Explore the world of urban architecture photography with our guide, from selecting subjects to choosing the best gear for this genre. Discover the artistry of city buildings!

Art manifests in diverse forms, from painting and photography to music, and the buildings of our cities are no exception. Great care and dedication go into creating architectural designs that range from sleek and minimal to towering and ornate. These grand-scale works of art shape the character and culture of a city, enhancing its aesthetic and making cityscapes more appealing. Consequently, these buildings have naturally become subjects for painters, photographers, and artists, who find appreciation in their construction. 

In this guide, we will assist you in approaching urban architecture photography, from selecting subjects to choosing the best gear for this genre.

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Understanding Urban Architecture

Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(2)There are many types of architecture around your city, and understanding the different styles can help you create a themed set of photos. While some cities have specific architectural themes, you may find outliers that contrast sharply with the surrounding buildings.

Traditional Architecture

This includes various styles such as Gothic, Baroque, or the traditional architecture of the country you are in. Discovering these preserved buildings is always a treat; they offer a chance to shoot historical structures and admire historical construction methods.

  • Example: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

Modernist Architecture

Modern architecture often uses materials like glass, steel, and concrete. Keep an eye out for new builds in your city, including those under construction.

  • Example: Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Brutalist Architecture

A genre of architecture popular with photographers due to the stark and geometric designs of these buildings. To some, these buildings may appear ugly, while others appreciate their design, sparking conversation about your shots.

  • Example: Barbican Centre, London.

Art Deco Architecture

Look for buildings characterised by rich colours, bold geometric shapes, and elaborate ornamentation.

  • Example: The Chrysler Building, New York.

Futuristic Architecture

Offering a glimpse into what our cities might look like in the future, these buildings showcase unprecedented creativity in building design and shape. You will mostly find this style in modern cities.

  • Example: Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Seoul.

Sustainable Architecture

Also becoming more common in modern cities, these buildings are designed with the environment in mind. They use sustainable materials and energy sources. A particularly attractive feature of these buildings is vertical gardens, where walls are covered with plants.


  • The Edge, Amsterdam - known as the most sustainable building in the world.
  • One Central Park, Sydney - home to over 35,000 plants in its vertical gardens.

Understanding these architectural styles not only enhances your photography but also enriches your appreciation of urban design.

Composing Urban Shots

Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(3)With your decision made about which type of architecture you wish to shoot, let’s focus on the details you will want to capture. Urban architecture photography offers a variety of compositional approaches.

Leading Lines and Symmetry

Focusing on leading lines and symmetry allows you to step back and assess the building’s composition. Interestingly, viewing the building from different angles can provide new opportunities to capture these elements. The leading lines might be part of the building itself, or you could use the surrounding city features, such as roads and other buildings, to lead towards your subject.

Framing and Layering

To add depth to your images, consider using framing and layering in your compositions. Look for natural frames like other buildings, trees, and structures. By doing so, you will not only frame your main subject but also add layers and depth to your image.


Now zoom in! Many buildings have finer architectural details that might not be apparent from afar. Walk around the building and look for small features, such as ornamental elements or even the textures of the materials used.

Reflections and Shadows

Introduce interest and mood to your images through reflections or shadows. Sharp shadows cast by surrounding buildings can create intriguing shapes and lines, or you can use them to highlight details. For reflections, consider using puddles, bodies of water, or the reflective surfaces of glass buildings themselves.

Explore your chosen building from various angles to discover new features and symmetrical patterns.

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Gear and Settings

Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(4)When it comes to urban architecture photography, there are a few essential pieces of equipment to have packed for your shoot.

1. Tilt-Shift Lens

A specialised piece of equipment crucial as you advance in architecture photography. A tilt-shift lens allows you to keep the camera sensor parallel to your subject, avoiding the perspective distortion that makes tall buildings appear to lean away at the top when using a standard lens. By shifting the lens upwards, you maintain straight vertical lines, a technique favoured by professional architecture photographers. While not essential for beginners, it's worth considering as you progress.

5 tilt-shift secrets revealed

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2. Wide-Angle Lens

Some buildings are unfathomably large, and their scale can only be appreciated when standing directly beneath them. A wide-angle lens is essential to capture the entirety of such structures and is also beneficial for expansive cityscape shots.

3. Finding the Sweet Spot

Achieving sharp images in urban architecture photography involves understanding the 'sweet spot' of your lens—where your images are at their sharpest. This varies by lens but generally occurs about three f-stops up from the widest aperture. For instance, if your lens has a minimum aperture of f/2.8, the sharpest images might be found at around f/8. Experiment with your lens to find this sweet spot and review your results accordingly.

These recommendations will help ensure that you have the right gear to effectively capture the grandeur and detail of urban architecture.

Timing and Lighting 

Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(5)Every photographer must consider lighting, and shooting in the middle of the day can yield far different results than those taken at dawn or dusk. You may also want to match the weather to the style of architecture you're shooting. Let's explore how the timing and weather of your shoot can significantly enhance your results.

Golden Hour

This time is beloved by photographers across various genres, including urban architecture. The warm glow during golden hour softens the palette of your images, producing a generally more appealing shot. This lighting is perfect for more traditional architecture and generally suits most architectural styles.

Harsh Light

Although challenging to work with, harsh light can inspire creativity in urban environments. In densely packed areas, harsh sunlight may cast sharp shadows on buildings, assisting with the creation of leading lines, framing, and detailed focus as discussed earlier.

Blue Hour

Just after sunset, buildings may begin to light up, offering a new perspective and character. Blue hour still provides natural light, reducing the need to increase ISO and maintaining image sharpness. As your subject is stationary, consider using a tripod at this time of day.

Blue Hour Photography: Setting, Ideas and Tips

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Night Photography

Once the sun has fully set, some buildings adopt a completely different persona with creative lighting displays. Depending on the available light, a tripod becomes essential to avoid increasing ISO and introducing noise into your photos.

Urban Night Photography: Tips To Avoid Mistakes

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Cloudy Days

While cloudy days might seem less inspiring, they can accentuate the features of certain architectural styles. For example, modern, sustainable, and traditional architectures might appear less impressive, but styles like brutalism can be enhanced by the subdued, grey backdrop. Concrete structures, which might feel out of place under a bright, sunny sky, can appear strikingly minimalistic and stylish against a dull sky. If unexpected cloudy weather disrupts your plans for a sunny shoot, consider seeking out brutalist buildings.

The weather and time of day can significantly impact an urban architecture photography shoot, so it's crucial to check the forecast ahead of time and plan accordingly to enhance, rather than diminish, the architectural details you aim to capture.

Challenges and Solutions

Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(6)Urban architecture photography is not without its challenges, and certain scenarios can make your shoot difficult. Let’s examine some potential issues and their solutions.

1. Crowded Spaces

Dense populations are part and parcel of urban photography in general, and architecture photography can be impacted by this issue. You may struggle to get clear shots as you wait on the street for what feels like an eternity for that perfect shot free of people. 


Aside from the obvious solution of finding a different angle that may be devoid of people, you can also consider finding elevation above the foot traffic. If this isn’t possible, fear not, there are other approaches. Using a tripod, you could use a long exposure to make pedestrians appear as ghosts and far less distracting, or even stylise your image. Alternatively, you can erase unwanted people from your image, using tools such as Erase AI in Luminar Neo.

2. Limited Space

Sometimes you can’t stand back enough to capture the entire building in your shot. 


There are a few ways to deal with this issue. If you’re working with a tall building, it is very possible that it may be visible from other nearby streets with more room, or you may be able to gain access to elevated areas to see it more clearly above street level. For smaller buildings, a wide-angle lens will become particularly useful.

3. Reflections and Glass Surfaces

Glass buildings look fantastic; however, if they reflect a less attractive side of the street, it can really diminish your shot. 


A polarising filter will help you reduce glare and enhance the colour saturation and contrast of the sky and buildings. It may also remove reflections from windows, allowing for a clearer view of a building's interior.

4. Undesired Backdrop

You have found a beautiful building, but behind it sits a very distracting billboard or structure that negatively impacts your shoot. 


Finding a different angle, perspective, or deciding to crop tightly can be effective solutions. If that isn’t feasible, try using the Erase AI tool to remove any unwanted elements within your image.

All forms of photography have a problem-solving aspect that you may need to overcome, but by doing so, you will gain valuable experience and become more proficient in this style of photography.

The Bottom Line

Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(7)Urban architecture photography will leave you with a newfound love and respect for the city and its buildings. As you walk through the streets, you’ll start to notice new details, forms, and lines that you’ll be eager to capture. The beauty of this genre is that you can scout and discover new locations during your commute or while exploring.

Equipment like a tilt-shift lens might be something to consider later, but you can start today with your regular camera. If your lens causes too much distortion, focus on the finer details of the building or look for smaller structures.

Remember to consider the time of day for the best lighting and the weather, as these can greatly enhance your shots. However, don’t be discouraged by dull and cloudy days; some types of architecture, such as brutalist, harmonise well with this lighting.

Enjoy exploring the city, capturing well-known gargantuan skyscrapers, or discovering small hidden gems. Happy shooting!

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Urban Adventures: Mastering Cityscape Photography | Skylum Blog(8)

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