Urban Landscape Photography: Definition, Tips & Examples

How do you create gorgeous urban landscape photography?

In this article, I’m going to take you through everything you need to know about urban landscapes.

Urban Landscape Photography

And by the time you’ve finished, you’ll be able to capture stunning urban landscape photos consistently.

Let’s get started.

Defining Urban Landscape Photography

As you’re probably aware, landscape photography is a genre that’s dedicated to capturing nature and outdoor scenes. The best landscape photography allows viewers to connect with nature and experience the natural environment through the imagery.

Urban landscape photography, on the other hand, is a convergence of several genres of photography, including:

  • Street photography
  • Architectural photography
  • Landscape photography

While there is no clear cut definition of urban landscape photography, let me give you my interpretation.

I define urban landscapes as borrowing the natural landscape photographer’s approach and applying it to urban areas while including some natural elements, such as skies, vegetation, and waterfronts. The visual contrast or symbiosis of natural and urban elements of the composition is an essential part of urban landscape photography.

And as a photographer who lived all my adult life in major metropolitan areas of different countries, urban landscapes are a big part of my photography and very close to my heart.

Today, I am going to share how I approach urban landscape photography, and I am hoping it will help you appreciate it as I do.

I consider this photo to be a classical example of urban landscape

Urban Landscape Photography Tips

Now let’s take a look at some tips so that you can capture beautiful urban landscapes.

1. Shoot During Golden Hour

If you want to capture compelling urban landscape photography, then you must pay attention to the light.

And the light rarely gets better than golden hour, when the sun is low in the sky and casts a beautiful warm glow across the scene.

You’ll find golden hour lighting early in the morning and late in the afternoon (though the particulars will depend on your location; see our recent article on the best time to take photos outside).

Note that you can do all sorts of interesting experimentation with golden hour. For instance, you can shoot sidelit buildings for adding three dimensionality. Or you can photograph backlit buildings for interesting silhouettes.

Basically, if the light is golden, then it’s tough to go wrong!

Golden hour in San Francisco Bay
Golden hour in Montreal

2. Shoot During the Blue Hour

The blue hour is the time just after sunset (again, see our article on the best time to take photos outside).

During this time, the light is very weak, but it’s also very soft, which can result in beautiful, ethereal images.

In urban areas, the blue hour has different characteristics because of the prominence and abundance of artificial light.

I find that blue hour in urban surroundings offers more options and a variety of subjects for any photographer.

I encourage you to get out and shoot after the sun has set!

Blue hour at Niagara Falls
Blue hour very often looks very different in urban environment

3. Use Contrast Between Urban and Natural Elements

In urban landscape photography (and in photography more generally!), any sort of contrast will add an extra element of interest into your photos.

And one of the most readily available types of contrast for urban landscape shooters?

Urban versus natural elements.

For instance, you can include rivers in the foreground of your shots and skyscrapers in the background. Or you can use trees to frame buildings or capture shots that focus on the sky but include a hint of the urban environment.

An urban park is a perfect place for urban landscape photography

4. Include a Foreground, Middleground, and Background for Depth

In classical (natural) landscape photography, the more depth you create, the better the shot.

In other words:

The best landscape photos often lead the viewer through the scene, going from near to far, until the viewer reaches a resting point off in the distance.

And this is true for urban landscape photography, too.

Just make sure your images include an interesting foreground element to draw the viewer into the scene.

Then a middleground element, to bring the viewer further along.

And finally a background element, such as buildings in the distance, to offer the eye a place to rest.

Multi layered urban landscape composition
The middleground river with the reflections connects the foreground (trees, leaves on the ground) and the background (church, shore)

5. Include Leading Lines for Even More Depth

In the previous tip, I explained the importance of adding depth to your urban landscape photos.

And here’s another way to add a lot of depth:

Use leading lines.

Specifically, look for natural or artificial lines in the urban environment, and place them in the foreground of your photo–so that they lead the viewer deep into the scene.

Leading lines are everywhere in cities, even if you have to look for them.

For instance, you can use natural features, such as rivers, streams, and trees, or you can use artificial features, such as streets, bridges, road markings, fences, curbs, or cars; all of these will lead the eye into the frame and keep the viewer interested.

I have light trails of the coastal road as a leading line.
You can find multiple leading lines here: fence, curb, bridge, shore line

6. Take Advantage of Reflections

In natural landscape photography, reflections in water are often a great way to enhance an image–but they can be difficult to find (i.e., they require very specific conditions).

However, in urban landscape photography, you have so many more opportunities to use reflections.

This is because reflections are everywhere in the urban environment. You can find reflective windows, mirrors, car hoods, metal buildings, and so much more.

So try to include them in your photos; you’ll be amazed at how interesting a simple reflection can be.

The photo has more elements of landscape photography
Reflections of Manhattan

7. Capture Long Exposure Photos of Urban Elements

Here’s another fun urban landscape photography tip for you:

Create long exposure images.

To pull this off, you’ll need a sturdy tripod. You’ll also need a neutral density filter, if you’re shooting during the day–though I do recommend at least testing out some long exposure images at night, because you can get some spectacular shots of light trails, star trails, and more.

8. Mix and Match for Great Results

At the beginning of this article, I defined urban landscape photography as pulling from several different genres of photography (including street photography and architectural photography).

But it can be a fascinating creative exercise to combine different elements of many genres of photography, including black and white, travel, and more to create unique urban landscape photos.

So don’t feel that you have to restrain yourself; with urban landscape photography, feel free to experiment with different styles and elements from many different photography genres!

Conclusion

Urban landscape photography offers opportunities for gorgeous images.

So get out and start shooting! If you remember to apply the tips detailed above, then you’re bound to get great results.

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by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.