10 tips for urban city shots: take amazing architecture images with your camera

Canon
(Image credit: Future)

Architecture photography is a fantastic way of finding new spots around your favorite cities and taking incredible imagery of quaint old buildings, towering skyscrapers, places of worship, cobbled streets and much more. 

It's a great way to get out with your camera, whether you're photographing your hometown or away on a day trip visiting an interesting city. You'll want to keep your eyes peeled for interesting views and angles of buildings, and you'll also like want the best travel camera (opens in new tab) and the best lenses for street photography (opens in new tab)

Taking great city shots can be a bit trickier than might first seem and that's why this month we teamed up with a reader of PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab), Zoe Kirkbride, for a masterclass in cityscape photography with Canon pro Adam Bulley (opens in new tab) in the magical city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

• These are the best places to visit in Scotland for photography (opens in new tab)

Adam is a professional landscape photographer based in Edinburgh. Over the years, he’s discovered some fantastic spots to take photographs and regularly runs photography workshops in Edinburgh, teaching others the skills he’s learned over the years at some of the most photogenic Scottish locations. We met up with him in the early evening to capture the magical city transforming from day to night.

1. Starting settings

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Using the Manual exposure mode (opens in new tab), Adam set Zoe’s camera to begin with an aperture of f/8 for good depth of field throughout the scene; f/8 is also often one of the sharpest apertures to use on many lenses. He set the ISO to 100 as it was daylight and there was plenty of light available; this low setting would also ensure the best image quality. This only left the shutter speed, which was set to around 1/80 sec using the histogram as a guide, though this setting would be changed if images appeared too bright or dark.

2. Electronic level

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A wonky horizon is the first thing the viewer will spot when looking at your cityscapes and landscapes. Luckily, most Canon cameras come with a built-in electronic spirit level that you can use to straighten up your photographs. It works great in Live View, too, because it’s overlaid on top of your image. Pressing the Info button a few times usually activates the electronic level and you see the line turn green when your composition is totally horizontal, so give it a go!

3. Wide-angle zoom lens

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Adam uses a wide-angle focal length on his Canon EOS 5DS R (opens in new tab) with his Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM (opens in new tab) and Sigma 14mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (opens in new tab) lenses. Anything wider than 50mm on a full frame is considered a wide angle, and focal lengths such as 14mm or 16mm are considered super-wide, enabling you to squeeze even more of the scene into your composition. On APS-C sensor Canons like Zoe’s EOS 77D, a lens such as an EF-S 10-22mm is more equivalent to a 16-35mm lens, due to the 1.6x crop factor.

4. Highlight alert

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Adam enabled the Highlight Alert on both his and Zoe’s cameras, which gives a visual cue if any bright parts of your images, such as skies, have clipped to pure white. This means the image plays back briefly on the screen and any burned-out areas flash black momentarily, so you know data has been lost in this part and you can adjust your camera settings accordingly to underexpose and retain the sky detail in the next frame.

5. Look for lead-in lines

(Image credit: Adam Bulley)

Get creative with your composition setups (opens in new tab). In this image, Adam got as close to the railings as possible to include them in the frame and add some strong foreground interest as well as using the lead-in lines from the fence to pull the eye into the frame towards the middle of the image. Look out for lead-in lines when composing your cityscapes and use them to point the viewer’s eye towards an important focal point in your scene.

6. Expand your dynamic range

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Even the best cameras can struggle to capture a full range of tones in a single image, often leading to highlights in the skies being blown out or deep shadows becoming totally black with no detail. The solution is to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, by using the Auto Bracketing feature on your Canon to take multiple exposures, both over and underexposed. You can then merge them together in software to create a single image with a wider range of tones, from bright highlights to rich shadows.

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Adam took three exposures, one standard, another two stops underexposed, and a final shot two stops over exposed and merged them into a High Dynamic Range image in Photoshop for a greater range of tones from deep shadows to bright highlights. (Image credit: Adam Bulley)

7. Telephoto zoom lens

Canon

(Image credit: Future)

Adam prefers to use telephoto lenses over wide-angle ones as they compress the perspective, so your focal point doesn’t become lost like it would in a composition that was too wide. He uses the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM (opens in new tab) with his Canon DSLR, although he also has a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM (opens in new tab) that he uses on his mirrorless EOS R5 (opens in new tab) when he needs a super-long telephoto lens.

8. Take a picture of your hand for panoramas and HDRs

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When taking a series of shots that you’d like to merge together in software, whether it’s for a panorama or HDR, it’s a great idea to take a picture of your hand at the start and end of your sequence. This gives a clear reference point when you come to edit the photos later on, and you can quickly select all of the images bookmarked by your hand images so you can find and edit them fast.

9. Try shooting low to the ground

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Don’t just take shots at head or waist height – pro tripods have different leg angles that you can set to get lower to the ground. This can create a more dramatic low-angle perspective and make foreground interest, such as cobbled streets, more prominent in your composition. Some tripods even have reversible or short centre columns so you can get even closer to the ground.

10. Professional L-bracket

Canon

(Image credit: Future)

Adam uses an Ellie L-bracket from 3 Legged Thing on his camera. His L-bracket (opens in new tab) fits onto the base and around the side of his camera, and there is an Arca-Swiss mount on both, which enables him to easily switch from landscape to portrait orientation without adjusting his tripod head. Not only does this make composing his shots a little faster, but it also ensures the tripod is properly balanced, with the weight of the camera and lens always centrally above the tripod.

If you're really into cityscape photography, you'll want to check out the best tilt-shift lenses for architecture. Adam uses a Canon EOS R5 (opens in new tab). To see his stunning portfolio or to book a workshop visit his website (opens in new tab).

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Dan Mold
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor on PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Dan also brings his technical wizardry and editing skills to Digital Camera World. He has been writing about all aspects of photography for over 10 years, having previously served as technical writer and technical editor for Practical Photography magazine, as well as Photoshop editor on Digital Photo


Dan is an Adobe-certified Photoshop guru, making him officially a beast at post-processing – so he’s the perfect person to share tips and tricks both in-camera and in post. Able to shoot all genres, Dan provides news, techniques and tutorials on everything from portraits and landscapes to macro and wildlife, helping photographers get the most out of their cameras, lenses, filters, lighting, tripods, and, of course, editing software.