9 Tips to Shoot Great Photos of a City
The most visible souvenir to take away from a visit to a new place are the pictures of the place. It is the photographer’s way of saying I was there.
When you look back how many times have you given any serious thought to how you make those photos?
When you go back home, those images are all that you have to describe the places you’ve been to, to those who have not been with you on the trip.
The photos need to describe the story of the place with a touch of your story telling abilities.
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1. Do In-Depth Research
Most people complain that they have so much to do in the run up to the day of the departure, that they hardly have the time to research about their vacation destination.
Very often they end up powering down their laptop and making a dash for the airport. If you are guilty of this, you will never be able to find the best places to be and makes pictures on your trip.
Make the time. Find some books, or research the internet. Try to find out the best places in the town to be at sunset, after sunset, and at dawn.
TripAdvisor is a great source for all that. But I also do a lot of local searches, search a lot of traveler images on the internet to figure out how I could have bettered those images if I were the photographer making them.
I go a lot of research on blogs as well. These will give you a good idea of the place and prepare you in advance to make good photos.
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2. Shoot After the Dark
It does not have to be the bustling nightlife of Bangkok or the enchanting Ghats of Varanasi for you to pop out your camera.
You can always get a semblance of some nightlife action, no matter where you are when you shoot after dark. Set-up at a place where you are guaranteed to be able to work without any objections or hindrances for as long as you may. This goes for both tripod and hand-held shooting.
When you are shooting hand-held, don’t mind walking around and mingling with the crowd. Walking gets you closer to some of the most interesting places that truly reveal the real character of the city/town you are visiting.
In turn, that would lead to those mesmerizing photos of a city you are looking for. I would recommend going to any favorite joint frequented by the locals, streets or places of interest.
And of course, include shopping areas as well! You never really know where you can find interesting photos, so keep an open mind.
3. Take some Local Help
If you want to shoot mesmerizing photos of a city take someone with good local knowledge with you.
Sure, Google maps can be helpful in finding your way around. But there is still no alternative to good local knowledge. They can guide you to the places you want to be for that special shot and provide valuable insight. Sometimes local knowledge can make a world of difference when you are traveling alone or in less than hospitable places.
You can hire the services of a registered local guide or a friend or trustworthy acquaintance living in the area who can show you around.
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4. Walk a Lot
Every new place warrants a thorough investigation which can only be done if you prefer to walk instead of being driven.
Of course, you can’t always walk, but once you are close to where you want to, hop off the transport and hike. Walking gives you a better first person perspective of the place as well as more opportunities to make good images.
5. Keep an Open Mind
I do have some preconceived images in mind when I visit a place. I am pretty clear what I need to shoot. However, I don’t quite keep to my select list of shots when I am out and about.
Keeping an open mind allows me to spot something interesting faster, and that means I am better equipped to get the shot before it vanishes into thin air.
Prefocusing is the art of setting your focus point before the scene ever presents itself to you. You would probably wonder how this is even possible. How can someone prefocus without even looking at a scene? It is perfectly possible. Street photographers, especially the journalistic style photographers frequently do that.
They usually select infinity focus or something close to that so that every time they are confronted with something interesting, they don’t have to focus before releasing the shutter.
The advantage is they save those crucial few milliseconds before the camera is ready to make those mesmerizing photos of a city you are visiting. With prefocusing, you are always a step ahead.
With prefocusing, you can also choose to set your camera to shutter release to fire without first requiring for accurate focus.
The exact process varies depending on camera make and model. But you can always dig into your camera menu and find that out.
This mode does not wait for the camera focusing system to get a good lock on before firing the shutter. It has its plusses and minuses, but when you use this in tandem with a small aperture and prefocusing, it does a better job.
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7. Select the Right Aperture
Along with prefocusing the lens they also tend to select a small aperture. A small aperture, when combined with a long focusing distance, would work to bring most of the scene under focus.
This saves a crucial amount of time when you need to make a quick snap. When you select a small aperture, you will also have to bump up the ISO number. Otherwise, the camera will slow down the shutter to compensate.
It certainly helps if you have a camera that can produce clean images even at high ISO.
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8. Use a Street-Smart Lens
The tool of choice for making those mesmerizing photos of a city you are planning to visit is wide angle lens. The 35 mm is a definite first choice, speaking from a personal point of view. But if you have a full-frame camera you can also use the 50mm.
You don’t need a fast wide aperture, but you do need fast auto-focus. Insist on a lens that has a built-in auto-focus motor instead of something that relies on the built-in auto-focus motor of the camera. AF performance is typically slower with such arrangements.
A 35mm lens gives a wide perspective of whatever happens on the street. That is slightly wider than that of the 50mm. But they are both great lenses. If the only lens you have is the 18-55mm kit, don’t worry about the 35mm vs. 50mm battle. Pick that lens, set it to your favorite focal length and keep shooting.
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9. Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment
I don’t mind venturing out after dark. It allows me to shoot long exposure photos of a place which is difficult to do during the day.
Not that I can’t practice long exposures during day time. With a 4 or even stronger ND filter, I can always shoot long exposure photos. However, after dark, the effect is a little different. Plus, I get to shoot light trails. Light trails, depending on the place you are visiting can produce varying results.
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