Explore with these five pro photographers as they share their favorite stories and tips for capturing unique and stunning skylines in cities across the globe.

In the 1930s, Berenice Abbott captured a fresh vision of New York City and forever changed the field of cityscape photography. Whether she was peeking out from the top of the Empire State Building or looking at that iconic Manhattan skyline from the Fulton Street Dock, she never failed to engage her audience with unexpected, and sometimes dizzying, perspectives. Now, more than eighty years later, trailblazing photographers continue to take intriguing pictures of the world’s most beautiful cities.

The best skyline photographs today do the same thing Abbott’s did last century: they surprise us. While making a truly original cityscape photo might seem daunting, it can be done. We talked to five outstanding Shutterstock contributors who told us all about their adventures in chasing light and composing shots of skylines in the United States, Europe, and South America. They also shared their best tips for making your own photos in any city on Earth.

1. “When it comes to cityscapes, it’s important to seek out unusual combinations and unexpected forms.”

Marianna Ianovska

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Seek Unusual Combinations

Image by Marianna Ianovska. Gear: Nikon D5100 camera, Nikon 18-135mm f/4-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 52mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f9.0; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I am a romantic at heart. I see cities as big, living organisms. They breathe, move, vibrate, and flicker. I like to find places where I can stop and simply watch the movement of a city. I climb roofs, balconies, and hills to find unique images. In my opinion, you just can’t find these shapes by using a drone. Drones tend to capture a more general view, without the special geometry you can find by climbing to an unexpected vantage point.

I took this photo at sunset from a hill in Rio de Janeiro. It is a panorama of ten vertical frames. As I climbed the hill, the sky and the clouds began to change, and I saw rain was on the way. It was a magnificent time! I ran two kilometers uphill to get there in time. When I finally reached the top, the light had almost left, but I did get to make several photos before the sun disappeared. Sometimes you make plans, but nature has other ideas for you. Be mobile and ready to adapt.

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Find New Takes on the Ordinary

Image by Marianna Ianovska. Gear: Nikon D7200 camera, Sigma 8-16mm f/4-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 8mm; exposure 1 sec; f11.0; ISO 125.

Pro Tip

I know that many photographers prefer dawn, but my favorite times to shoot cityscapes is during a sunset or right after a sunset, when the city seems to sparkle. It’s more deserted at sunrise, but in the evening, you get all the dynamic movement of illuminated cars and people hurrying home from work. That’s another reason I choose to climb buildings rather than use a drone; from a roof or a balcony, you can capture all those magic details.

When it comes to cityscapes, it’s important to seek out unusual combinations and unexpected forms. Wherever you are, try to look at ordinary things in a new way. Even when there are observation decks in the city I’m photographing, I chose not to use them because there have been thousands of other photographs taken from that perspective. Look for open verandas, roofs, or cafe terraces.

Here’s a list of the equipment you’ll need:

  1. A steady tripod. Open areas, hills, and roofs are always windy.
  2. A wide-angle lens. This is my favorite lens for cityscapes. These lenses will help you to capture all of the dynamics of the city. At the expense of some sharpness, you will manage to include all the details in one picture.
  3. A long-focus lens. These lenses will allow you to draw the viewer’s attention to details like a stained-glass window, an unusual lamppost, a city park bench, or an ancient staircase.
  4. Various filters. I use neutral-density and star filters.

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2. “It’s not easy to find a unique angle, but once you do, you have your money shot.”

Rudy Balasko

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Look for New Angles

Image by Rudy Balasko. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 30 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The city always inspires me. I kept going to this particular location in Hamburg, Germany, and I knew I had to photograph it from above to get a unique angle. I knew exactly the right spot, and one day, I just went for it. I got all the way to the top of the building across the street and got my shot. Success. It was satisfying to accomplish it. My job was done, and I could move on to another project.

Pictured: [1] Rudy Balasko [2] Rudy Balasko

Pro Tip

It’s not easy to find a unique angle, but once you do, you have your money shot. I spend time observing how the city lives and how people function. This usually generates some ideas. It is also helpful to keep shooting your location during different seasons. The time of year can play a big role in cityscape photography. Weather can be unpredictable, and you never know how a group of skyscrapers will look after a sudden summer storm unless you’re ready to capture it.

You need to have some knowledge of the construction sites in any given city before you photograph it. You do not want to fly all the way from the US to shoot the historical city of Rome, Italy, only to learn that the Spanish Steps are under construction for the next two years. I always check out the sunrise and sunsets for each location as well. Every city is unique, and the final result can change dramatically depending on whether you’re shooting in the morning, during the day, or at blue hour. Always think ahead, and don’t stop chasing the light.

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3. “Once you’re on location, walk a lot to find new, creative perspectives.”

Maciej Bledowski

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Walk to Explore

Image by Maciej Bledowski. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/50 sec; f8; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Last year, I spent one week exploring New York City. I wandered through both well-known and untapped places, trying to find a spot that would give me an interesting capture of natural and urban elements coexisting. There are so many parks in NYC, but I wanted to capture Central Park with its iconic surroundings. I took this picture during an incredible afternoon after a really long, rainy, and gray day. For just a few moments, the sun painted the buildings with its golden glow.

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Take Your Time

Image by Maciej Bledowski.

Pro Tip

My tips are simple but effective. Before leaving home, scrutinize the best stock photo galleries, and be aware of what is in there already. That will help you to make shots that are different. Study maps of your points of interest to select potential shooting spots; Google Street View is a fantastic tool. Once you’re on location, walk a lot to find new, creative perspectives. When you visit the most popular tourist destinations, however, that might be nearly impossible, but try to include some unique elements to add something of “yours” to the photos.

Do your legal homework. In other words, be sure to do the necessary paperwork and obtain a property release where it is required. Do not limit yourself to blue hour. Rainy or stormy skies can add a dramatic mood to your pictures, while midday sun with harsh shadows might also work on some occasions.

4. “The most important thing for me is scouting the place like a tourist during the day, checking for angles and compositions.”

RomanSlavik.com

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Scout Like a Tourist

Image by RomanSlavik.com. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f9; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

It was a challenge to create a Brooklyn Bridge picture with no one around. Everyone knows about the insane traffic here; there are people walking, cycling, and running all day. I had this picture in my mind for a long time. I wanted the sunrise to be illuminating the Brooklyn Bridge, with a view of Lower Manhattan in the same shot.

My solution was to wake up at 4:00 AM. I was among two runners and one policeman on the bridge in the early morning. The beautiful light gave me about fifteen minutes of shooting time. I cannot describe moments like this: a beautiful scene with almost no people around. I love that time when the city is waking up.

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Arrive Early

Image by RomanSlavik.com.

Pro Tip

Before every photo trip, I do some homework with Google Maps, Street View, SunCalc, and other tools that can help me get to know the location better. The most important thing for me is scouting the place like a tourist during the day, checking for angles and compositions. It’s great to be ready when the right light arrives, since it will not last forever. I plan to shoot early in the morning or at the time around sunset.

Keep in mind: everything comes with patience. You are not in a studio where you can simulate almost any lighting conditions you can imagine. Weather can be unfathomable. Try to give even unexpected weather conditions a second chance. When it is cloudy, you’ll have the chance to get a fiery sky just after sunset!

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5. “The best time to shoot is around blue hour, when the city lights are on and there is still some ambient light illuminating the buildings.”

Engel Ching

Five Photographers on Shooting City Skylines Around the World — Think About Light

Image by Engel Ching. Gear: DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/40 sec; f2.8; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I love this photo because it captures a unique perspective of San Francisco at the perfect moment between blue hour and sunrise. This is an aerial photo taken with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone on a December morning with intense, colorful skies.

Pictured: [1] Engel Ching [2] Engel Ching

Pro Tip

The best time to shoot is around blue hour, when the city lights are on and there is still some ambient light illuminating the buildings. Finding new compositions in a city like San Francisco can be quite a challenge, but I love exploring new vantage points by exploring the city on foot or taking aerial photographs from a helicopter or drone. It’s worth noting that taking photos for commercial purposes, such as stock photography, requires an FAA Part 107 license.

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Top Image by Maciej Bledowski.