1: Plan ahead:
First and foremost: plan your shoot! Of course this is important for any kind of photography, but urban landscape photography is one of the photography branches out there that really requires you to put some thought into it beforehand. The first image for example, would have looked extremely different in the middle of a rainy day. What makes the image a great urban landscape photo is the light that was only there for a split second that day. The photographer only got this light because they planned to go to that spot in the few hours in a day that have this kind of light – sunset or sunrise – on a day with gentle weather that was not too cloudy.
Also, it pays to plan what area of what city you’ll go to for your shoot. Make sure you know a little bit about the area, not only to get into the feel of the city, but also because not all areas are safe to walk around with a big camera (A.K.A. target) around your neck…
When shooting a city that you’re not familiar with, even though you did your research and your planning, it never hurts to ask around for the best spots to take pictures. Locals will often know cool hidden spots that are not already crowded with tourists and photographers who saw the postcard and decided to visit the big attraction of the city. Going to remote places will provide you with the opportunity to see, shoot and share a new perspective of the city, one that hasn’t been seen before and will definitely help your picture stand out from the crowd.
This goes for all kinds of landscape photography, including urban landscape: ditch the JPEG, shoot all your images in RAW. Not only will this give you more room to play around during post-production (allowing you to exaggerate anything that adds even more to the mood of the image), it will drastically improve the dynamic range in your pictures. Even though you’ll barely be forced to use a high ISO in landscape photography, even when using a low ISO the RAW file will capture way more detail in highlights and shadows than a JPEG ever could. Now you can just set your exposure on the highlights, and bring back the shadow detail later.
Perfect situations only occur every now and then, so it’s not really fair to expect the light, weather and surroundings to be perfect in those few hours you decided to spend in a city. To get the perfect shot that really captures your feeling, you need to take your time. Wait until the light is just right before you press that shutter release button, wait for a bird to pass to give your composition that little extra push, wait for the exact right amount of cars to light up your night scene, etc. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time on one shot – many urban landscape photographers do! Most photographers travel back to the same spot for multiple days, hoping that today the circumstances might be just a little bit better than yesterday to get that shot they wanted.
While you are taking your time to wait for the perfect conditions, get creative! See what your shot looks like if you take a step back, or walk to a higher vantage point. Maybe even tilt your camera a bit, try a hand-held shot, play with your exposure modes… The possibilities are endless! And remember, even if you have the best camera with the most expensive lens out there standing on your tripod, the photo is only as good as the photographer. So get those creative juices flowing and shoot your next favourite shot.
Finally, make sure you respect the city your shooting in. If you’ve travelled from far to visit this particular city, make sure you are familiar with the culture and it’s customs and respect these. Also make sure you leave no traces (of your packed lunch for example), and be careful not to damage anything.
After all, it’s not really fair to capture an amazing shot of a city only to leave it less beautiful than you found it…