Photographing Cities Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing Cities Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Whether you live in a sleepy little town or a metropolis that overflows with humanity, your digital SLR can capture the heart and soul of your hometown. You can experiment with taking shots at night, when the city is dramatic or deserted, or during the daytime, when the residents and their activities make the city teem with vitality.

Photographing a city at night

For night photography, you create a time exposure with your digital SLR that shows fine detail of stationary objects, but cars moving through the scene show up as streaks of light.


Mount your camera on a tripod and don’t enable the image stabilization feature. Choose the Bulb shooting mode, which keeps the camera lens open until you release the shutter button. You need a remote device to trigger the shutter; otherwise, your finger on the shutter may transmit vibrations to the camera.

A small aperture — f/11 or smaller — limits the amount of light entering the camera. Use your camera’s lowest ISO setting to give you a properly exposed image in spite of the long exposure. The actual amount of time you leave the lens open depends on the amount of light in the scene. The camera’s histogram with the LCD monitor helps you determine whether the image is properly exposed. Use a wide angle to normal focal length — 28mm to 50mm. If you have lots of tall buildings in the foreground, choose a focal length wide enough to include the buildings on both sides of the street.

When you photograph a scene with bright lights, a star appears around each light. When you shoot with a smaller aperture (larger f/stop number), the star has more spikes.

If the most important part of your scene is not under the auto-focus point, you can move the camera using tripod controls until the focus point is where you want it. Press the remote switch to trigger the shutter button halfway to achieve focus, and then use the tripod lever to move the camera to the desired position.

Hold the shutter open for 10 to 15 seconds or even longer if there aren’t many street or building lights illuminated.

Photographing city street life

Photographing life on the streets with your digital SLR is exciting. Use the Continuous Drive mode and if you see something interesting happening — an impromptu street dance or a clandestine kiss — you can capture a sequence of images.

When you photograph a street scene, the people are the stars of the photograph; therefore you want to control depth of field, which means you use Aperture Priority mode and an aperture between f/4.0 and f/8.0. A focal length of 100mm or longer lets you zoom in on the scene without getting too close.


Be sure to get permission from anyone you photograph if they’re identifiable — or simply hold your camera in the air and smile. If the person smiles back, you have permission to take the picture. If your subject gives you a hard time, say you’re sorry and delete the photograph in front of him. Note that you won’t be able to use your photographs commercially without getting a model release.

Sometimes you can get great photos of store windows showing the people inside and the items for sale, plus you get a reflection of the surrounding area in the window. Be sure to photograph a window from an oblique angle so you don’t get your reflection in the picture.