How to Photograph Cityscapes - B&C Camera

Cities have a way of mesmerizing us with their towering skyscrapers, busy streets, and twinkling lights. And as photographers, we're lucky to have the opportunity to freeze those moments in time.


So, today, I'm going to reveal the secrets behind finding killer vantage points, mastering composition tricks, and unleashing the full potential of your camera to tame both daylight and enchanting city nights.


How to Photograph Cityscapes:

  • Understand what is cityscape photography?
  • Embrace the golden hour or blue hour.
  • Find a killer vantage point.
  • Master the art of composition.
  • Understand your camera's settings.
  • Utilize aperture for depth.
  • Conquer low light challenges.
  • Include foreground elements.
  • Look for reflections.


Silhouette of a photographer with a camera on a tripod photographing a cityscape

What Is Cityscape Photography?

A cityscape is a photograph of an urban area. It's a captivating and visually rich representation of a city's skyline, architecture, and city life. Just like a landscape captures the natural beauty of a countryside or a beach, a cityscape focuses on the man-made wonders of a city.


You'll often find towering skyscrapers, iconic landmarks, busy streets filled with people and traffic, and lights illuminating the urban landscape. It's a genre of photography that showcases the vibrancy and energy of city living.


Cityscape photography is an exciting blend of technical skills and artistic vision. It involves mastering camera settings to control exposure, aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, all while creatively composing the frame to draw the viewer's eye into the city's heart.


New York city skyline at golden hour

Embrace the Golden Hour Or Blue Hour

The Golden Hour is that glorious time shortly after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun casts a warm golden glow over the city. This magical light bathes everything it touches in a soft, flattering radiance.


Plan ahead and arrive at your location well before the sun rises or sets to make the most of the Golden Hour. As the sun is low on the horizon, it casts long, captivating shadows that add depth and drama to your images.


During the Golden Hour, the city's colors come alive – from the earthy tones of the buildings to the vivid hues of the sky. This is the perfect time to capture iconic landmarks and skylines, as the warm light creates a harmonious contrast between the city's structures and the natural beauty of the sky.


When photographing, pay attention to the direction of the light. Position yourself so the light falls gracefully on your subjects, and experiment with shooting from different angles to find the most captivating composition.


When photographing, pay attention to the direction of the light. Position yourself so the light falls gracefully on your subjects, and experiment with shooting from different angles to find the most captivating composition.

The Blue Hour is the time before sunrise and after sunset when the sky takes on deep blue and twilight hues. During this hour, city lights start to twinkle, adding a touch of enchantment to your urban landscapes.


Capturing the Blue Hour requires a bit of planning and patience. Arrive at your location just before twilight begins, and be ready to shoot as the sky transitions from daylight to darkness.


This time is perfect for creating moody cityscape shots. Combining the deep blue sky and the warm glow of city lights adds a sense of mystery to your images.


To achieve the best results during the Blue Hour, use a tripod to stabilize your camera and prevent any camera from shaking in low light conditions. Experiment with longer exposures to capture the city lights, and don't hesitate to include reflections on water surfaces to add an extra layer of visual interest.


European cityscape photographed form a high vantage point

Find a Killer Vantage Point

You want to find locations that give you a fresh perspective on the urban landscape, showcasing its grandeur and uniqueness.



Rooftops provide a fantastic vantage point, allowing you to capture a bird's-eye view of the city below. The elevated position lends a sense of scale and depth to your shots.



You can frame the skyline from the middle of a bridge with the water flowing beneath or the city stretching out in both directions. Bridges can also provide leading lines that draw the viewer's eye.


Observation Decks

Observation decks in tall buildings or landmarks offer photographers a dream come true. They provide unobstructed views, and you can capture the city's sweeping panorama without the barriers that sometimes get in the way at ground level.



You can capture the city from a hilltop as it nestles within the surrounding landscape, creating a sense of harmony between urban life and nature.


Feel free to let your creativity run wild when exploring these vantage points. Experiment with different angles, perspectives, and framing techniques.


Toronto cityscape

Master the Art of Composition

When composing your cityscape shots, it's all about careful and thoughtful arrangement. You aim to create a visual masterpiece that draws the viewer into the urban landscape.


Leading Lines

Leading lines guide the viewer toward the main subject or focal point. In the city, you'll find plenty of leading lines – roads stretching into the distance, winding rivers (think of the Chicago River - my favorite!), or even the edges of buildings forming diagonal lines.


Incorporating these leading lines into your composition creates a dynamic sense of movement and depth. 

Related article: How to Use Leading Lines in Photography?


The Rule of Thirds

Imagine overlaying your cityscape photograph with two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, dividing the frame into nine equal parts - that's the Rule of Thirds.


Place key cityscape elements along these imaginary lines or at their intersections. This simple technique instantly balances your composition, making your photograph visually pleasing and engaging.


For instance, you might position a striking skyscraper along one of the vertical lines, with the city's skyline sweeping across the upper third of the frame. Meanwhile, the bustling streets and people occupy the lower third, creating a sense of scale and perspective.


Related article: How to Use the Rule of Thirds


Back of camera LCD screen photographing a city skyline

Understand Your Camera's Settings


Tame the Shutter Speed

Playing with your camera's shutter speed can yield impressive results. Use long exposures to capture stunning light trails from moving vehicles or smooth out water in fountains or rivers. Conversely, short shutter speeds can freeze the action and make bustling city scenes stand still.


Your camera's shutter is a gatekeeper between the world and your lens. It controls the time the sensor is exposed to light, determining how motion is captured in your shots.

Related article: What is Shutter Speed in Photography


Long Exposures for Light Trails and Smooth Water

When you opt for a long exposure, you're allowing the camera's sensor to soak in the light for an extended period. This is where the magic happens – you can capture mesmerizing light trails from moving vehicles as they streak through the city streets.


You'll need a sturdy tripod to keep your camera steady during the long exposure time to achieve long exposures. 

Related article: Long Exposure Photography Tips


Short Shutter Speeds for Frozen Action

On the flip side, short shutter speeds work their magic differently – they freeze action like a snapshot in time. This is perfect for capturing those city scenes where everything seems to move at the speed of light.


Cityscape photographed during golden hour

Utilize Aperture for Depth

When shooting buildings or landmarks, a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number) will increase the depth of field, keeping both foreground and background sharp. However, if you want to isolate a specific subject, like a street performer, use a larger aperture (lower f-stop number) to create a beautiful bokeh effect.


Small Aperture (Higher f-stop) for Everything in Sharpness

You'll want to use a smaller aperture (represented by a higher f-stop number) to capture city buildings and landmarks with intricate detail from the foreground to the background. This means the camera's aperture opening becomes smaller, allowing less light in but creating a greater depth of field.


The result is a photograph where the iconic landmarks, foreground, and distant skyline appear crystal clear and in focus.


Large Aperture (Lower f-stop) for Beautiful Bokeh

When you use a larger aperture (represented by a lower f-stop number), the camera's aperture opening widens, allowing more light in and creating a shallow depth of field.


This is perfect when you want to isolate a specific subject. For example, you spot a talented street performer. Using a larger aperture, you can make the performer stand out sharply against a soft, dreamy background – a beautiful bokeh effect that emphasizes their artistry.

Related article: What is Aperture and How to Use It?


Drone photo of a city at night

Conquer Low Light Challenges

Cityscapes can be just as stunning at night as during the day. But shooting in low light can be tricky. Here are a few things that help!


A Sturdy Tripod

With the help of a tripod, you can capture the cityscape's nocturnal charm without the worry of camera blur. It allows you to extend your exposure time to soak in the city's mesmerizing lights and intricate details at night.


Remote Shutter Release or Timer

Pressing the camera's shutter button directly can introduce tiny movements that might blur your shot. But you trigger the shutter without touching the camera with a remote shutter release cable or timer.


Taming ISO – Finding the Sweet Spot

Experimenting with different ISO settings is the key to finding the right balance between exposure and noise. Higher ISO values can brighten your shot but may introduce grainy noise, like digital freckles, on your image.


So, choose an ISO that captures the essence of the cityscape without compromising image quality. Test out different ISO values to strike that perfect balance, and you'll unveil the city's nighttime beauty like a true magician.

Related article: What is ISO in Photography - When do I Use it?


The Painted Ladies in San Francisco

Include Foreground Elements

Inject some life into your cityscape shots by incorporating exciting foreground elements. This could be a street sign, a colorful flower bed, or a bustling café. These elements add depth to your photos and provide context and a story.


Bringing the City to Life with Foreground Elements

Foreground elements, like a colorful flower bed or a café, add depth to the image.


Context and Storytelling

Foreground elements also convey a sense of place. Including a café with people sipping coffee and chatting adds a touch of human warmth to your shot.


The Art of Balancing

While foreground elements add depth and context, you also want to ensure they don't overpower the main subject – the cityscape itself. You create a harmonious composition that tells a story in a single frame by thoughtfully placing and composing these elements.


City skyline and its reflection in a body of water

Look for Reflections

Puddles, lakes, or glass facades can create stunning reflections of city lights and architecture. When you spot puddles shimmering like mirrors or glass facades reflecting the city's lights, you see, it makes a sense of fantasy. These captivating mirrored scenes are a photographer's dream.


Nature's Mirrors

After a rain shower, you might find puddles pooling on the pavement. Lakes or rivers near the city also offer vast reflective canvases.

Get down low, angle your camera, and capture the city's reflection.


Urban Miracles

Modern glass facades and mirrored surfaces transform into canvases of light, reflecting the city's vibrant energy. Skyscrapers become towering artworks adorned with dazzling lights that paint the sky with brilliance. 


Embrace the Mirrored Magic

When you find these shimmering reflections, embrace the moment. Compose your shot carefully, allowing the reflected cityscape to play with the actual one.

So, as you wander through the city with your camera, watch for these captivating reflections. Nature's mirrors and urban marvels are waiting to lend their magic to your photographs.

From chasing the ethereal light of the Golden Hour to mastering the art of composition with leading lines and the rule of thirds, you've unlocked the secrets to transforming cityscapes into visual masterpieces! 


May your cityscape photographs transport viewers to the heart of urban adventures, sparking their imagination and leaving them awestruck by the ever-changing beauty of the cities we call home. 


Related article: Architecture Photography Tips

Related article: How to Photograph in Bad Weather

Related article: 8 Tips for Better Visual Storytelling

Related article: How to Use Color Theory to Create Visually Pleasing Images?

Related article: The Brenizer Method (Bokeh Panorama)


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