Archive for June, 2020

Shooting Cityscapes

Vancouver Center from the 7th floor of the Hilton Hotel, Vancouver, WA EOS-R w/ EF-70-300 L @70mm f/5.6

Cities can be interesting subjects. Some cities have definable skylines with famous structures like Seattle’s Space Needle or San Francisco’s Trans-America Pyramid. But even with out the landmark buildings, a city can offer photographers an opportunity for an interesting study. The very same city can have dramatically different looks shot from different angles, often just changing a couple of blocks can render an entirely different scene.

One thing a photographer may want to try is to get up high. Not necessarily the highest building in town, but up off the street a few floors, maybe between 3-7 stories up or in a really large city 15-20 stories up. The typical cityscape is often shot looking up at tall buildings. This can lead to converging lines and awkward looking shots with distortion. Sometimes that itself can make for a fun shot, but is can get old fast. Structured parking garages are a good way to get up high in a city.

Portland, OR MAX train arrives. EOS 5D mk II Sigma 8mm

Fish-eye lenses can be very effective for an abstract urban scene. I find fish-eyes to be more effective with taller buildings rather than short mid-rise structures. Fish-eyes and ultra-wides also seem to work better in tight spaces with several buildings close together. Another tactic with fish-eyes and ultra-wides, is having foreground objects up close to the lens. This creates a bit of a scale variance that adds an interesting look to the image.

At the opposite end of the focal length spectrum, long lenses can compress the view creating a dense urban feel even in cities with modest skylines and short buildings. This can be done from a faraway location across a river or up on a hill. It can even be done in close to the city for a real dense city dynamic.

Reflections in glass can create amazing results in cities. Look for structures with a lot of glass and find reflections to capture. Bodies of water can work as well.

Downtown Vancouver, WA from a 4th floor office. 3 horizontal shots, stitched with ICE. EOS-M5 w/EF-M 22mm f/2 @ f/8

Cityscapes can often benefit from a panorama. This doesn’t have to be done with a special mode on your camera. There is software that can stitch images together to create a panorama. Microsoft offers Image Composite Editor (ICE) for free. This allows one to take a series of images slightly overlapping and the software uses AI and algorithms to stitch the images into one big panorama. Be advised if you have a high resolution camera your file sizes can get really large. I like using the camera in vertical format allowing lots of space top and bottom and then making lots of images overlapping at 30% or so. This requires a lot more images, but helps keep the exposure smooth across the completed frame and if not using a tripod offers wiggle room for uneven alignment. Be mindful to keep the camera level as images are made. When exporting the panorama play with the different projections for some interesting dynamics to the image.

Downtown and the Waterfront, Vancouver, WA. 24 stitched images. Exported in ICE using a rotating motion and a spherical output. EOS-R w/EF-70-300 L @116mm f/4.5

Play around with angles and vantage points. You will get a lot of round file shots but you can get a nice mix of images to create an urban study. You don’t need a super expensive camera or even a fancy lens, many of the images in this post were taken with rather common focal lengths. I took some with my phone!

Edinburgh, Scotland from the Edinburgh Castle. EOS M5 w/ EF-M 55-200 @ 55mm

Downtown Vancouver, WA from the 5th floor deck at main library. Google Pixel 2 XL phone

Vancouver Center, Vancouver, WA EOS-M5 w/Samyang 8mm

Jet skier on the Columbia River, Downtown Vancouver in background. EOS 10D w/ EF 200 2.8 L. This is an oldie geez a 10d!

Downtown Seattle, WA from 73rd floor of Columbia Center. Canon EOS M3 w/ EF-M 11-22mm @11mm

Interstate 405 approach to Fremont Bridge, Portland, OR. EOS M5 w/ Samyang 8mm

Columbia Center and the Municipal Tower, Seattle, WA. Canon EOS M3 w/ 11-22mm @ 11mm

Butte, Montana. Canon EOS M5 w/ EF-M 55-200 @135mm

Esther Short Park, Vancouver WA from 3rd floor of Parkview Condos. EOS R w/ EF 16-35 L @35mm f/4

Victoria BC, Canada from the back of the Victoria-Port Angeles Ferry. Canon EOS-M5 w/ EF-M 18-55mm @44mm f/5.6

Downtown Vancouver, WA from the 4th floor Murdock Plaza. Canon EOS R w/ 16-35 L at 24mm f/5.6

Downtown Vancouver, from 5th floor of 500 Broadway. Canon EOS 50d w/Tokina 11-16mm @11mm f/2.8

Downtown Vancouver from the 9th floor of Viewpoint Condos. EOS M5 w/ Samyang 8mm

Lower Main Street, Vancouver, WA from the 11th floor of Viewpoint Condos. EOS M5 w/ EF-M 55-200 at 55mm f/6.3

Vancouver WA waterfront, Grant Street Pier. EOS M5 w/ EF-M 32mm @f/1.4

Space Needle and Downtown Seattle from a seaplane tour. EOS M3 w/ EF-M 11-22mm @15mm


Portland, OR Pioneer Courthouse Square. EOS 5D mk II w/ Sigma 8mm

Chinatown, San Francisco, CA circa 1985. Canon F1 w/FD 200/2.8 on Kodachrome 64

Market Street, San Francisco, CA circa 1985. Canon F1 w/ FD 28/2.0 on Ektachrome 100

Urban Patterns, San Francisco, CA mid 1980s. Canon F1 not sure which lens. On Kodachrome 64

Reflection, San Francisco, CA early 1980s Canon A1 with 50mm 1.8 lens on Ektachrome 100

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