Shooting In The City; Top 10 Tips For Success

Get up early and stay out late. Shoot during the "golden hours" in the early morning and late afternoon and your pictures will have a beautiful "warm" glow. Pack your tripod for very early morning and very late afternoon shooting.
Photos © 2003, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

As a travel photographer, I enjoy photographing in cities around the world, where I get inspired from morning 'till night by the people and sights. That inspiration helps me get good pictures. Now, I live near one of the most important cities on the planet: New York City. I've been to the "Big Apple" hundreds of times, but I was never inspired to shoot there--until last year, that is. I was given an assignment to photograph the city and city life. It was that simple.

As I was walking out of the assignment director's office, he said two very important words to me, words that completely changed my attitude toward the project. Those words were, "Have fun."

Well, I had a blast shooting the assignment, and the client loved the pictures, some of which are included here.

So, I encourage you to spend some time shooting in your own city. It's a great way to spend the day and feel creative at the same time. If you are new to city shooting, here are my top 10 tips for city shots:

Have fun! Sure we are all serious about our photography, but heck, have some fun with your photos. Work with a subject to create a picture that will bring a smile to someone's face.

Go wide. In addition to your telephoto lens for portraits, you'll need a fairly broad wide angle lens to photograph buildings or statues from close distances. For this shot I used my 16-35mm zoom set at 16mm.

Add more interest to a picture. Create a sense of dis-equilibrium in a picture by tilting your camera to the side. This is a popular effect in music videos and in television commercials.

Look for way-cool backgrounds. Most cities have walls painted by local artists. Use these outdoor canvases as a backdrop for your photos.

Slow it down. To capture the hustle and bustle of a city, use a slow shutter speed (1/15 sec or slower) to create a sense of motion in a picture. At slow shutter speeds, you'll need a tripod to steady your camera.

Think flashy outdoor pictures. Shadows created by buildings and trees can darken a subject's face. Use a flash to reduce or eliminate the shadows. I took this shot with my digital camera set on Program and my flash set at -11/3. The reduced flash output filled in the shadows for what's called a daylight fill-in flash photograph.

Be creative. Look for unusual photo opportunities, and think about how you can picture a well-known subject differently. Here is a photograph of the famous Dakota reflected in the window of a bus.

Hand over your camera. You don't want to leave a city without the most important photograph: a photo of you! Set up your camera so all someone has to do is point-and-shoot. Make sure the picture-taker follows your directions about composition. If you have a digital camera, check the picture on the camera's LCD monitor.

Get closer. Most people don't get close enough when they frame a subject. When composing a picture, think about how moving in or zooming in can improve a picture.

Rick Sammon is the author of "Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Digital Photography," published by W.W. Norton. He also recently completed an interactive CD, "Photoshop for the Outdoor and Travel Photographer," distributed by Software Cinema. For more information, visit Rick's website at:

Editor's Note
Join Rick for an exclusive hands-on digital photography workshop in New York City, May 20-22, 2004.