About a decade ago, a crazy trend started popping up all over the internet: photos of feet dangling over rooftop ledges of skyscrapers, people standing atop bridge towers and arches or perched precariously on construction cranes and antennas. “Rooftopping,” as it came to be known, was born from the need of photographers and adventurists to find evermore shocking and extreme selfie locations, rather than the boring, old standing on a rooftop photoshoot ideas.
If you missed out on the fad, do a quick Google image search of “rooftopping” and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how extreme it can get. Here’s one particularly harrowing example:
That’s Angela Nikolau, a young Russian model and photographer who has made quite the name for herself online and has been dubbed “The Girl Who Takes the World’s Riskiest Photos.” As a self-taught photographer, urban explorer, and rooftopper, Nikolau takes pictures of herself in some pretty dangerous sky-high locations and now has an Instagram following of over 700K.
But is it possible to get these vertigo-inducing shots without resorting to daredevil tactics?
You can still capture amazing aerial and panoramic cityscapes without having to risk your life. These days, with smartphone photography and social media, almost everyone has the potential to take and share a viral-worthy photo. So you’ll need to be creative. And to get your creative juices flowing, we’ve got a few inspiring photoshoot ideas on rooftops you don’t need to scale or sneak onto.
But first, a little history on rooftopping…
The Origin of Rooftopping and the Next Generation
Rooftopping, or roofing, has been around for a lot longer than the past decade. There are famous photographs of skyscraper views from as far back as the late 1800s and early 1900s.
But it used to be about getting incredible city shots from high atop buildings, with a little-more-than-average amount of risk. Not the hanging-from-your-fingertips images you see today.
The images were taken to showcase stunning cityscapes – aerial views of bustling cities and beautiful architecture. Nowadays, however, it seems to be about the shock factor.
And usually by people who have no climbing experience whatsoever. All just to get a photo that can be posted on social media, proving they took a bigger risk than the last person.
You could argue (and some people do) that the photos are taken with the intention of showing incredible cityscapes from unique perspectives. That these so-called “daredevils” are adventurous urban explorers and avant-garde photographers searching for the next great shot. Or, you could also argue that the high-climbing selfie-takers are really just attention- and thrill-seeking individuals hoping for instant internet stardom.
The World’s Riskiest Selfie-Taker
Angela Nikolau specializes in taking pictures of herself atop some of the world’s highest buildings and structures, often perched or lying on very narrow ledges or even doing gymnastics inches from the edge.
The fame she has seen on Instagram is, well, explosive. It seems people can’t get enough of Nikolau’s adrenaline-pumping, risky images, and she doesn’t let her audience down. She maintains a constant flow of high-altitude photos and videos featuring acrobatic stunts, first-time climbs, and illegal summits.
Nikolau embraces the motto, “No limit, no control.” She loves the thrill of climbing to extreme heights and has such a lack of fear that she does it without using any safety equipment. And that disregard for safety is the biggest problem with the rooftopping practice.
Rooftopping Gone Wrong
These days, there are still people out there doing it and others who want to hear about just how awesome rooftopping is, but I can’t pull that off. Sure, I’ve found myself as intrigued by the sweaty palm-inducing photos as the next guy, but has the trend gone too far?
Well, the short answer is yes. The bleak truth of it all is that people have died in their search for the next best extreme rooftop selfie. Between 2011 and 2017, there were 259 selfie-related deaths across the globe, 48 of which were from falls. Of course, not all of those falls were from rooftoppers, but there have been a few specific cases of selfie photographers falling from high-rise buildings while shooting, like the sad story of Wu Yongning.
So, instead of telling you all to break into the highest building you can find and hang from the edge to get the most extreme shot, today I’m going to focus on safer rooftop photoshoot ideas. These options are for the not-so-risk-taking shooters out there still searching for unique city portraiture perspectives.
Inspiring Location Ideas for Rooftop Photos
1. Apartment Building Rooftop
If you can legally access the rooftop of an apartment building, there are a lot of possibilities, but be careful. Don’t head straight for the edge and take any chances. Opt for the creative pose during blue hour, or against city lights or a dramatic sky, with the model (or yourself) standing a safe distance from the edge!
You can still capture the full extent of the height and the sprawling city in the background. Try more open poses to showcase the clothing if doing a fashion shoot, or experiment with standing, sitting, or jumping poses for different perspectives and moods.
2. Apartment Balcony
If you have a friend or know someone who lives in a high-rise apartment building, ask to shoot from their balcony or window. You can use a selfie stick and try different angles to capture the view from above or shoot upwards to enhance the height of a building behind you. Or set the camera up on a tripod inside the apartment and frame yourself in the window.
You might also want to try shooting at sunrise, sunset, or during the golden hour for stunning natural lighting. Or take a portrait at night with the city lights in the background to create twinkling bokeh.
3. City Parking Garage
Every city has a number of public-access parking garages, so this one’s pretty easy to pull off. Find an outdoor garage with many levels and head to the top. If you’re high enough and are at a bit of a distance from the urban center, you’ll be able to capture the city skyline in the background.
You can play with the grittiness of the car park against the urban background to capture some really striking fashion photography or portraits. Look for leading lines and repetition – maybe from a spiral parking garage or in the windows of a nearby building.
4. The Infinity Pool Shot
All right, all right, this one’s been done to death. I mean, who hasn’t taken this shot? I’m as guilty of it as the next person, but it doesn’t matter, it’s still fun!
Maybe you are lucky enough to have a friend with a rooftop infinity pool, but for most of us who don’t, you can find one easily enough if you want to shell out some money.
Take a mini-break for the weekend to visit a hotel in a city with a rooftop pool. Then, in between relaxing and sipping cocktails, get some shots as the sun goes down. Shoot at sunset to capture the orange, pink and purple hues against the city architecture. Or try out a silhouette against the city lights at night.
5. Rooftop Garden
For this one, you’ll probably have to find a public rooftop garden in the city for some flowery and foliage-filled photoshoot ideas. Some hotels, restaurants, and museums might have a garden that you can visit. Do a quick search in your local city guide to see what’s out there.
Once you find the perfect setting, you can try a bunch of different perspectives and angles. Shooting closer to the edge probably won’t be a problem because a lot of rooftop gardens are enclosed in glass walls.
Try a close-up macro shot of the model’s face next to a beautiful, bright flower with the out-of-focus city in the background to capture shallow depth of field. Or bring it all into focus to contrast the beautiful lush garden against stark city architecture.
6. Fire Escape
This is an easy one for many city dwellers, as a lot of older apartment buildings (in some cities) have fire escapes. But if you do have access to one, still think before doing anything stupid. Don’t go hanging from the railings or anything like that.
Fire escapes are a good alternative to the rooftop because you can be really creative if you think outside the box. You can shoot upwards to capture the model from below or shoot from above. If the stairs are metal with holes or slats and you can see through them, you can capture the height even better with more direct angles.
Fire escape photos can be gritty and there are lots of different patterns/perspectives you can play with. Look at the photo above, for example. The photographer was able to recreate the dangling feet view without perching on a roof ledge.
7. Landmark Skyscraper
There are plenty of pay-access locations with breathtaking views in every city. From towers offering panoramic viewing platforms to rotating rooftop restaurants, your city has a unique landmark skyscraper or structure waiting for you to explore its heights.
Sure, it’s probably been done a million times, but embrace the challenge of trying to capture it in a unique way. The CN Tower in Toronto, for example, has a rotating restaurant, as well as a glass floor viewpoint, and even the EdgeWalk. So you can choose your level of daredevilness! At least if you go with the EdgeWalk, you’ll be harnessed in so it’s a safer way to get the thrill of true rooftopping.
8. Warehouse/Industrial Locations
This is where it gets trickier and riskier. You’ll probably need permission to shoot in locations like an old warehouse or factory, or there will be signs posted that prohibit access completely, so you could be fined if caught. We don’t recommend these locations unless you have permission, are accompanied, and take all precautions possible. There might even be an option to rent the space for a shoot.
If you do manage to get through all the hoops and have secured a warehouse rooftop for your photoshoot, there are so many inspiring ideas you can try. These locations are great for band/musician photos and fashion photography. Like a parking garage or fire escape, you can enhance the grittiness of it all, especially if there’s graffiti or colored and textured walls.
Breathtaking Alternative Rooftop Photoshoot Ideas
Extreme rooftopping has seen a bit of a decline in popularity over the last few years, but it will never stop completely. There will always be people out there, like Angela Nikolau, looking for the next big thing.
But for the less extreme photographers looking for safer ways to capture stunning cityscapes from sky-high perspectives, we hope these rooftop location ideas do the trick. For quick-access options, look for apartment building rooftops, balconies, and fire escapes. Or if you want to pair the photoshoot with a mini-vacation or day trip, find a nice hotel with a rooftop pool, a restaurant with a rooftop garden, or visit a local landmark tower with incredible panoramic views.