Shoot Better Cityscapes

Cityscape of New York City Skyline at dusk

Cityscape of New York City Skyline at dusk

With the recent explosion of photo-sharing sites on the web, it seems that landscape photography is at an all-time high. I’m consistently blown away by the caliber of imagery I see being captured the world over on a daily basis. Along with this ever-present promotion of far-flung, corner-of-the-world places comes the desire to travel to the ends of the earth to capture the most dramatic image of places few knew existed.

Did you know that over half of the world population lives in urban areas, however? This means that over 3.5 billion of us live in or near cities. Which means it’s time to polish up on those cityscape skills of yours! I enjoy shooting these concrete jungles, and with a little practice, you might find they begin to occupy a gaping hole in your travel portfolio. Read on for a few tips on how to shoot better cityscape images!

1. Shoot at Dawn and/or Dusk
This is the no-brainer, super straight-forward, can’t go wrong tip. Dawn and dusk (just before sunrise and just after sunset) are the periods of day and night when the ambient (existing) light balances with the artificial light from buildings, street lamps, cars, etc. The sky turns a deep, rich blue or indigo, the city lights pop and…VOILA! Instant cityscape! Take note that you will need a sturdy tripod and be practiced up on your long exposure shooting. Many of these images are in the range of 5 – 20 seconds, so you must take special care not to bump the camera, thus rendering the image soft.

Cityscape image of Vancouver, BC

Cityscape image of Vancouver, BC

2. Provide Some Context 
Rather than just shoot frame-filling city, why not include a bit of context in the image. Take this example of Vancouver. With its beautiful walking trails winding through coastal bays, Vancouver is a thriving urban area intertwined with spectacular natural surroundings. Consider different ways to frame and present the city that you’re shooting—these types of images can be especially attractive to magazines and other editorial outlets.

Cityscape image of Seattle with storm clouds at sunset as shot from Alki Beach

Cityscape image of Seattle with storm clouds at sunset as shot from Alki Beach

3. Search Out Dramatic Weather 
While I could put this tip in nearly every one of my blog posts regarding so many different types of shooting, I feel it is especially true with cityscapes. Many times, we find ourselves shooting cityscapes from iconic locations. These locations are popular for a reason, as often times they offer the best views and vantage points. This means it is not entirely uncommon to come away with an image that is quite similar to so many others out there. The one separating factor when shooting from these iconic locations that we can utilize to our advantage is dramatic weather. This image, taken from Alki Beach near Seattle, WA is nothing revolutionary in and of itself. However, I was fortunate to be rewarded with a stormy sunset, which separates it from many of the other images shot from this location.

Cityscape image of San Francisco's Painted Ladies at dusk

Cityscape image of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies at dusk

4. Compress the Scene for Heightened Visual Interest 
Many city overlooks feature impressive foreground and background subject matter. This serves as the perfect opportunity to pull out a telephoto lens and compress the scene. By compressing the scene, we are effectively pulling the background in very tight to our foreground, thus adding depth and dimensionality to our images which gives the viewer a much more three dimensional experience when viewing the image.

Travel image of downtown Partenkirchen, Germany at dusk

Travel image of downtown Partenkirchen, Germany at dusk

5. Use a Tilt-shift Lens for Creative Control 
The tilt-shift look has become increasingly popular of late. Just bring up your Instagram feed and see how many images come up with that snow globe, dream-like feel. It’s likely that most of those images have been given the effect after capture, but if you happen to have a tilt-shift lens in your arsenal, you can capture this type of image upon clicking the shutter button. Without getting overly technical, tilt-shift lenses let you keep a “slice” of the image in focus, thus drawing the viewer’s attention to a particular part of the frame that is different, and (at times) far more effective than just shooting at shallow apertures. Given you use it modestly, this effect can be super fun, and serves as a great alternative to shooting a traditional cityscape image.

Fine art travel image of East Jerusalem, Israel in black and white

Fine art travel image of East Jerusalem, Israel in black and white

6. See in Black and White
As is apparent in this post, it seems most of the cityscape images we see are in color. However, many cities present themselves exceptionally well in monochrome. This hazy late evening image of East Jerusalem is one such example. Next time you come home from shooting cityscapes, try processing a select few in black & white. This might help you to “see” BW cityscapes in the future.

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7. Try Something New
As I say with most every tutorial I write, try shedding the above “rules” of shooting better cityscapes and let your heart and creative vision guide you. Try a new angle, a new time of day or night or a different lens. Look for new and intriguing ways to capture your city. Save up some money and book a helicopter for a completely different view of what’s below. Find something that excites you, and then run with it. Good luck!

11 Best of 2011 from AdamBarkerPhotography

2011 was a spectacular year on all accounts. Foot upon foot of pow skied, fish from Wyoming to the Bahamas hooked, festivals in the far corners of the earth, ancient pathways crossed–all contributed to what could perhaps be one of my most productive years behind the lens. Cliche as it may be, I can’t help but look back in review and share some of my favorites from the past year.  As always, many thanks to my sponsors: Arc’teryx, Suunto, Mark Miller Subaru, Mountain Khakis, Manfrotto School of Xcellence, Clikelite Backpacks and Singh Ray Filters. Hope you all enjoy, and here’s to an even better 2012! (click on images to view larger versions)

1. Jesse Hall takes a moment to ponder human flight, as he stands inside the hot air balloon from which he’ll subsequently launch himself into gravity’s liberating grasp. Park City, UT.

2. Angler Al Chidester finds himself surrounded by all that is good in this world: fresh air, fall foliage…and fantastic fishing in some of western Wyoming’s most treasured water.

3. Fire and rain over Warm Creek Bay, Lake Powell, UT.

4. Hazy skies make for ethereal and ancient interpretations of East Jerusalem, Israel.

5. First light envelopes Agua Canyon in a glow only Mother Nature could furnish. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT.

6. Ralph Lauren’s Double RL Ranch shows its true colors in crisp early morning light. Dallas Divide, CO.

7. Angler Geoff Mueller admires a healthy bonefish (caught and released) in Abaco Island’s skinniest of water.

8. Calm in the chaos of Hanoi traffic, Vietnam.

9. Bavaria’s finest color smiles upon a lone farmer’s shed in the fields near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

10. Skier Drew Stoecklein can, in fact turn right. At just the right time. In just the right place. Alta Backcountry, UT.

11. Angler Geoff Mueller and Oliver White tense up as they ply the waters off Abaco Island for huge permit.

Recap: Bavaria Photo Workshop

Curious cows. Captured during an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I’ve been back from Germany now for a week or so, but it feels like just yesterday that I was dining on schnitzel and watching the sun rise and set over some of the more fantastic shooting locations I’ve experienced behind the lens. This workshop was conducted in cooperation with the Edelweiss Lodge & Resort, located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The facilities were great, and as a vacation resort catering solely to our United States Military service men and women (and spouses), it was a pleasure to be amongst so many that contribute on a daily basis to the freedom that we enjoy in this great country.

Photographer Adam Barker with student during Germany Photo Workshop p: Brad Hayes

Garmisch is quintessential storybook Germany. When you think of spending time in a classic German setting, you’re thinking of Garmisch-Partenkirchen–you just don’t realize it. Aesthetic church steeples, colorful window flowerboxes, quaint chalets with painted murals on the walls, cobblestone streets, beer steins served full to the brim with the best Bavarian brews, towering limestone peaks, lush green farm fields and rolling valleys, misty mornings, and yes–guys sporting their lederhosen loud and proud–it’s all there, and it’s all a part of every day life in this unique part of the world.

Endless shooting opportunities on an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Needless to say, there was no lack of photographic subject matter. If anything, there were times when it was all a bit overwhelming–difficult, even, to capture in multiple clicks of the shutter. I taught two 3-day workshops back to back (14 and 17 students respectively). Mother nature was here and there and…everywhere. The weather in Garmisch moves in and out quicker that you can imagine, and thus–we needed to be flexible with our schedule. The students were fantastic, all very open to changes in schedule and shooting location. I was fortunate to be paired up with Edelweiss Dir. of Marketing Brad Hays, a legit photographer in his own right. Brad has lived in the area for ten years, and was indispensable in helping me to become familiar with the locations and shooting options.

Workshop students at an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I quickly found that sunrise and sunset were a crapshoot on any given morning or evening. The weather was always in and out, which really, was much more desirable than clear blue skies each morning/evening. Many times we would arrive at a location, shrouded in dawn mist, only to be spat out of the clouds minutes later witnessing rose-colored peaks in the distance with rolling farm fields in the foreground. I discovered that the minutes and hours just after sunrise, and leading up to sunset were the most reliable for direct light. We did have one or two morning and evening shoots where the clouds just exploded with color, and it was a riot to see eager photographers scrambling every which way trying to capitalize on the gift from above.

Farmer's shed and Bavarian Alps at an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The landscape was ideal for mid to long focal length shots. Wide angle images were just a bit tougher to come by as there wasn’t an overabundance of foreground objects to plant in the immediate in-your-face foreground. Curious cows, of course, were the rare exception, if you could persuade them to stand still! We worked extensively on finding dynamic compositions, and balancing the light that made for challenging exposures at times. It was the ideal setting to instruct everyone on how to use Singh Ray Filters to capture the scene as our eyes saw it. It’s always amazing to see the light bulb go on when students finally overcome the hurdles that have challenged them in their photography.

Students at an AdamBarkerPhotography photo workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

All in all, and despite some particularly inclement weather for the second workshop, it was a fantastic experience (see attendee comments on the workshop below). I hope to return to Garmisch-Partenkirchen again some time–it looks to be a stunning photography location during the fall season! Are you interested in having a spectacular time learning how to take you photographic skills and creative vision to the next level? I’ve got domestic and international workshops/photo tours coming up this fall that are calling your name! Check out my workshop at the upcoming Telluride Photo Festival, or travel across the pond to the Far East with myself and M&M Photo Tours during our Southeast Asia photo tour.

Misty morning shoot near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany during an AdamBarkerPhotography Workshop

Bavaria Workshop Attendee Comments:

“Adam Barker is a fantastic instructor. So much energy and passion for photography. He was very patient with everyone
and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. I truly enjoyed this workshop and would attend another Adam Barker workshop if
you bring him back.”

“All I can say, it was an awesome workshop and will do it again if Adam comes back!”

“Let’s just say there was no bad memories. Garmisch, Adam Barker and Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. It was a win-win-win
situation…”

“The additional evening shoot that we did on Friday night was incredible. It really left me excited and inspired to get out
and really focus more on my photography. It was truly a fantastic workshop. Adam Barker was INCREDIBLE!”

Hello from Bavaria!

Domed Church, Garmisch, Germany

Or Garmisch-Partenkirchen to be more exact. It’s been far too long since checking in on the blog, and I’ve finally got a moment to share just a few images from this spectacular part of the world.

The Overlook

I’ve had a couple of days to scout the greater Garmisch-Partenkirchen region and I can say, without a doubt, that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. This Bavarian Alps are overwhelmingly beautiful, with jaw-dropping vistas around every corner. It takes focus and just a bit of tunnel vision at times to capture even a piece of this gorgeous natural puzzle.

Curious Cow, Geroldsee

I’ve been fortunate to have Brad along from the beggining. Having lived here for the past ten years, he’s been an invaluable resource in showing me some of his favorite shooting locations. We’ve even found a couple of new ones for him to throw on his bucket list.

Partenkirchen at Dusk

The first of two three-day workshops begins in a couple of hours, and I’m looking forward to helping all the attendees improve their photography in one of the most photogenic locales I’ve ever visited. Check back soon for more images. Cheers!