How to create a cityscape at home

THE MISSION

To create a city skyline made from office supplies

Time: One hour

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: D-SLR, Sturdy tripod

Office supplies: Black acrylic board, Black fabric, Table lamp

Sometimes we all sit at our desks and daydream, wondering “What if I was somewhere else right now?” Looking down at the bits and bobs around us, we might fiddle with pens and paper, bend paperclips into different shapes, perhaps doodling where we can. 

Well, how about letting your imagination run riot and turning those everyday objects into epic miniature scenes? For this fun photography project, you really don’t need anything more than an eye for detail, an anglepoise lamp and a decent stationery supply. Pick up a stack of staples and stand them up on a desk, and they turn into a skyscraper. What about creating Seattle’s famous Space Needle? A bolt and a couple of washers work fine to achieve the look. It really doesn’t take a lot to create a convincing miniature city. The only other things you need are some acrylic board (we bought ours from eBay) and the aforementioned desk lamp. 

Here’s what you need to do in order to create a city skyline of your own design – planning permission not required…

STEP BY STEP: Build a table-top city

QUICK TIP!

Fancy getting advanced? Put up a backdrop that you’ve printed out. Find a photo of some sky with clouds billowing above and put that behind your skyline for a ‘daytime’ shot

1 GO BACK TO BLACK

To make this shot work effectively we need a clean, distraction-free backdrop that removes reflections and puts emphasis on the office supplies we use to create the skyline. Black fabric, especially velvet, is perfect for this. Prop it up behind on a stand, or tape it to the wall.

2 INTRODUCE A REFLECTION

Mimic the water reflections that you find along a river on the edge of a city skyline. We used a black acrylic board to make a seamless join between the ground and the backdrop. It’s also easier to see the reflections in black acrylic as opposed to a coloured or white board.

3 ARRANGE YOUR OFFICE SUPPLIES 

Get a variety of office supplies to make interesting shapes. There are classic objects you’ll keep coming back to because they work so well. Staples make great skyscrapers, with each staple mimicking a floor on a building. Screws, nuts and bolts also make great shapes.

4 LIGHT THE SCENE

To keep things simple, we only need to use a single lamp to one side. We went camera-right. The light cascading from the side casts shadows across the front of the staples and screws and so highlights the textures of the objects, enhancing the ‘big city’ feel. 

CROP IN

A quick composition tip is to try some close-ups. Get closer, or crop in later on your computer, to remove parts of the image. See if you can create any interesting shapes and abstracts this way – you may end up with a shot that looks even more realistic than the whole scene.

5 GET IN CLOSE 

A close-focusing lens is a must with this shot, but fortunately even a 50mm lens will focus close enough. A macro lens is ideal, but longer focal length macros, such as 90mm, mean you’ll have to get quite far back to fit the scene in, depending on how big your skyline is.

6 SET A SMALL APERTURE

With our camera on a tripod and manual mode selected, we set an aperture of f/8 (at ISO200) to increase depth of field (because a shallow depth of field tells our brain that it’s a small-scale model). We then adjusted the shutter speed until our scene was correctly exposed.