6 Ways to Capture the Essence of a City in Photos

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Outdoor photography isn't all picturesque mountains and dreamy lakes. Most of the world we wander is cities, and they've got their own natural beauty too. Here's how to make the best of 'em.

1. Elevate yourself

Got a helicopter? You're in luck! But if you don't, that's great too. There's probably a tall building or two in the city that you can climb to change your elevation and get a more interesting perspective. The photo above was shot from the top floor of my hotel in La Paz, Bolivia.

From the ground, you just can't capture any sense of the scale of a city. But going few floors up changes everything. Here it gives a better sense of both the sprawl and the compactness of this city.

2. Anchor your buildings

Skyscrapers are fun to look at up close, but they need to be a good distance away for you to get a true sense of their grandeur. So photos of tall buildings can really benefit from having something interesting in the foreground to anchor the buildings in the composition.

While it may not always be possible to find a great anchor, keep an open eye here and don't be afraid to experiment.

3. Include a sense of place

Sometimes the best way to capture a city is to actually leave it behind. Shooting a defining skyline from afar, for example, provides a richer sense of the larger environment where the city is located.

In the photo above, I moved out of downtown Manila into the old town. Unexpected bonus: The juxtaposition between the abandoned school in the foreground and the bustling city in the background turned out pretty cool.

4. Look for details

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds of a city. But look for the little details that create unique character. These little gems may be tucked down an alley or in between grander sites, so do some exploring by foot. This old fire station was discovered by accident while I was wandering downtown LA.

The city itself is pretty modern, so it's exciting to find and document a sense of its history hidden among the high-rises and traffic jams.

5. Don’t forget the people

I'll admit that when I’m in a big city with tall buildings, I find myself looking up most of the time. Sure, this can be great for architectural photos, but it can distract you from one of the best things about city photography: capturing images of people . Here you can catch a moment, an individual or showcase the diversity of the city's residents.

The photo above was taken in Hanoi, where I wanted to capture the ever-present scooters and the merchants often found alongside the road.

6. Seek out street art

In larger cities you're almost guaranteed to find interesting street art in abundance. But don't underestimate what you can find in smaller cities too!

The photo above was shot around the corner from my hotel in Singapore. Singapore always comes to mind as a regulated and orderly place (both chewing gum and spitting it are illegal), but there's a surprising amount of street art if you look in the right places.

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6 Ways to Capture the Essence of a City in Photos