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.”
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.
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.
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:
- A steady tripod. Open areas, hills, and roofs are always windy.
- 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.
- 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.
- Various filters. I use neutral-density and star filters.
2. “It’s not easy to find a unique angle, but once you do, you have your money shot.”
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.