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Uncover the City’s Character with Urban Landscape Photography

March 13, 2015 1:41 pm

Landscapes aren’t all views of green, lush, rolling hills or waves lapping upon a warm, sandy beach. In fact, some of the most interesting landscapes exist within the urban jungles of New York, Boston, and other big cities. Urban landscapes, Manhattan especially, contain just as much drama and dynamic interest as landscapes that are more rural. Add into that the almost constant human presence in urban landscapes and the potential to capture unique and layered images during urban photography is undeniable. Set out on an urban adventure with camera in hand and re-examine the landscape with a new perspective that uncovers the hidden beauty of the city.

Distant Skyline

The best way to photograph a city skyline is by distancing yourself from the city center and finding a location where you can capture the best view of the skyscrapers and bridges. An ideal way to do this in NYC is by taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which not only gives you distance, it also presents the opportunity to capture elements including the water and ferry along with the Manhattan skyline. Nonetheless, take the time to compose your shot so your images don’t appear to be carbon copies of the view seen on every tourist postcard available in gift shops. Experiment with different lenses and look for a new angle. Study the skyline until you find a perspective that isn’t as familiar to residents and visitors.

Touch of Green

One of the amazing aspects of urban landscapes is the way that the beauty of trees and grass in the parks survive amid the city jungle of concrete and glass. Central Park exists as a green vista surrounded by towering skyscrapers and  Bryant Park can be overlooked but the photo opportunities in such locations are endless for an insightful photographer. When in Central Park, compose shots that contain the green of the park, the city skyline, and the human element. The layering of those elements results in an image that reveals the complexity of urban landscapes. Take a moment or several to pause in Washington Square Park and capture the contrast of the trees in spring bloom against the buildings or the architecture of the Arch and skyline against an early spring sky. It’s important to remember as a photographer that the best time to take a shot is the moment you see it because the light and composition are never quite the same when you come back.

Multi-level City Views

The appearance of a city changes depending on how you’re looking at it. Urban landscapes have multiple levels of interest and exploring them on your photographic journey gives you a new appreciation for your surroundings. Manhattan possesses geography unique from other cities due to an island location that has forced it to grow upward instead of outward. The watery surroundings filled with boats and bridges add a stunning contrast to the buildings rising into the sky. When you shoot only from street level, it limits your landscape to a narrow, shadowed view of the canyon created by the buildings that rise around you. These types of images are certainly viable and contain their own character, but you need to expand your view. Seek out a mid-level location for a better, more intimate perspective in your images, as you exist within the city and not above it looking down. This vantage is especially effective following sunset when there’s still enough light in the sky to see the buildings as their interior lighting gives them a gentle glow. Do research to find the best mid-level views and when you find them, achieve a feeling of space by using a wide-angle lens for some shots.

Interior Landscapes

In Manhattan, the opportunities to capture urban landscapes are just as prominent inside as they are outside. With so many historical buildings and locations, going inside uncovers a new world full of energy, life, and the human moments Manhattan excels at. One of the most photogenic and energetic interior landscapes of Manhattan exists within Grand Central Terminal where there’s always something interesting happening when you take the time to see it. Capture a sense of movement in your shots by using a long shutter speed that blurs people in motion while capturing in sharp relief those that pause just long enough within frame to serve as anchors in the composition.

Urban landscapes like those found in the colorful expanse of New York City are just as stunning as and more thought provoking than their rural counterparts. As part of that urban landscape for almost 40 years, Baboo Digital is dedicated to helping you print, frame, mount, and display your city images in vivid, high-quality detail. What’s your favorite place to capture our diverse, urban landscape? Share it with us in the comments below.

Photo Credit: JulieAnn Corbin