Get to know the sights and cultures of people who live in its diverse neighborhoods.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages