Sunday, October 10, 2010

Urban Landscape Photography Tips

City Landscape Photography

Think ‘summer landscapes’ and you probably see a blue sky, fields of green and distant hills. But that is only the half of it. You can shoot stunning landscapes in towns and cities, too – and for many people the subject is a lot closer to home and more interesting.

In a city, it is often difficult to get far enough back from the subject – buildings get in the way. So urban photographs often concentrate on the smaller parts of a scene, looking for the shapes, patterns and contrasts that make up a city.

This tutorial concentrates on:
         • The right time of day
         • Time lapse movies
         • Different views
         • Removing distractions
         • Monochrome images
         • Lenses and tripods

Time of day
The usual advice for landscape photographers is to shoot in the early morning or early evening when the sun is low in the sky. Urban landscape photographers have more flexibility – depending on the subject you can shoot at almost any time of the day or night.

However, early morning is still one of the best times. The low sun has a golden glow that adds warmth to brick and stone. It also gives a pleasing reflected light. Including the sun in the photograph, perhaps between a couple of tall buildings, can be effective.

As the day progresses and the sun rises in the sky, shadows shift across the subject creating interesting patterns of light and shade. If you have the opportunity, take a sequence of images from the same camera position at intervals during the day – this is easiest to do if you have access to an office or house overlooking an urban scene. Shoot from early morning to late evening. The resulting pictures will show the change in light during the day. This can be dramatic, especially if the scene is illuminated at night and you continue shooting into the late hours.

Time Lapse movies

If you have an EOS camera with a remote socket you can buy a remote timer switch that will fire the camera automatically at pre-set intervals. Shoot to give the smallest JPEG file size your camera allows and use a large media card.

The images can be merged into a single time-lapse sequence using software such as Apple QuickTime Pro (available for Windows and Mac). Whatever camera you use, do make sure that you use a large memory card so that it doesn’t become full part way through.

Different Views
Urban photography is all about creating images with impact. Look for contrasts – either areas of light or shade that can produce almost abstract images – or old and new buildings within the same frame. You will also find many man-made patterns from bricks and paving stones to windows and balconies.

With many tall buildings around, low camera angles can produce interesting photographs, simply because you are showing the scene from a new perspective. Just standing normally, but pointing the camera upwards, will be all that is needed for some scenes. Kneeling down and looking up with the camera, or even positioning the camera at or near ground level, will often produce images with a more exaggerated perspective. Using the LCD screen (in Live View with an EOS) makes this easier to achieve.

Erasing people

Unless you shoot really early in the day, people walking across the scene could spoil some of your pictures. You might be able to overcome this problem with a neutral density (ND) filter.

These filters reduce the amount of light passing through the lens and means that the exposure time increases to compensate. With exposures of 20 or 30 seconds any people moving in the scene will not be in one place long enough to form an image and the resulting street scene will appear to be deserted.

For this type of result you need a fairly extreme neutral density filter – one with a density of 3.0 is good, giving a 10-stop reduction in light. This means that instead of shooting at 1/30 second, you can shoot with an exposure time of 32 seconds.

You will need to use the camera on a sturdy tripod to avoid movement during these long exposure times. However, the use of tripods is banned in the busy areas of some cities, so check before travelling.

Monochrome images

Urban landscapes lend themselves to black-and-white photography – removing colour emphasises shapes and contrast. Many Canon cameras also allow you to shoot with a monochrome tone, such as Sepia or Vivid Red, using My Colors. Alternatively, you can highlight a particular tone using the Color Accent Shooting Mode. Check the Instruction Manual for details on your camera.

However, if you have image manipulation software on your computer – such as Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (supplied with all EOS and some PowerShot cameras) – you can create monochrome effects from a colour image. This means that you do not need to commit yourself to an effect when taking a picture and can experiment with different effects from the same original colour image. All the colour data is lost when the camera processes the image for black and white JPEGs.

Lenses and tripods

In the countryside, landscapes are usually taken with wide-angle lenses to capture the full view. In urban landscapes you are just as likely to need a short telephoto lens to isolate small areas of rich detail.

In the countryside, landscapes are usually taken with wide-angle lenses to capture the full view. In urban landscapes you are just as likely to need a short telephoto lens to isolate small areas of rich detail.

The wide-angle-to-telephoto zoom of most Canon IXUS and PowerShot models is ideal for urban landscape photography. Make full use of it to vary your images. With EOS cameras, lenses such as the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM or EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS will give you the flexibility you need for this type of work.

Whilst a tripod may help keep your camera steady, if it is not allowed then a monopod is a good alternative. This is a single extendible pole with a camera mounted at the top. It will stop the camera moving up and down, though there can still be a little side-to-side movement.

Some Canon compact digital cameras feature Image Stabilizer (IS) lenses, and both the lenses mentioned above for EOS cameras are IS models. Canon’s Image Stabilizer system uses gyro motors in the lenses to sense movement and a ‘floating’ element within the lens counteracts the movement of the camera, ensuring a steady image.

You can also reduce the effects of camera shake by using a faster shutter speed. Set the camera to Tv mode (if available) and select a shutter speed of 1/250 second or 1/500 second. You might need to increase the ISO setting to 800 or even 1600 to achieve these shutter speeds at some light levels. Higher ISO settings can produce increased ‘noise’ levels in images, but this grain-like effect often suits urban landscape pictures.

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