“Yesterday and tomorrow cross and mix on the skyline,” poet Carl Sandburg wrote in his poemHaze. The world’s cities are at their most beautiful in those in-between hours, just as the sun tucks beneath the clouds at casts a golden hue over the silhouetted skyline.
When people leave big cities, it’s often the skyline they miss the most when they think of home. More specifically, it’s the skyline at night, when the windows are alight with the goings on of millions of people winding down after a long day.
When photographers capture famous skylines, they must tap into that sense of familiarity and homesickness; a good skyline photo must be instantly recognizable. A great skyline photograph is also surprising. We asked five talented skyline photographers to tell us about finding something new in some of the world’s most photographed cities. Here, they share their favorite stories and some tips for emerging artists.
“Be real and sell your photos at the market rates. Never for free.”
I remember shooting the Manhattan skyline and the Williamsburg bridge at night, somewhere in Brooklyn. I accidentally “stepped” into a sinkhole next to the Hudson River. It was way deeper than my height! After an initial moment of shock, and after crawling out of it, I realized my phone was still in the hole, under a foot of water. I jumped back in, attempting to rescue it. No chance! I had to walk back to my car, through the civilized world, all wet and muddy but happy nothing worse happened that night. Anyway, it always feels good to have good reason to upgrade your phone to the latest model!
<a href="https://www.shutterstock.com/pic-210557932?pl=CONTENT-blog&cr=nightskylinetips&utm_source=CONTENT&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=nightskylinetips&utm_campaign=blog">Image by mandritoiu</a>
<a href="https://www.shutterstock.com/pic-319480229?pl=CONTENT-blog&cr=nightskylinetips&utm_source=CONTENT&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=nightskylinetips&utm_campaign=blog">Image by mandritoiu</a>
Tip: I wish I had someone to tell me to stop spending years on Flickr seeking “comments” and “faves.” Wasting time with that vicious circle of “I liked your photo, so please like mine.”
I also wish I had someone to open up my eyes and explain me that there is no reason to be proud when someone is interested in “publishing” my work for free in exchange for “exposure.” My advice for others is to stop seeking “fame” through social media; stop dreaming your photos will become viral, and stop dreaming that ego-flattering sites like Facebook, Flickr or Instagram will make you a famous and wealthy photography superstar.
Be real and sell your photos at the market rates. Never for free. You will be better off and more satisfied at the end of the day. The appreciation of people paying real money for your work is infinitely more valuable than those meaningless likes, faves, “Great Work,” “Awesome shot,” or “Breathtaking photo” comments you get on social media!
“Never shoot when the light is harsh”
“My favorite time to shoot skylines is at the so-called ‘Blue Hour,’ which happens after sunset, when the sky gets a nice blue hue. This is also when the buildings’ lights are turned on, hence a beautiful contrast between the city lights and the blue sky. The blue hour is very short, especially in Dubai, where I am based. It lasts for about ten minutes.
My most memorable experience was the first time I shot the fog in Dubai. Dubai has such high skyscrapers that you can get amazing views of these tall buildings rising over the fog. And the city lights are so colorful and strong that it gives an amazing spectrum of colors, lighting the fog from below.”
Tip: “As for any landscape photography, light and composition are the key elements. Never shoot when the light is harsh; go out shooting as much as you can; experiment with different camera settings. Get inspiration from photo sharing websites such as 500px. Also, the use of long exposures will give a very special mood. It’s all about composition and light.”
“Keep on having fun. Explore. Try new stuff.”
My favorite memory is that time in Shanghai when a friend and I climbed on top of my old apartment building and spent an hour shooting the sunset with a 360 degree view of the city, slowly seeing the sky change to night and enjoying the city lights.
Image by leungchopan
Image by leungchopan
Pictured:  Image by leungchopan  Image by leungchopan
Tip: “Don’t always use only one shooting setting and post-processing setting. Always try something new. You will improve more quickly.”
“I don’t hesitate to visit the famous vistas and photograph those well-known compositions.”
“Rather than avoid clichés, I actually embrace them. I don’t hesitate to visit the famous vistas and photograph those well-known compositions. Weather variations and time of day will make your photo unique, even if it’s a well-worn composition. However, in addition to the cliché shots, I always strive to find something original. Once I’ve pinpointed a spot, I may have to request permission from building managers to gain access, rent a hotel room with that specific view, or even conduct a little urban exploration.”
Image by Sean Pavone
Pictured: Image by Sean Pavone
Tip: “The biggest challenge with night shots is mostly technical. With long shutter speeds, a heavy gust of wind or shaky flooring can ruin a shot. There are also lighting issues, such as flare or overblown highlights that arise when shooting into bright city lights. After waiting 30 seconds or more to check the result for a single exposure, it can be frustrating to see the image turned out unusable. Therefore, really thinking out your composition and anchoring down your camera is a must. There is also the issue of large crowds. Sometimes many other photographers will be there, so you may need to arrive well before sunset to secure a spot.”