A typical city is full of traffic, busy backgrounds, and lots of people that all have an interesting story to tell. Cities are a great place for iPhone photography as there’s a new photo opportunity around every corner. However, the busy nature of these urban scenes can make it difficult to capture interesting moments in a visually pleasing way. In this tutorial, you’ll discover 9 tips for taking incredible iPhone photos that capture the wonderful atmosphere of streets and cities.
1. Include People in Your Shots
Street photography is all about telling stories of city life – and including people in your photos is the best way of achieving this. Photographing strangers might seem like a daunting task, but capturing people in their most candid composure can be very rewarding.
Start by photographing people from a distance. This will allow you to remain discreet and it’ll give you a chance to work on composition and scale. Find a large building to act as the backdrop then wait until someone walks into the scene before taking your shot.
Think about where you want the person to appear within the frame, e.g. on the left, the right, the middle, or when they walk past a certain object such as a pillar or doorway.
To maximize your chances of capturing the person in the perfect position and with the perfect stride, shoot using burst mode in the Camera app. As soon as the person walks into the frame, hold the shutter button down to fire off a series of photos in quick succession.
As you build more confidence, try to get shots of people from a closer perspective. Capturing facial expressions and body language allows you to convey more emotion in your photos. This helps you tell a more powerful story that creates a connection with the viewer.
Be as discreet as possible. Once people realize they’re being photographed they change their behavior and you don’t get the natural, candid shots that work so well.
In order to fully capture the atmosphere of the city, try to capture photos of people from all walks of life. Different kinds of people will tell different kinds of stories. Photograph young and old, rich and poor, business people and tourists.
Photograph people having fun, people commuting to work, people selling their wares. Look out for different kinds of emotions and capture them in your street photos to tell powerful stories of city life.
2. Shoot During Quiet Times
One of the main challenges of urban photography is the very busy environments that you have to shoot in. Typically, the simpler the composition the more powerful it will be, but this can be difficult to achieve in crowded locations.
Cities are full of interesting buildings and architecture that makes great backgrounds for urban street photography, but if it’s too crowded these backdrops become less prominent.
The simple answer is to avoid the busiest times of the day. A less crowded scene allows you to place more emphasis on your main subject, which in turn creates a more compelling story in your photo.
Rather than shooting during the morning and evening rush hours, or when people are out on their lunch breaks, take photos early in the morning or later in the evening when the streets are less busy.
Also, pay attention to traffic. It’s easier to capture a subject on a one-way street than when vehicles are traveling in opposite directions.
In some places such as business districts, the weekends are most convenient for finding a quiet street where you can isolate your main subject against the background.
Shopping streets and tourist destinations tend to be busier at weekends, so weekdays are usually best for capturing quieter scenes in these locations.
If you spot a good location that would make a great background for your photos, revisit it at different times of the day until you find a quiet moment.
The trick is to work out when the streets will be at their quietest and take your photos during these times. Then all you have to do is wait for someone interesting to walk into the scene!
3. Capture The Hustle & Bustle
While quiet locations make it easier to create a simple composition, photographing busy street scenes can add a wonderfully dynamic feel to your images.
Capturing the hustle and bustle of city life can be tricky if you don’t know what to look out for. You can end up with messy photos that are confusing to look at because they have no focal point.
The best photos of busy street scenes are those which have one subject that stands out more than the others. It could be a woman in a red dress, a man wearing a hat, someone carrying an umbrella, a cyclist, or a person waving to someone across the street.
The trick is to find a good location, then wait for just the right moment to take your shot. Crosswalks provide a great setting for capturing busy street life.
Position yourself at the edge of the crossing, using the painted road markings as leading lines within the composition. Ensure your background is fairly simple, such as a tall building or wall. And look out for shadows that might add to the energy of the photo.
As soon as you spot an interesting subject about to cross the road, start shooting in burst mode so that you capture a sequence of shots in quick succession as they walk through the scene.
While the focus should be on the subject that caught your eye in the first place, every person or vehicle captured in that setting adds to the story of busy city life.
4. Photograph Buildings
Buildings play a big part in a city’s identity, and architecture makes a great photography subject. So when the streets are too busy to take good photos of people, use this opportunity to look around for interesting buildings to photograph.
A great way of eliminating the busy street scene from your shots is to create a classic look-up photo of a tall building. This technique creates intriguing photos that will really catch the viewer’s eye.
Use leading lines in the building to help create a strong composition. Use the lines and structure of the facade to create stunning symmetrical photos like the one above.
If you’re shooting in strong sunlight, look out for interesting shadows being cast onto a building’s facade. Filling the frame with the patterns created by the shadows will create a stunning abstract image.
5. Find A High Vantage Point
A great way to photograph the city is from a high vantage point. Shooting from such high levels allows you to capture a bird’s eye view of the streets from above.
Shooting from a high perspective creates a whole different sense of scale when you’re looking down at buildings, streets, traffic, trees and people at ground level. Objects that previously towered above you now look miniature.
There are many places where you can take this kind of shot, including tall buildings, balconies, viewing platforms and bridges.
A really effective technique is to stand on a bridge or other high vantage point and look for interesting patterns like shadows on the ground. Then wait for a person to walk into the frame and fire off a few shots.
6. Capture The City At Night
The beauty and vibrancy of a city looks completely different at night. The contrast of the darkness combined with street lights and lighting from buildings, signs and billboards creates dramatic pictures.
Rain tends to really enhance night-time photos of the city because the wet streets reflect the lights. This creates extra light in areas of your image where there would normally only be darkness.
Taking photos with the iPhone in low light can result in grainy images, which will be especially noticeable in the darker areas of the scene. Reducing the exposure levels (to make the image darker) will help to reduce grain.
This also ensures that the highlights (bright areas of the image) don’t appear over-exposed. To reduce exposure, simply tap to set focus then swipe down on the screen until the image becomes dark enough.
You should also check out apps such as Cortex Cam and Average Cam Pro which can produce great results at night. These apps take several shots at different exposures and then combine the images into a single well-exposed photo with little or no grain.
When using these apps you need to keep the iPhone perfectly still while the photos are being taken. If there’s any movement the photo will appear blurred. Cortex Cam can be used hand-held if you have a steady hand. But an iPhone tripod is the best option.
Alternatively, try using the native Camera app’s HDR mode which also takes several exposures and then combines them into a single photo. Make sure the HDR mode is turned off when capturing moving subjects, otherwise they’re likely to appear blurred.
7. Shoot In Different Kinds Of Weather
We often tend to only take photos in good weather when the sun is shining. But shooting in different kinds of weather will create more variety and interest in your city shots.
Sunny weather will create different effects depending on the time of day that you shoot. During the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, the light will be a beautiful warm color and your subjects will cast wonderful long shadows in the scene.
If you shoot when the sun is very bright, it will create a high contrast image with dark shadows and bright highlights. These kinds of photos look great when converted to black and white.
Rain always creates wonderful street scenes with colorful umbrellas, shiny surfaces and plenty of puddles for reflections shots. People tend to behave differently in rainy weather, rushing around and huddling together, so try to capture this in your photos.
You can also use raindrops to create wonderful abstract photos. Simply shoot through a glass window, making sure you focus on the raindrops so that the scene in the background becomes blurred.
Mist and fog is great for adding a sense of mystery to your city shots, making the viewer wonder what lies beyond it. These kinds of photos tend to have a surreal and magical feel.
In thick fog, tall buildings will look like they’re disappearing into the sky, so be sure to create some look-up shots of buildings in this kind of weather.
In winter, snow will completely transform the urban landscape, making it almost unrecognizable. There will be plenty of interesting stories to capture as people try to navigate through the snow, so make sure you take plenty of shots around the city before it melts!
8. Shoot The Same Location In Different Seasons
Following on from the previous tip, a fun project to try is to photograph the same location in each season throughout the year – during the fall, winter, spring and summer.
The variations in weather, light and color will create a contrasting mood in each photo. Even the surroundings will tell a story about the season you were shooting in.
Trees and vegetation will look different throughout the year. Even the clothing that people wear will change with each season.
The above examples show how the same location (The Bean in Chicago) looks completely different throughout the changing seasons. The atmosphere and story of each photo is very different.
9. Capture Well-Known Landmarks From A Unique Perspective
Photographing famous city landmarks can be tricky. If you photograph it from the same angle and perspective as everyone else, then your photos won’t stand out. They’ll just look like the same cliche shots that you always see.
Your photos will be much more powerful if you capture your subject from a unique perspective. There’s always a new angle or weather condition that can make your photos more interesting.
All of the photos in this section are of The Bean in Chicago, but I’ve managed to capture it in many different ways. The photo above uses a puddle reflection to create symmetry and foreground interest.
How about photographing it at night, using the city lights to illuminate the scene? Taking night photos after the rain will enhance the light reflections in the wet surfaces.
Shooting in bad weather can add more interest to a picturesque classic landmark. I love to take photos in snowy weather as it completely changes the look of the location.
Another technique is to include a subject in the foreground, making the famous landmark the background of your photo. If you tap to set focus on the foreground subject, the background will become wonderfully blurred.
Finally, try taking close-up shots of interesting features, and shoot from unusual angles such as low down or high up. Take lots of different shots until you find a perspective that works.
The key to shooting in busy cities is to capture interesting stories. With so many people and plenty of interesting architecture you’ll have a lot of photo opportunities.
Keep in mind the time of day and weather you shoot in, and the perspectives you shoot from. Don’t always go for the obvious shot.
Look for interesting light and shadows, venture out in bad weather, and look for vantage points that will give you a unique perspective.
Take advantage of windows of opportunity at different times of the day. This may require a bit of waiting and patience in order to isolate a subject for a few seconds, before another person or traffic obstructs the shot. Be sure to capitalize on those moments and enjoy capturing city life with your iPhone!
This is probably one of the best blog posts on here! Amazing photos, props to the photographer.
Kate Wesson says
Glad you enjoyed this tutorial Kathryn! 🙂
Kwe Bentum says
Thanks for your kind words, Kathryn!
Leonard Henry says
Is this touching any legal barriers ..ie security of city and certain areas ,using cameras with out permission ??