Thursday, January 6, 2011

The City Scene...

~Abandoned Decay~
1/30 sec.@ F/5.6, ISO 250, 55mm fl, late day
overcast light, handheld, manual

Urban Decay, Street Photography, Cityscapes... call it what you will, it's one of my favorite genres to work in during the winter. All the different textures exposed, the perfect lines and aging patterns sometimes mingle with lightly falling snow, no crowds impeding your view.
I am particularly attracted to the aging buildings, and old alleyways. Why is that? There's so many handsome, historically restored buildings within the city, but it's scenes like the one posted above that draw me. Closed in, shadowy spaces, filled with wires that crisscross through the image, poles, grids, grates, and iron steps crawling the walls. I've often kept these images to myself, thinking there won't be many like me who'd appreciate the poetry seen within the vertical lines and gritty brick patterns, chipped with ancient paint, or new graffiti. You can't say there's no character within those walls, that's for sure. If you haven't already, I urge you to explore the city limits with your camera in hand!
So what do you need to remember when you decide to take the plunge into street photography? Here's a few things I learned, perhaps they'll help someone else get excited about exploring their city if they aren't already.
1) Use light to your advantage. Early morning side light can give real definition to brick, stone, and glass patterns. Cloudy or overcast days are good for detail, stormy and sunset skies are perfect backdrops for cityscape's in a wide lens. Warm late day light is great for illuminating angles, reflections, or including people on the street.
2) Vary your perspective. Get down low on the ground, use an ultra wide lens, and emphasize the sprawl of a classic piece of architecture. Find a position that lets you photograph looking down on a busy street or deserted alley at dusk. Lean against a soaring tower or condo and distort the receding stone pattern till it looks like it never ends. Use a telephoto and zone in on one rustic detail clinging to the side of an abandoned building.
3) Be safe! Certain locations or times of day require a photo buddy. And they can double as a model in a pinch. Never step backwards into traffic... if the angle you need is in the middle of the street, find yourself a crossing guard or find a new angle. Don't carry so much gear that you'd tempt being mugged for it... I was once asked why I don't carry a tripod in the city. It screams "female photographer with her hands too full, and her attention elsewhere!" On my own, shooting urban decay, I make sure I can raise my camera easily from around my neck or shoulder, and that my backpack is strapped on well. I never stay in one spot for too long bringing attention to myself, and if alone, I shoot in well populated areas. I know this all sounds like common sense, but I've heard stories to the contrary.
I hope this has been helpful in some way. I've met many a beginner that simply shot in every tourist location, and never considered anything but composing from eye level. Add a new element and watch your street photography come alive.
The image above can be enlarged by clicking over it and I'd be ever so pleased to hear what your thoughts are on the image or the topic that accompanies it...
thanks for letting me ramble, and have a good one!


  1. Some good points there! Being out in the county, I don't get to the city often enough, but I do enjoy shooting city shots. I also like your helpful hints, particularly don't step backward into traffic. Out where Iam I can lay in the middle of the road and have a better chance of being hit by a cow crossing the road...


  2. Hahahah about the cow Dave... and it may hurt more too! Thanks for the feedback, I've been asked a couple times now how I find it so easy to photograph in the city, so I thought I'd post something helpful for folks just starting out... have an awesome day!