How to photograph Skylines and Cityscapes

Skylines & Cityscapes: Making a Visual Impact

 Seattle Skyline at dusk | ISO 125, 70mm, f9, 1/40

Seattle Skyline at dusk | ISO 125, 70mm, f9, 1/40

There’s a lot of power and beauty in a well-captured skyline. Many of these are iconic in their own way to the local community if not the world, depending on their scale and longevity. It’s only natural that an architectural photographer would like the opportunity to show such impressive structures and symbols of culture and community from their personal, artful perspective. Here are a few ways to get started if the thought of covering, say, the Big Apple’s skyline seems enticing but also biting off more than you can chew.

Locations/Day/Time

Get your location right and your time of day right. This will likely take some trial and error. I suggest checking the city's sunrise and sunset times and going from there. Does an early more fog generally always envelope your subject? Is there spot across the river or from a neighboring city that more powerfully completes your skyline image? Is a trip in the air in order (thanks to the rise in popularity of drones, helicopter companies have started dropping prices for photography tours. Going in with a few friends might make it worthwhile.)  I most enjoy shooting during pre-dawn/sunrise and at sunset/twilight.

Lenses and equipment

The type of lens you use to grab such stunning structures – grand, massive, looming – can make or break the final result. Here’s what I recommend for shooting skylines and cityscapes:

-A wide angle lens:
Nikon wide angle: Click here to see an example from B&H.
Canon wide angle: Click here
Tamron wide angle: Click here
Sigma wide angle: Click here

-A 24-70 lens
Nikon: Click here
Canon: Click here
Tamron: Click here
Sigma: Click here

- A circular polarizer: Click here
*Note-for wide angle lenses, there are adapters out there such as the FotodioX WonderPana Kit.

-A sturdy tripod

Lighting & Post-Production

Much like my first point, considering the time of day and how the sunlight may or may not be hitting your subject is paramount. Sunrise, sunset, under a full moon – all of these natural lighting conditions can make for some impressive images if you capture them correctly. Also, remember to take into consideration urban light pollution. I recommend using a circular polarizer to reduce glare. Shooting through building glass from the top floor of a skyscraper can have the same effect!

Though not natural, street lights, office lights, and lights from traffic are out of your control but need to be considered when composing a shot. And perhaps consider shooting in black and white versus color (or play around with color options in post).

Bracketing is another way to create a subtle HDR effect. Be sure to take three to five different exposures to work with later in post.

I love shooting these expansive, towering buildings and the bigger picture they belong to because even though they may have been shot a million times before, there is always room for creative interpretation. I’d love to see what you all come up with! 

Chicago