Mar 2013 24

Vancouver Cityscapes: The Best Spots for Photographers

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The perfect photo of Vancouver How to score the perfect photo of Vancouver?

We are introducing a brand new series of Photo Essays! Have a look at amazing Photo Sets all shot by talented photographers. Explore the vibe of the city, its hidden treasures, explore Vancouver! This time, let's have a look at Vancouver through the lens of Alvin Brown!

A Short Guide to Get Stunning Vancouver Photos

Vancouver: A Photographer's Heaven

With its great location including both a long seawall and magnificent mountains as its backdrop, Vancouver’s glittering skyline is a frequent inspiration for many professional and amateur photographers. It’s up to you to choose from the many possibilities for when and how to capture the city — from mysterious misty mornings to dramatic sunsets, from empty beaches to the stunning Coal Harbour marina, there are almost no limits to your imagination!

A Photographer's Guide: Cityscape Tips

Most of us live in or near a big city, so we all know how many times we’ve wished to capture its beauty — that perfect moment. Photographing cityscapes can be quite challenging, and you should expect to be outdoors and explore for some time before you get the perfect shot. This effort will involve working on composition, light, point of view, and perspective so that you capture the urban space spectacularly. This guide should help you achieve the best results!

Vancouvers Coal Harbour cityscape Vancouvers Coal Harbour looks great as a panorama

1. Recommended Equipment

Try to look at cityscapes as landscapes taken in an urban environment. Using a wide-angle lens is most recommended. You will manage to fit quite a lot into the picture this way — the whole Financial District and its landmarks as well as the waterline in front of it. Wide-angle lenses also offer a panoramic effect and require less light than telephoto lenses. Your shots will look phenomenal.

2. Using a Tripod

Since your main focus is on non-moving objects and architecture, it’s a good idea to bring a tripod along. The longer exposures taken with a tripod make it possible to use higher aperture numbers, which means that everything in your image turns out wonderfully sharp. This is very important when shooting architecture. Tripods will come in handy also during the night shots, when of course there is less light and you want to avoid camera shake. Use your camera’s self-timer or a cable release to take the photo with absolutely no blur.

3. Cityscapes Rules

Some great spots for you to consider shooting are beaches (or islands) that offer a frontal view of the commercial centre or a slightly higher point that shows off all the layers of the city (this could be a window in a tall building or a nearby hilltop). Often, finding an elevated spot is the key to capturing great scenery. The best times of day for dramatic photographs are the “golden hours,” which are the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset.

Vancouver at night Vancouver at night

4. Keep the Lines Straight

The horizon line needs to be perfectly straight, and vertical lines of buildings should be as straight as possible as well. Many cameras offer display modes with a grid option that helps you adjust your subjects. There’s nothing more annoying than a sideways falling cityscape!

5. Depth of Field

Get used to using the manual mode of your camera to be able to achieve the results you want. Turn the mode dial to AV (aperture priority) mode and make sure you use f/8 and upwards for a greater depth of field. There’s nothing more beautiful than a super-sharp picture displaying layers of high-rise buildings, offices, and other structures forming the city skyline.

6. Turn Off The Flash

If you’re shooting a skyline (which is usually quite far away from you), there’s no reason to have a flash on. Light will bounce off nearby reflectors, lamp posts, and shiny things, creating unwanted effects and making the shot look unnatural. Instead, compensate for the reduced light with longer exposures!

7. Nighttime Shots

Once it gets dark, all the neon signs and artificial lights are turned on, and your city unveils a completely different face right in front of you. It’s when we look at these night shots that we realize how many people actually live in the city; behind each window, there’s a different story. As mentioned above, you will need longer exposures and ideally a tripod to capture the strong contrast between the brightest spots of the image and the dark sky.

8. City Bridges

Bridges make a great subject. You can usually fit in the city’s river or creek in the front together with the office towers forming the background. This creates a perfect contrast of the two elements bisected by the monumental body of the bridge. Longer exposures taken from a tripod help you get the effect of silky water (the waves get blurred), and the traffic turns into bright red and white lines coming from the headlights. You can also use special filters at night, such as a star filter that makes all the city lights look like small stars (the same effect can be reached by using higher aperture numbers).

9. Don't Rush it!

Take your time; think about the composition. Walk around the area and search for the perfect angle. Look for major landmarks in the skyline that will draw the eye — maybe a crane, or bridge, a landmark, or a large building.

10. A More Personal Location

Sometimes, you don’t really need to go that far from your home. Is your apartment or your office on the top floor of a tall building? Do you have a nice view from there? There you go! Make the cityscape even more personal by taking the shot from your home. Another advantage of this approach is that you can wait for the perfect moment just before sunset, enjoying all the time in world to adjust your camera.

Granville Bridge Granville Bridge receives the last sunbeams
Vancouver in the Clouds
Apartment towers in False Creek A bloody sunset on the apartment towers in False Creek
Vancouver marina Vancouver marina - notice how the image changes, just minutes apart
BC Place Stadium Vancouver BC Place Stadium Vancouver

BC Place Stadium belongs to one of Vancouver's landmarks

Do you have some other good tips that you want to share? Leave us a comment below.

All visual content is licensed by Creative Commons - you may use individual photos but you need to link them back to this page.

Meet the Photographer

Alvin Brown

Alvin Brown

Alvin is a Vancouver based photographer and artist specializing in landscape photography. He is a graduate of UBC and McGill University, and has been published internationally.

One Response to “Vancouver Cityscapes: The Best Spots for Photographers”

  1. Landscaping Company in Vancouver

    Amazing pictures!!

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