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Useful Tips for Urban Photography

Mrunal Belvalkar
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Same could be said about a good photograph. But what makes a photograph that effective? Let's see some useful urban photography tips.
Can you name one thing in this world that can capture a thought and make it immortal? Music and lyrics capture emotions, words capture ideas, but what is it that can capture a thought? It would have to be a photograph.
A photograph, just like a painting, can speak volumes without saying anything. It is a memory frozen in time, a poem written in colors. "No place is boring," said Robert Adams for Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques in May 1995, "if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film."

What Is Urban Photography

Urban photography is all about capturing on film the different components of urbanization, urban life, urban culture, urban people; in short, urban places and urban faces.
If you are making a word-cloud of all the words that come to your mind when we say the word 'urban', the cloud would contain such words as buildings, bridges, traffic, market, stores, lights, and of course, people. It would also contain some abstract words like noise, crowd, pollution.
However, the one thing that would be contained in the word-cloud and that would be significantly absent in its counterpart - a word cloud for 'rural' - that would be 'urban decay'.
Urban decay refers to the depiction of old, abandoned, dilapidated buildings, or ruins of buildings and other constructions. Urban photography is, hence, a type of photography that encompasses all the aspects of urban life - or life in a metro.

Some Useful Tips

Urban photography refers to capturing the elements of the urban life on camera. Every artist must devote to finding the beauty in the world that lies hidden from the eyes of the common man and make it visible to him. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and it is the artist's duty to realize this beauty and portray it in his works.
We may not realize the beauty in the form and structure of the world that lies around us, and of which we are all a part. We may not notice it in the drill of everyday life. But an artist does see it, and that is why he is an artist.
As an urban photographer, you must try to capture this beauty, this essence of life, and show it to the world.
Buildings signify urbanization. They are the single most stark contrast between the urban and the rural. Buildings may seem very dry and dull to us. But there lies beauty in this creation of man. The angles of a building, and the way light and shadow play hide and seek around their corners, all can make for wonderful picture.
Notice how the shadows have formed an interesting stripe-pattern on the entire building. It indeed looks very charming. Who would've thought a building could be depicted this way. Photographing buildings allows a great amount of space to experiment.
Imagine a picture of a really tall building as seen from a window on its top-most floor; it could well make a man with vertigo dizzy! The other end of the spectrum could be standing on the street and taking a shot of several towering building from ground-level.
Bridges also make rather interesting subjects. A bridge can vary in degree of architectural complexity and hence, in the degree of structures and patterns it is composed of. But the true beauty of bridges come out when the sun comes up. Even William Wordsworth could not help appreciating the sight when he saw it.
The soft morning rays of the sun that fall on bridges light them up in spectacular ways. As the sun continues to rise, light and shadow continue to cast their spell on the structures of the bridge and on the quiet waters that run beneath it. It is a mesmerizing view; It can surely take your breath away!
While photographing bridges, it would be a nice idea to try to capture this very play of light and shadow. Always try to focus on either the bridge or the backdrop. Trying different angles can add interesting perspective and great depth to your photography.
We tend to associate traffic with noise, headaches, pile-ups, and of course, being late for work, or even a date perhaps. Now could you imagine playing with colors and actually creating a mood in a photograph of the traffic? No, right? But doesn't the picture shown here manage to do just that.
In the given picture, blues of the atmosphere are perfectly interrupted by the red lights of the taxis lined up one behind the other. The picture manages to perfectly and simultaneously denote two contrasts - motion and stillness. The fact that it is a picture of vehicles make us think of 'travel'. But the taxis are all standing still.
Traffic allows us to capture 'motion'. Playing with the exposure could also add unique effects to your pictures. The blurred lights of vehicles zooming past your lens could make a stunning photograph.
Urban landscape photography is pretty much straightforward. Here, you can choose different heights to take a shot. The view of a city as seen from ground level, from atop a building, from a hill and from a chopper would be different and each would carry a different feel.
Landscape photography should aim at capturing expanses of the field. Taking a panorama shot could be a great idea too, while nighttime could also add to the elegance of an urban landscape, with all the lights twinkling like little stars! Another aspect of urban landscape could be urban decay photography.
Abandoned, deserted building could make for interesting landscapes. They can also be made into symbolic pictures. Urban decay photography - quite ironically - portrays the stark difference between the urban and rural life; nothing appears 'dead' on the rural backdrop, but an abandoned building looks more dead than a tree with no leaves.
An integral part of the urban life is electricity, and the night-scape of a city can almost make you feel like you are walking among the stars. Night-lights are the hardest to capture on camera, but probably the easiest and most fun to play around and experiment with.
Night lights look like colorful diamonds scattered on a black cloth... And if there is a water-body nearby, a lake, a river, it just serves as the icing on the cake.
Last, but not the least, it is the people that make a place; and so it would be unfair to leave out this aspect of photography. Urban life can be seen on the faces of those living it; the pros of it, the cons, the good parts, the not-so-good parts, the joy and happiness, along with the longing to be close to nature.
Photographing people in different moods, thinking, smiling, talking, doing different activities, walking, driving, could all make great subjects. Urban people and the lives they lead could in fact become an altogether different theme for photography.

A Final Word...

Being able to capture the essence of urban life through photography is the biggest task of an photographer. Identifying the peculiarities of your city, and capturing them on film, is where your skill lies.
There is a great deal of scope to add symbolism in urban photography, and each picture could be clicked to signify an aspect of urban life. Each picture could tell a story of its own...
Your task as an urban photographer is to choose the right story, or make people see your story in the right way, the way you want them to see it! It is an art, at the end of the day; something you can only learn the basics of, but something you have to develop on your own, as you, and your art and skill mature.