My 10 Top Tips on Shooting Urban Landscapes

In this article, I give you my 10 top tips on shooting urban landscape.

Bonjour mesdames et messieurs! How are you doing today? I have good news for you; I am going to give you my best 10 tips on shooting urban landscape! I hope you are ready because there is quite a lot of data that you will be able to use in your everyday photography. Let’s start

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I have been shooting for over 10 years now so I am going to share with you what worked for me. It is not always possible to apply all those tips in one photo but you will see how you can use them.

TIPS #1: SHOOT IN THE RIGHT LIGHT.

It doesn’t happen everyday but there is three types of lights that are amazing to shoot; the first one is called the golden hour, it is when the sun is coming down and everything start to be yellow, you can really get amazing photo, it last for about 20 minutes and it is right before the sunset. You can see an example of it on this photo:

The second type of light is the sunset itself, usually a sunset can last for 25 minutes, it really depends on the weather or the country, but I find that the amazing light last for 5 or 10 minutes but there are exception the other day I was in Los Angeles and the sunset lasted for an hour:

The last type of light is after the sun is set behind the horizon you get the blue hour. You can see it better when you are facing west, the sky is not yet black; it is getting blue and that last for about 30 minutes:

So basically you have about 20 minutes of golden hour, 10 minutes of sunset and about 30 minutes of blue hour. This whole beautiful scene happens during about 1 hour 30 and this is the best time to shoot.

TIP #2: ALWAYS USE TRIPOD FOR LONG EXPOSURES AND LOWEST ISO.

What I mean is don’t shoot urban landscape by hand, shoot with a stable tripod and always have a low ISO. First it is important to shoot with a tripod if you want to get the long exposure effect, the car trails, the fuzzy sky,.. the photo will be complete different.

So the tripod is mandatory, that is why I use a Gitzo tripod that is very light so I can carry it with me all the time.

TIP #3: SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE TO CONTROL BETTER YOUR LIGHT.

I always try to be in manual mode because when you are in A/V mode the camera doesn’t know the look you are going for, it will give you a certain setting from his database. For example here the RAW file of a shot I took in Paris:

It is a great photo but because I shot in manual mode, I did three different exposures and so I was able to get more details and drama with the underexposed photo, that I would have if I shot this in A/V mode. Here is the final result:

TIP #4: EXPOSE FOR THE HIGHLIGHTS.

On this last photo I had to take an underexposed photo so I would capture the drama, the colors and all the data in the sky so it is very important to shoot for the highlight to make sure that you have all the data needed to get the best quality out of your RAW file. 

TIP #5: FIND LEADING LINES.

Let me show you an example with the photo I just showed you:

You can see that the car trails are leading your eyes into the photo to this beautiful bridge.

Or on this photo, the Pont-Neuf, my favorite bridge of Paris, is leading our eyes to the sunset and those beautiful old building:

This is another example, you see how the way on the water is bringing us to Manhattan, and it really guides the eyes:

Now one of the most important tip and I think a lot of people don’t know about or have a hard time to apply, it is:

TIP #6: HAVE A FOREGROUND, MIDDLEGROUND AND BACKGROUND ELEMENTS.

Look at this photo:

We have the path as the foreground; it is also a leading line, which is guiding me into the middleground; the old buildings and the Sacré-Coeur and the background is the sky with a lot od clouds and drama.

Here is another example:

It is not as nice but in the foreground we have the cars and the reflection of the lights in the rain on the ground, the buildings and the bridge are only the middleground and the sky is the background.

For me the harder elements to find is the foreground, very often people have amazing middleground and background but they don’t have a foreground. And it is not easy.

This is an example where I don’t really like the foreground element:

This one is a bit better because we have a stronger foreground.

On this one the foreground is just that little dark hill, which is cool because it gives contrast with the sun:


TIP #7: USE THE APP SUN SEEKER AND PHOTOCALC TO KNOW WHEN TO SHOOT.

There is two apps that I use when I shoot urban landscape, the first one is called Sun Seeker 3D Augmented reality view, you can find it here, when I get to a location I use it to see where the sun will be and at what time, you want to know when the sun set but you also want to know when it is going to hit that top of the building so you are ready. That is why this app is very useful you can see through your iPhone when and where the sun will be. This is the app I use the most.

The second app that I use all the time is called PhotoCalc, you can find it here, it gives you the exact time when the sunset starts and when it ends. I always start to shoot an hour before the sunset starts.

TIP #8: TRY TO USE SIMPLE COMPOSITION.

Meaning on this photo I spent hours to get rid of cars that were on the side:

Because I wanted to simplify my message, the cars were distracting, so I communicated what I wanted to communicate.

Here is another example:

We have the Eiffel Tower and that is it, it is a simple message. But I don’t have a foreground element that is why I said earlier that we can’t always respect all those rules.

When I started photography, I was shooting from sunset to the end of the night sometimes 1 a.m. and I really liked my photo because it was Paris by night and I showed my photos to a photographer and he said, yes they are nice but they would be nicer during sunset, and I was like, but sunset is only 10 minutes! And that is when I started to understand how important it was to get the right light.

TIP #9: PUT A 2SEC TIMER TO HAVE A SHARP PHOTO.

When you do long exposure it is very important to set your camera with a two second timer so the motion of you pressing the shutter doesn’t affect your exposure. Also make sure that the middle leg of your tripod is not to high up to make sure that you are very stable. The best is to use a remote so you don’t even have to touch your camera.

TIP #10: FIND A UNIQUE VIEW POINT.

I went to this hotel where I know the owner and he let me shoot from his hotel so I am probably one of the only professional photographer who got that shot:

And so you can do it too, you have to research the best vantage point in your area, there are tons of restaurants that have amazing views. Don’t try to get the tourist shots all the time.

Voilà those are my 10 tips that I learned in 10 years, I hope that it will help you.

Some of you guys asked me where to start with my courses, it is true that I have a lot of them so it can be confusing and I would advise you to start with this Lightroom 5 Training Bundle if you want to understand and learn how to use Lightroom and I would advise you this course called Photoshop for Photographers if you want to understand and learn how to use Photoshop.

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