Urban Design, in its finest examples, ranks among humanity’s highest achievements. An organic fusion of form, function, and aesthetics, major urban centers offer unique and varied photographic opportunities. Cities have it all–big skylines, people, traffic, and an endless source of image-making. I love photographing the urban landscape. It’s challenging and exciting. I marvel at the mix of architectural styles and each city has its own unique flavor. For me, the urban landscape is another world!
The majority of the Earth’s inhabitants live in large urban centers. Cities represent all that is great and all that is failing in human society. The larger the metropolis, the greater the disparity. It is largely people that make cities so interesting. People add a highly dynamic component to the urban landscape and are a constant fascination. All the same things that excite a nature photographer–beautiful light, color and texture, and strong composition–can be found in any city.
I relate to the streets. Wherever I am–be it L.A. or San Francisco or Portland–I love being on the streets, feeling the city’s pulse, its energy…mingling with the people. For me, that means traveling light and shooting on the fly. A Canon 35-105 zoom mounted on a film body is my workhorse. A small camera bag with a Canon 24mm f/2.8 superwide-angle, a Canon 200mm f/4 telephoto, a flash, and, depending on the situation and location, maybe a small, lightweight tripod. The 24mm is a must-carry lens. It’s small and compact and adds a lot of versatility. The 24mm is sharp, fast, and has tremendous depth-of-field. This lens really shines in tight shooting situations and I love its characteristic distortion. The 200mm telephoto works well for photographing people and can be hand-held. This lens allows for a very shallow depth-of-field–excellent for isolating a subject and creating a soft, diffuse background that is so pleasing. It also allows for some working distance between you and a potential subject. This is helpful when you want to capture people in the act of being themselves.
Because cities are places of great activity, extra awareness, caution, and preparedness are required on the part of the urban photographer. Your personal safety and the safety of others requires it. Be aware of your surroundings, at all times. You may be walking around with thousands of dollars strapped around your neck. Pay attention. Strive to remain inconspicuous. Wear casual, comfortable clothing and shoes, and be prepared for changes in weather. A small, heavy-duty trash bag works well to keep things dry in a pinch. They are lightweight and ultra-compact. That being said, bring an extra.
As you explore your cityscape, look for unusual perspectives and vantage points. Cities are marvels of verticality and many unusual vantage points await. Night scenes can be especially beautiful when offered in a new and fresh way. Experiment. Try long, hand-held exposures. Look for visually compelling textures and repeating patterns, as well as strong converging lines. Keep compositions simple. Less usually equates to more. Apply all the same principles to photographing the urban landscape that you would to creating a good nature photograph. Light is everything! Pay attention. It can make or break your image.
It is sometimes a fine line between creating art and becoming an invasion into somebody’s life. Please be considerate of the people you photograph. Cities are home to great suffering. Allow every woman and man their dignity. Before you take any photograph, put yourself in the other person’s place. Ask people if it is alright to photograph them. Most people will likely welcome your request.
Please contact me with your comments, questions, and suggestions. Also, let me know if there is a particular topic you would like to see covered.
Until next time, happy image-making…