Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking photos of architecture and cities
What to look for
The position from where you take your shot plays a bigger part in city and architectural photography than almost any other. That's largely because of the preponderance of straight lines in each scene.
Extreme wide angle
A wide-angle lens will help you get more of each vista into the frame. A lens' viewing angle is measured in millimetres, with smaller measurements translating to wider angles. Check the landscape category for more on how lens specifications translate to viewing angles, but in general, look for a lens that's equivalent to 24mm or less on a traditional 35mm camera for better results.
The best landscape camera will let you pair this with a narrow aperture, set using a dedicated aperture priority or manual mode. However, this is only half of the story. In cityscape photography, shutter speed also plays a very important role.
Longer exposures for cleaner results
A camera with a dedicated shutter priority mode lets you specify how long each frame is exposed. Shooting long exposures at night will allow you to capture stunning night-time illuminations and, during the day, blur out passing pedestrians. Setting a narrow aperture and a long exposure, combined with a low sensitivity setting, means that while immobile architectural features will be cleanly rendered in your finished frame, people passing by will be dim ghosts or appear to have been removed from the results entirely -- without any help from computer software such as Adobe Photoshop.
If you plan on shooting images of this sort, look for a camera with a dedicated mode selection wheel on the top of the body so you can switch between these settings. While many have separate positions on the wheels for shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, several combine them in one position marked PASM (program/aperture/shutter/manual). When turned to this position, you choose between the four modes using an on-screen menu.
If possible, check where the tripod mount sits in relation to the memory card slot. Often it's positioned too close to the door that covers this slot and the battery, which means you'll need to unscrew your camera when you need to change the card. That's needlessly fiddly if you're shooting at dusk or after sundown.
If you're really serious about architectural photography, opt for a dSLR and save up for a tilt/shift lens. Although much more expensive than a conventional lens, these hinged elements let you correct the converging lines you'll find hard to avoid in any architectural shots, where the upper parts of a building converge and the parts closest to the pavement -- and your position -- flare out.
You can also use a tilt/shift when shooting from above to throw all but a small portion of your frame out of focus. This creates a miniature effect that makes your cityscape look like a model.
If you're set on shooting cityscapes head-on and want to capture a broad tranche of the scene before you, invest in a compact camera with a dedicated panorama mode. The best of these allow you to sweep across the scene while they take care of stitching together and colour-correcting the scene.
Architectural photography wish list
- Wide-angle lens
- Narrow minimum aperture
- Manual aperture control
- Panorama mode
- Tilt/shift lens for the dedicated (and rich) city photographer