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Home photography ideas: Shoot a city skyline indoors!

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If you've ever worked in an office, at some point you've no doubt sat at your desk and daydreamed about being somewhere else. If you were really procrastinating, then like us you might have fiddled with pens and paper, bent paperclips into different shapes, doodled, and built little stacks out of staples.  

And here's the germ of an idea for when you're stuck indoors but still want to shoot: 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 angle-poise 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 skyline. The only other things you need are a mirror or a sheet of acrylic board, and the aforementioned desk lamp. 

So here’s what you need to do in order to create a cityscape of your own design – planning permission not required…

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Building a tabletop city

01 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 on a stand, hand it from a radiator, or even tape it to the wall.

02 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 easier to see the reflections in black acrylic as opposed to a colored or white board), but you could also use a mirror or other reflective surface.

03 Arrange your office supplies 

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

05 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 that you’ll have to get quite far back to fit the scene in, depending on how big your skyline is.

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06 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. 

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