How to take travel photographs of cities

Proper lighting

If you prefer more than just lying on the beach while traveling, you will probably want to photograph the city and its buildings. The problem is usually that you always get there at a bad time of the day, when the light does not fall correctly, too many people are closing the view, and other members of your family are asking you to remove the camera and go somewhere else. Of course, you could just buy a postcard, but if you are as passionate about photography as I am, this is in no way a way out.

Although sometimes it’s worthwhile just in case to buy a postcard — suddenly the photos will turn out to be not good enough.

The best time of the day to take photos with any scene on location is in the early morning, when the sunlight has a reddish hue and the light falls from the side, and not directly from above. In the early morning, the quality of lighting is so different from other times of the day that I find it difficult to express this difference in words, and, as a rule, there are fewer people around. Obviously, if you are photographing a building, the best time of the day to shoot depends on how it is located.

This photo was taken at about 7.30 a.m. I noticed this place the day before, but the lighting was not good, so since the building was next to my hotel, I decided to return to it the next morning.

As with any other type of photograph, you should ask yourself which part of the building you would like to pay attention to. Sometimes you need to display the entire building in a frame, sometimes it’s worth choosing a few details, and sometimes it’s best to combine the first and second approach. In the top photo, my attention was attracted by the tower at the top of the building, but I found that it was necessary to photograph and at least part of this building so that the tower was in some kind of understandable context.


When the subject is buildings, especially their upper part, often it ends up with you getting a bunch of boring photos of the sky. So a good reception is to make a frame of one or two branches of trees standing nearby for the upper part of the building.

I was very lucky with this shot: the trees were close, you could say they were waiting for me, and all I had to do was go and settle in the right place. But I would not hang, holding on to a branch to take a photo, if I could slightly use the magic of Photoshop.

It’s best to look for a suitable tree before taking a photo, and using the zoom of a telephoto lens, it’s easy to adjust the perspective, achieving the correct location of objects in the frame. However, it is not easy to achieve a good scale and good lighting if you try to insert a tree into the picture using Photoshop after shooting.

Achieve the Right Perspective

All the photos from this page were taken when I was relaxing in Barcelona; there, among other pleasures, we admired the work of architect Antonio Gaudi. The photograph on the left is a building restored by him in the 1920s. It is very difficult to photograph, because the trees that grow on the opposite side of the street interfere.

I wanted to photograph the entire facade, and the only way to do it without cutting a single tree was to tilt the camera very much. In this photo, the image turned out to be quite dramatic, and the use of a wide-angle lens creates the impression that the building falls back. When you point the lens up to catch the top of the building in the picture, you notice that the sides of the building converge upward, so that it seems like the building is tipping over.

In a picture like this, this is not very important, but if you want the building to look straight (and personally I hate it when the vertical angles in the photos of the buildings diverge slightly in different directions), then you need to shoot from a farther distance, or apply some tricky trick.

In the good old days when using film, the best option was to use an anamorphic lens that could correct vertical angles. It was also possible to correct the perspective when printing in a dark room by tilting paper at different angles. But in the modern world, we use the “perspective” or “distortion” function in Photoshop to expand the top of the photo until the vertical angles become truly vertical.

If you have already tried to do all this with one of your photos and found that such settings do not change anything, it may be that you are trying to apply them to the background layer of the photo, but this does not work. If you double-click on a layer in the “Layers” panel, the option to rename the layer appears (the default is “layer 0”). Click “yes” and the layer will cease to be a background, and all the perspective settings will immediately work. (Translator’s notes: We recommend that you make a copy of the layer and work with it while keeping the original intact).

Below you see three more photos of the same building.

In this image, I fixed the vertical angles in Photoshop by stretching the top of the photo.

In my opinion, this method works very well, given that the program must insert “invented” pixels into your photo in order to resize it. I suppose that a tourist photographer would not stretch the upper part, but would squeeze the lower one and then trim the edges.

Usually when traveling I take two lenses with me: one medium-focus 28-80mm and a telephoto lens 75-300mm. This kit suits me for shooting, giving both an average viewing angle and the ability to shoot distant objects with a telephoto lens, for which you can not use a tripod. The two photos below are façade details showing the “parts that I like” shot on a telephoto lens.

And here is another building in Barcelona, ​​also designed by Gaudi. Residents of the city call it “Quarry” — La Pedrera (La Pedrera). At first, the townspeople did not like it, and they joked that the building looked like a quarry for mining.

Night photography 

If we rent buildings at night, we have new problems, but we can get brilliant shots. The first problem is that there is much less light, so it can be problematic to get a clear image and stabilize the camera. It’s best to use a tripod, but I couldn’t pack my tripod in my suitcase, so I had to look for other ways. A good way to get external support is to lean on a tree or a lantern. Having settled down and holding your hands very close to your body, you can get good pictures at a shutter speed of 1/15 second or even less than 1/4 second.

Another method that works even better is to place the camera on a hard surface. If you are sitting in a cafe, you can get good shots by putting the camera on the table. I took this shot using a book that I placed under the lens to adjust the height and take a good long-exposure photo.

Another problem when photographing at night in the city is the high contrast of the scene, which is why the automatic exposure measurement system can go crazy. If you managed to find a common language with bracketing on your camera, I assure you that this is the most convenient time to use it.

The meaning of bracketing is that you take the first shot with the “correct” exposure, and then a few more, without changing the shooting point and position, but using higher and lower metering readings. Most of the best modern cameras are equipped with a special button for this, so you do not have to set the parameters manually. Just spin the exposure compensation dial +1, +2 or -1, -2, etc.

The main question is what configuration to use (which parameter to change: shutter speed or aperture) and how individual parameters should differ. For example, a professional working in a studio will achieve bracketing in 1/3 of the opening of the aperture, but you and I, looking at the results of his work, may not be able to notice the differences between shots. On the other hand, the one stop stop aperture may be excessive.

In the night scene, you will inevitably have a large amount of black, and it often turns out that there are several light sources in it that will be displayed as pure white, at least in the center. Therefore, the purpose of bracketing is to control reflections so that they do not get out of hand much.

As you can see in the photo above, a halo is visible around the spots of light, but, in my opinion, its scale is under control. There are no general rules regarding how large a halo can be. It depends on your taste, but very large white spots in the photo can look very ugly. As a rule, I do not recommend leaving a glare near the edge of the photo, because it can take your eyes off the frame. In any case, I tried to take this photo with the lamp on the left and without it, and as a result I decided to leave the lamp. Rules exist to break them, but you should know that you break them.