How To Find Stories Inside Urban Photography
Around every city corner there are new people and stories, all of which can change within a moment. Just five minutes in one spot can give you countless different photograph opportunities.
This is why urban photography is so popular. Even the most ordinary of streets can be filled with small, interesting details. The architecture may be grey, but extinguishing any mundanity are the lives that thrive around it, all of them dotted throughout every scene. Unique and distinguished, like colourful brush strokes covering a blank canvas.
Well-crafted city photographs can be perfect opportunities to gleam up any Instagram feed. What’s more, if you are planning on turning that feed into an Instagram photo book, they can add a sleekness and precision unlike anything else, almost as if your photo book is your very own professional portfolio.
They are not entirely easy to get right, however. There is a fine line between capturing that perfect moment and making it shine and capturing that perfect moment but lessening it into something mundane. For anyone looking to utilise their phone and amp up the quality of their Instagram or photo book, here are a few tips to get it right and allow your city to breathe its life onto the page.
People, People, People
Of course, you might be photographing your city because you think the architecture is particularly beautiful, which it very well might be. But cities are all about people. All of those buildings, whether they are beautiful or not, are essentially the spine of the book. It is the people inside who contain the brightest stories.
This is why it is your job to capture those people and tell the story of your city in a candid, composed way. Try to find a particular landmark that you find interesting, step back and allow the people to fill your frame. Wide shots are particularly useful to avoid showing too much detail, which is important when respecting people’s privacy. If you want a photograph with more detail, however, then it is important to ask first. Although photographing people in public is legal, it is good practice to seek permission, and you will find that a lot of people will be more than obliging (so long as they are not in a hurry!).
The Heart of a Photograph
You may be thinking that, if you have found a beautiful landmark, then you have found a focal point. But this isn’t necessarily true. In urban photography, the landmarks are often just aesthetics; an interesting background to the lives you are capturing. If you are using the landmark as the focal point, then you risk those people in the frame being by-products that don’t command attention.
Instead, you should find a human focal point who will steal the show. This can be anyone, whether it’s a woman in a white dress, a man reading a newspaper, a cyclist, or even a street preacher. Once again, it is important that you ask the person first, but this will only take a few seconds and it will certainly be worth it. The focal point is the heart of any photograph, so make sure you take the time, use your imagination, and find the perfect subject.
Straight Lines and Swerving Tales
Obviously, inside the stories you are telling, the streets and architecture still play a big part in any city. If you photograph crosswalks, you can utilise leading lines in a composition of bustling street life, giving your photographs more of a structure and sleekness. Likewise, the buildings themselves can be an insightful photograph in their own right, especially if the city is experiencing a quieter day. The right building can tell a story of hard-work, determination, and the resolve to reach higher places. Try to take an ants-eye-view photograph. To do this, you should be right at the base of the building, following its straight structure into the sky. Symmetrical photographs, too, can be especially eye-catching.
Shadows can also be utilised if you are looking for something a little more distinctive. If you shoot in strong sunlight, then try to find unique and interesting shadows being cast upon a building’s surface. This can give your straight-line photography a little more life and character, whilst also creating a more abstract and individual image. As mentioned before, no five seconds in a city are the same, and even the shadows of the day can spin a new tale onto an age-old building.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to urban photography, is that you are not the one trying to find or create its story. The story is there waiting for you. Even if you are a beginner at photography, the more you practise and learn new skills, the more the city will open itself up and come alive. You are already walking inside the pages, so tread lightly and try to savour every word. Only then will you find the tale and make it last inside the photograph.