Cityscape Photography Tips

Cityscape photography, often viewed as the urban cousin of landscape photography, captures the man-made wonder of our urban environments. Whether you’re aiming to capture the grandeur of towering skyscrapers, the dance of city lights, or the daily buzz of urban life, the right techniques and tools can make a world of difference.

Understanding Cityscape Photography

At its core, cityscape photography encapsulates the beauty, architecture, and vibrancy of urban landscapes. From the neoclassical edifices of Europe to the cutting-edge skyscrapers of Asia, cityscapes tell stories of progress, history, and human ambition.

Essential Equipment for Cityscape Photography


  • Wide-angle lens (10-24mm): Ideal for capturing sweeping vistas of urban jungles.
  • Telephoto lens (70-200mm): Perfect for zooming in on intricate architectural details or isolating subjects against a vast city backdrop.

Tripod: A sturdy tripod is invaluable. For shots with long exposures, like capturing the streaks of cars or the gentle flow of water, a tripod ensures your camera stays still and your images are crisp.

Helpful Filters:

  • Polarizer: Helps to reduce reflections, particularly useful for buildings with glass facades.
  • Neutral Density (ND) filter: Essential for achieving long exposure effects during bright daylight.

Optimal Camera Settings for Cityscapes

  • Mode: Opt for Manual (M) if you’re familiar with settings or Aperture Priority (Av/A) if you’d like the camera to determine the shutter speed.
  • Aperture: A range of f/8 to f/16 offers a good depth of field, ensuring both foreground and background elements are in focus.
  • Shutter Speed: This will vary based on your desired effect. For capturing light trails, you’ll need longer exposures. To freeze the bustle of the city, opt for faster speeds.
  • ISO: To keep images noise-free, aim for ISO 100-400. Only increase the ISO in situations where light is limited and using a tripod isn’t feasible.

Timing is Everything

  • Blue Hour: This magical time, either before sunrise or after sunset, provides a serene blue tint to the sky, making city lights truly pop.
  • Golden Hour: Occurring shortly after sunrise or just before sunset, this time bathes the city in a warm and soft light, perfect for capturing the city’s glow.
  • Night: As cities come alive with lights, shooting at night can showcase the city’s vibrant nocturnal personality.

Pro Tips for Exceptional Cityscapes

  • Bracketing: This involves taking several shots of the same scene at different exposures. Later, these can be blended in post-processing to achieve a balanced and detailed image, also known as High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging.
  • Focusing in Low Light: When the camera struggles to autofocus in dim settings, switch to manual focus. Using the Live View mode, zoom in on a well-defined part (like a building’s edge) and adjust the focus manually.
  • Depth of Field: If your scene includes a prominent foreground element, like a statue or fountain, consider focus stacking. This technique involves taking multiple shots with different focus points and merging them in post-production to achieve an image that’s sharp from front to back.

Cityscape photography, like all art forms, thrives on experimentation. While these guidelines provide a solid starting point, the true essence and vibe of a city can best be captured when photographers bring their unique perspective and creativity into play. So, head out, explore the urban wilderness, and most importantly, enjoy the process of immortalizing cityscapes. Happy shooting!

Waterfall Photography Debate: Fast vs. Slow Shutter Speeds

Waterfall photography is a genre that captivates many with its ethereal beauty and dynamic compositions. One of the age-old debates within this realm is whether to use fast or slow shutter speeds when capturing waterfalls. Both approaches have their merits and can produce breathtaking results. Here, we’ll dive deep into the argument, exploring the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

1. Fast Shutter Speeds: Freezing the Action

Using a fast shutter speed means that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light for a very brief period.


  • Detail Capture: A fast shutter can freeze every droplet, allowing for a detailed capture of the water’s texture and movement.
  • Reality Reflection: This method offers a more “realistic” portrayal of the scene as our eyes see it.
  • Safety: In certain lighting conditions, a fast shutter speed might prevent overexposure.


  • Potential for Flatness: If not executed well, the photograph can feel lifeless or static, lacking the inherent motion and energy of a waterfall.
  • Higher ISO Requirement: To compensate for the reduced light from the quick shutter, you might need to increase the ISO, which could introduce noise to the photo.

2. Slow Shutter Speeds: Creating a Silky Effect

When photographers use slow shutter speeds for waterfalls, the camera sensor is exposed to light for an extended period, often necessitating the use of a tripod to prevent camera shake.


  • Ethereal Feel: The prolonged exposure creates a milky or silky effect in the moving water, often evoking a dreamy, surreal atmosphere.
  • Enhanced Mood: This method can amplify the mood, whether it’s tranquil, majestic, or mysterious.
  • Low ISO: With a slower shutter, there’s more light hitting the sensor, allowing photographers to use a lower ISO, potentially yielding cleaner shots.


  • Loss of Texture: The slow shutter speed might smooth out interesting textures and details in the water.
  • Risk of Overexposure: Especially in bright conditions, there’s a risk of overexposing parts of the photo, which can lose details in the highlights.
  • Need for Stability: Achieving a sharp photo with a slow shutter speed almost always requires a tripod or stabilizing equipment.

Striking a Balance:

Instead of staunchly adhering to one method, many photographers adopt a balanced approach. Here are some tips:

  • Evaluate the Scene: The nature of the waterfall, its surroundings, and the lighting conditions should guide your decision.
  • Bracketing: Try capturing multiple shots at varying shutter speeds and choose the best later or blend them in post-production.
  • Use ND Filters: Neutral Density (ND) filters allow for slower shutter speeds even in bright conditions by reducing the amount of light entering the lens.


While the debate between fast and slow shutter speeds for waterfall photography continues, what’s undeniable is the beauty of the subject. Both methods have their place, and the choice often comes down to personal preference and the story one wishes to convey. Whether you’re a fan of the crisp clarity of fast shutter speeds or the dreamlike quality of slow ones, mastering both techniques will only enhance your versatility and creativity as a photographer.

Mastering the Art of Scale in Landscape Photography

One of the primary challenges in landscape photography is capturing the vastness and grandeur of a scene in a way that translates well to a two-dimensional image. This is where the concept of ‘scale’ comes into play. Including an element of scale can provide context and a sense of proportion, making your landscapes more compelling and relatable. Here are some techniques to effectively show scale in your landscape photographs:

1. Introduce a Human Element

Including a person in your landscape shot is one of the easiest ways to convey scale. The viewer instinctively knows the approximate size of a human, which provides an instant reference. This technique works especially well with grand landscapes such as mountains, canyons, or vast fields.

2. Use Familiar Objects

If a human figure isn’t available or doesn’t fit the context, other familiar objects can serve as a reference. This can include things like vehicles, animals, or even buildings. For example, a lone car on a winding road amidst massive mountains can effectively show the enormity of the scene.

3. Layering and Foreground Elements

Introducing layers in your image, especially with a strong foreground element, can provide depth and a sense of scale. A prominent rock, tree, or other subject in the foreground, juxtaposed with the middle and background layers, helps the viewer gauge distances and sizes in the scene.

4. Use Wide Lenses

Wide-angle lenses inherently capture more of a scene, making vast landscapes look even vaster. When you pair a wide lens with a strong foreground element, the exaggeration of perspective further amplifies the sense of scale.

5. Capture Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric perspective is the phenomenon where distant objects appear lighter and less saturated due to atmospheric haze. Capturing scenes with evident atmospheric perspective (like layers of mountains fading into the distance) can give a sense of vastness and depth, thus emphasizing scale.

6. Play with Shadows and Light

The play of light and shadow, especially during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, can add depth and dimension to a scene. Long shadows cast by trees, rocks, or mountains can show the viewer how grand or tall these elements are.

7. Use Leading Lines

Leading lines can guide a viewer’s eye through an image and provide a visual journey that showcases the scale. Rivers, roads, or even patterns in sand dunes can serve as leading lines, drawing the viewer from the foreground to the distant horizon.

8. Drones and Aerial Photography

With the rise of drone photography, there’s a unique opportunity to capture landscapes from a bird’s-eye view. This perspective can reveal patterns and proportions that are hard to grasp from the ground, offering a fresh way to showcase scale.

Conveying scale in landscape photography is all about providing context. By giving the viewer a reference point, be it a person, object, or the play of light and shadow, you can transform a flat image into a story of vastness and grandeur. Next time you’re out with your camera, consider these techniques to infuse a sense of scale into your landscapes, making them more immersive and captivating.

Tips for Using ISO Settings in Photography

When you as a photographer—amateur or professional, analog or digital–practice your craft or hobby, you will at one time or another become acquainted with the three letters ISO. If the camera does not get enough light onto the sensor or film, the images will be too dark.

To correct this you can set a higher value on the ISO. All photographers are dependent on light and lighting conditions can be very variable at different locations or times of day. The ISO value is for that reason an important tool that allows the photographer to be able to work effectively in many different lighting conditions.

ISO value has influence on the shutter speed and aperture for any photo shoot. Deep in the rain forest, to a concert or a moonlight walk, where there is little light available, it will by using this tool will be possible to get excellent pictures without using a tripod. This is one of the reasons why the digital cameras has made it much easier to be a photographer.

ISO Indicates the Sensitivity of the Image Sensor

With ISO (International Standards Organization, previously known as ASA), we mean how quickly a film or digital sensor is capable of recording light. An image sensor set to ISO 100 requires twice as much light to achieve a normal exposure, as when the sensor is set to ISO 200.

In order to get twice the light the shutter speed must either be doubled (e.g., from 1/60 to 1/30 seconds) or the aperture must be opened up a whole f-stop (e.g., from f/5.6 to f/4).

That may not sound like a good idea to have to double the shutter speed so that we risk blurring the picture? Why doesn’t we always set the ISO speed as high as possible (e.g., ISO 1600) to obtain the fastest possible shutter speeds?

Higher ISO Values Produces More Noise

The downside of raising the ISO number is more noisy images – in the film world, this is a bit more romantically known as grain.

High ISO Entails Several Drawbacks

It is not just noise that increases with increased ISO settings. There are actually three “problems” that occur: increased noise, reduced sharpness and reduced contrast ratio.

High ISO = High Noise (Slightly exaggerated to show effect in this example)

The last two problems are usually marginal. The decrease in the sharpness of the increased noise that hides the details. Reduced contrast ratio refers to the ability to see details/nuances in the shadow areas as well as highlights.

Is Noise Always Negative?

People often tend to have a hard time telling the difference between images with low and high ISO speeds and very large prints. Therefore, it is difficult to choose which you prefer – a little “noise” doesn’t always disturb the picture. It may even bring a little feeling into the photo.

Different Cameras Provide Different Levels of Noise

Now you may think that you do not recognize this at all – when you test high ISO settings on your camera, the pictures may seem to be very noisy, much more noisy?

Yes, the noise is very different between different cameras and it has been an enormous development in recent years. If you have a compact camera, the risk that your images even at ISO 400 looks like ISO 3200 in other cameras. But if you use a modern digital SLR, you should be able to get great pictures even on ISO 800 and maybe even at higher ISO speeds if your camera allows it.

The problems we have these days when we assess the digital images is that we would look at them maximum zoomed in on the screen. However do not forget to relate to the possible noise you see to what size you actually use the image. Honestly, how many images to print larger than A5/A4?

How High ISO Should I Tolerate in My Camera?

Test your camera! Take a picture of the same motif with different ISO settings and print or send images to the photo lab. The most challenging is to shoot indoors in a low light setting. To try different ISO settings in daylight gives surprisingly comparable results, it is in low light conditions the major problems occur.

This is What You Gain by Increasing the ISO Settings

Now I have spent the whole article to explain the potential problems of raising the ISO. Let us finally turn to the issue and look at the opportunities provided by changing the ISO value.

By Raising the ISO Setting, You Can:

– Speed Up the Shutter Speed.

It is common to have problems getting fast shutter speeds when taking pictures indoors at night (= reduced risk of image blur). Although you may have opened the aperture to the max, you may even have to raise the ISO as high you think the quality will allow.

– Reduce the Aperture Setting.

Instead of changing the shutter speed, you can choose to reduce the aperture (for example, from f/4 to f/5.6) if you need a greater depth of field.

– Try a Combination of Both.

For example, if you raise the ISO setting from 100 to 400, you have doubled the ISO value in two steps. This allows for faster shutter speeds combined with reduced aperture, like going from 1/30 to 1/60 sec. (= 1 step) and f/4 to f/5.6 (= 1 step).

Is it Possible to Lower the ISO Setting From Time to Time?

The most common is that you want to increase the ISO value, but if there is a lot of light in the scene it can be justified to go the other way. Here are three examples:

Example 1:

You want to shoot a stream and use a slow shutter speed around half a second to get good-looking motion blur in the water.


Here you must set the camera at lowest ISO. If the minimum aperture is still not enough, you must use a gray filter that reduces the light inlet.

Example 2:

You want to shoot with wide aperture to get the short depth of field on a sunny day. You have chosen the A/Aperture Value setting (Auto Aperture Priority) to get to choose f/2.8 aperture while the camera determines the shutter speed for you. The problem is that your images are overexposed at all times.


A large aperture (comparable with a large pupil) on a sunny day means fast shutter speeds. Most cameras cannot capture images faster than 1/4000 or 1/8000 seconds, which may be too slow for the ISO number you selected. If you can, try to reduce the ISO to 100 or 50. If it is not enough, the only choice left is to buy a gray filter for the lens, which removes some of the sunlight.

Example 3:

You try to shoot indoors in a low light setting and has set the ISO at max, you have selected a large aperture and still think that the shutter speed is a bit too slow. You now turn on the flash and take the shot, however you notice that the picture becomes too bright. Despite the fact that you reduce the flash power all the images appear to be heavily overexposed.


In extreme situations, the lowest effect of the flash can be too strong for the scene along with your choice of a high ISO number. The only opportunity to use flash in such a situation is to lower the ISO until you notice that the image becomes darker and then start to increase flash power again. From there, you will try to aim for a good balance between the ISO and the flash effect.

About the Author:
Morris Scjomin (dslrlensauctions) has been a professional photographer for over 10 years, practicing exclusively in the field of portraiture, still life, and documentary images.

Why a Standard Lens is Perfect for Street and Travel Photography

Standard lenses (also called normal lenses) have a kind of mystique amongst photographers. Perhaps it’s because Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for using one, maybe it has something to do with nostalgia for the times when most cameras came with a 50mm kit lens rather than the zooms that are common today. Regardless, if you are looking for a versatile prime lens for street or travel photography then a standard lens is an excellent choice. My 35mm prime (a standard lens on an APS-C camera) has become my favorite lens for street and travel photography.


Let’s start with some definitions.

A standard lens for a full-frame or 35mm film camera is a 50mm prime (one exception – Pentax makes a 43mm f/1.9 lens).

For an APS-C system a 35mm prime lens (such as the excellent 35mm f/1.4 lens made by Fujifilm) is a standard lens. Some photographers also consider a 28mm lens to be a standard.

For a Micro four-thirds camera you need a 25mm prime.

Last year I took a wide-angle lens, a standard lens and a short telephoto lens with me on a five week trip to China. I used them all for street photography, but when I analyzed the photos afterwards I realized that over 90% of them were taken with the standard lens (a 35mm f/1.4 prime). That trend continued during a later trip to Spain.

Here are some of the reasons that I used the standard lens so much more than the others, combined with some tips for making the most from them yourself.

1. Standard lenses have wide maximum apertures

Standard lenses typically have a maximum aperture somewhere between f/1.2 and f/2. This helps you take photos in low light, or use the wide aperture settings for selective focus, or both. This is really useful if you take photos in a street market or some other lively location at night, or inside a dimly lit building.

The photo above, taken in a historical building in Hangzhou, is a good example. The light was so low that I had to set the aperture to f/1.4 and ISO to 6400 to take the photo.

2. Standard lenses let you take photos in the street without getting too close to people

Standard lenses let you take candid photos of people in the street without getting too close. In China, I found that most people ignored me as I took photos with my 35mm lens. It may have helped that the Fuijfilm camera I used (an X-T1) is much smaller than a digital SLR and less intimidating. It may also have helped that the Chinese are such keen photographers that another person with a camera doesn’t draw much attention.

From a practical point of view, the standard lens lets you take photos of people without getting so close to them that you invade their personal space.

I spotted this man by the entrance of a restaurant in Hangzhou. His clothing and thoughtful pose caught my eye – I believe he was there to encourage people to come into the restaurant. It was only afterwards that I realized there was an interesting juxtaposition between him and the statue to his left.

You can take environmental portraits like this very easily with a standard lens.

Street Photography

3. You can use a standard lens to simplify the background

Street scenes are naturally chaotic, and it’s the photographer’s job to make some kind of visual order from this. The narrower field of view of standard lenses (compared to wide-angle lenses) means that you naturally include less background in your images. You can also throw the background at least slightly out of focus by selecting an aperture of f2.8 or wider. This is much harder to do with wide-angle lenses.

An image like this, taken in a street market in Xi’an, has a much tighter background than you would be able to get with a wide-angle lens. That helped me exclude other people from the scene and focus attention on the woman.

Simplify the Background

4. You can use a standard lens to capture details

Standard lenses are good for capturing details. Street photography is not just about making portraits. You can build up a feeling for a place by photographing details that capture its character and spirit.

Most standard lenses can focus quite closely to the subject, making them a very versatile lens for travel photography.

This photo of fish taken in a market in Cadiz, Spain is a good example.


5. Use a standard lens to make a portrait of somebody with permission.

Standard lenses are ideal for portraits. They work well if you stop people in the street and ask if you can take their photo. While you could argue that a longer focal length will help you take portraits with a more flattering perspective, the advantage of a standard lens is that it is smaller and less intimidating to the person that you have approached. You are much more likely to get a natural response.

Earlier this year I went to Carnival in Cadiz. There were lots of people in costume, but only a few with face paint. When I saw somebody with interesting face paint I asked if I could take a photo. Every time I asked, the person said yes, and I took a couple of photos.

Here is one of them.

Portraits with Permission

6. You can capture scenes including people for scale or context

Standard lenses are good for capturing scenes which include people to give scale or context. The angle of view is wide enough that the people in your photo, if you are far away, are not bothered about being in it. They will probably think you are taking a photo of the scene behind them, especially if it is picturesque and worthy of a snapshot. If the person is positioned on a third, or at the edge of the frame, then the camera won’t be pointing directly at them. Even if they notice you they don’t feel threatened by it.

People for Scale or Context

This photo, taken in Beijing, shows a local woman amongst some of the beautiful architecture by Beihei Lake.

About the Author:
Andrew S Gibson is a professional photographer based in New Zealand. He has taken photographs in 60 countries now as a Technical Editor for EOS magazine. He produced a Mastering Lenses guide for photographers.