6 tips for the best Urban Photography.

A picture of a building in Manchester looking up towards the sky with a plane going past.

If you look at my portfolio you will probably see quite a few shots that are taken in an urban environment. In this blog, I share some of my favourite tips and tricks for urban photography.

I love taking photos in an urban environment, not only due to its accessibility and ease of getting there, but the fact that you’ll never know quite what’ll you get.

1. Exploration is the key.

The most important aspect of urban photography is not only location but knowing the area well. Exploration of a location can really reap its rewards, and you can often find some really nice locations to shoot.

If you have watched a few of my vlogs, you’ll know that I spend a lot of time in Liverpool as it’s my favourite city in the world. I even wrote a blog about this on Explore Discover Shoot. When I’m in the city I’ll quite often just jump on the train and explore the city. In Liverpool I was walking around Bold Street, just down the road from St Lukes Church, I took a wrong turn and found some fantastic graffiti down a little side street known as Cropper Street. Had I not explored I wouldn’t have found this and it’s a place I visit regularly as the graffiti often changes. It pays to wander.

2. Travel light.

As I said in the opening part of this vlog, it pays to explore, but the one thing that is going to put you off doing this is lugging a heavy backpack around all day. I also travel light, because big cities can get crowded, especially on public transport. So travelling light is a must.

When I go exploring a big city I will leave a lot of stuff at home and go out with a one-lens camera setup, no tripod and a small backpack. If I don’t think I need it, it gets left at home, and let’s face it, we as photographers will quite often take more than we need.

3. Don’t forget to look around.

If there is one tip that I can give anybody when doing Urban Photography, is to look around and observe. You’ll be surprised what’ll you find and even have that “Ahh! I didn’t know that was their moment”. I have been to Liverpool more times than I can remember, but I still find that I wouldn’t have known was there if I hadn’t slowed down and observed the world around me.

Manchester Looking up
Manchester Looking up

It is also not only important to look around but look up and down as well. Most urban areas have high buildings that quite often have unique features that we often don’t see when at eye level. This can also create great opportunities to capture images that have objects that are framed by shapes in buildings. It can really create different shots.

In addition to looking up, don’t forget to look down. We are all guilty of only looking ahead when we walk because if we didn’t we’d all fall over! All joking aside, you’ll be surprised what you’ll see below your feet. I have often used grids or line markings as foreground interest in images, found interesting patterns in steps and used the reflections in puddles, to create images. You might have missed that had we not looked down.

Down the line
Down the line

4. Get up early and stay out late.

I’ll be honest in the fact that I’m not the best at early rises and as a non-driver, it can be difficult to get to some places before sunrises, but it can pay to see the city come alive after the night before. The streets are often empty at this time, and you might even spot the odd reveller from the night before or that worker starting those early deliveries. You’ll also be surprised how towns and cities look different in the morning sun. On the day you feel like turning that alarm off for an extra hour of sleep, think of all the opportunities you might be missing.

Salford Quays at Night
Salford Quays at Night

Not an early riser? Why not stay out late and see the city turn from night to day. The glow of urban life can really create an interesting shot. You know that really grungy takeaway just down the road, it might look great lit up at night. There are even places that light up as night falls, such as Salford Quays and Media City in Manchester. If you haven’t visited, it’s a top place for urban photography and really comes into its own at night.

5. Take loads of images and go back many times.

This is important not only with Urban Photography but with all forms of photography. Visiting the same place can not only provide familiarity with a place but can provide you with different opportunities with knowing a place well. There might also be a situation where the image is quite right on that day. Does it work better at dawn, at dusk or even in the harsh light of day? Don’t rule out any time of day, and visiting more than once. Patience is the virtue of the photographer.

6. Be safe

I do need to add some rules and safety tips to this post. I know that they are not the most exciting but cities can be dangerous places and must be treated with respect. Do your research on a location before you go to make sure it’s a safe place to photograph, make sure that the building that you want to photograph is allowed to do so (places such as Government buildings and Army bases are a definite no-no!), and if you’re on private property and you are asked not to take photo’s then don’t. No Photo is that precious. Some places will allow you to take photos if you ask permission first. Don’t be scared to ask.

Also, remember to observe traffic laws in the big city and ultimately stay safe when out shooting. NO image is worth dying over. Stay safe and have fun.

Final Thoughts.

I hope you found this post useful and encouraged you to get out and try some urban photography. It’s such an accessible form of photography, and we all live near to an urban area. Don’t forget to leave any comments below.

No comments on “6 tips for the best Urban Photography.”

  • Posted by Graham Thompson

    I have followed you from your first vlog Mike and all your pictures that you share are quality. However, it is in the urban environment that you shine and your pictures explode off the screen. I know you love the landscape but judging by the impact of your pictures, it is in the urban environment that I believe your photographic heart lies.

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