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    Top tips for shooting the best that a city has to offer within 48 hours

    The post Top tips for photographing the best that a city has to offer within 48 hours first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Matt Murray.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Always be on the lookout for interesting scenes in cities. I saw this view in Taipei from a metro and went back at dusk.

    You have two days and two nights to photograph a city that you have never visited before. How are you going to take this opportunity and take great photos?

    You can just show up without thinking too much and deliver a stunning set of images that perfectly matches the assignment. Leaving things to chance, however, is not always the best plan. You are better prepared and have more self-confidence if you research and plan your trip in advance.

    Whether you work for a client, an editor or take photos for your own portfolio, these tips will help you make the most of your trip. Here is a guide to photographing a city and the best it has to offer in 48 hours.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Discover what is unique about your destination and record it.

    What is unique about the city?

    The first question to ask is what makes the city unique? Does it have a stunning architecture? An incredible food scene? Unique modes of transport? Lively markets? Keep this in mind when planning your trip.

    What types and styles of images are you being asked to deliver?

    What kind of recordings do you expect, your client or your editor? Discover as detailed as possible what their expectations are. Is there a certain style or theme that you should shoot at? Will your images be used to guide a story about a certain subject, for advertising or as a stand-alone photo essay?

    Consider the final use of your photos. Do you need to take landscape or portrait photos? Do you need to take photos with negative space to overlap text?

    Image style is an important consideration. Is your customer looking for clear, colorful photos ' s? Images with known landmarks? Hidden gems? Photos with a shallow depth of field? Moody black and white images? Photos & photos of people experiencing the city? It is important to reach agreement on this.

    Make a mood board

    Visualizing your recordings before you leave can help the planning process. One way to achieve this is by creating a mood board for the trip, with the types and style of photos you want to take. The good news is that it is easy to do with a tool such as Pinterest.

    A mood board can also be useful if you do not have a formal assignment. If you create one for yourself or your client that shows the type and style of the images you want to create, this can stimulate further discussion. It may be exactly what they are looking for, or it may encourage them to get involved in the process and propose changes.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    On my list of recordings for Taronga Zoo was an iconic image of Sydney with animals – luckily this giraffe helped me!

    Weather and climate

    The next thing to investigate is the expected weather and climate at your destination. Keep in mind that some destinations, such as London and Melbourne, are notorious all year round due to variable circumstances. Getting an idea of ​​what to expect helps you with your daily planning and can determine your choices for clothing and equipment.

    For example, if you go to Asia during the wet season, think of clothing and camera equipment that is water resistant, while traveling to a place where it is hot and dry, such as Dubai or Death Valley, you may need a hat and consider sunscreen.

    Then look at the sunrise and sunset times for the city when you are there and plan your day accordingly. Make a note of them and think about the most important shots that you have to take at that moment. These times also indicate the number of daylight hours you have on location.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Autumn in Sydney was a good opportunity to catch golden leaves.

    Online planning sources

    Two sources that can help you are the photographers Ephemeris and PhotoPills. These handy manuals for photographers also give you information about how long the blue and golden hours last, the direction of the sun at sunrise and sunset, and much more. However, this can be very useful, remember, in a built environment you will never really know how the light falls on your scene until you get there.

    Background research city

    Exploring your destination is one of the most important things you must do before you leave. Learn as much as you can. Potential sources of information include travel magazines, travel blogs, official tourism websites and YouTube videos. It is also worthwhile to download guides from companies such as Lonely Planet, or if you have a limited budget, you can borrow them from a friend or your local library.

    As you do this research, make a note of the previous coverage of the destination in published articles or photo essays. If you plan to use the same or a similar angle, try capturing the destination in a unique or better way.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Image research

    Pay close attention to the types of images used to illustrate and promote this city. What style are they? Do they fall into a certain genre? What kind of lenses do you think the photographer used? This is all useful information.

    Then go to more visual references. What kind of images are displayed for your destination using a Google image search? Is there a famous view of the city that you want to capture? Then search on Instagram. View images used by official city or country accounts, popular hashtags for your destination, and even searches for geolocation images.

    View recent Instagram posts and read the description carefully. Has the photo been taken in recent days? If this was the case, this can help you understand the weather or lighting conditions at your destination. If there is no context for when the photo was taken, it could be from last month or last year.

    Another important place for researching your destination are stock photography sites. Which images are the bestsellers for the city? Keep this in mind when taking pictures. In addition to your most important customer, think of other markets where you can sell your images, such as stock libraries.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Always look for detailed photos at your destination that show the way of life.

    Make your shot list

    I love travel photography because it includes so many other genres. In one assignment you can record landscapes, cityscapes, street scenes, portraits, food shots, detailed shots, architecture and documentary-like images. Remember this while creating your shot list.

    First connect the locations you need for sunrise and sunset and make a rough plan for the rest of the day. Put these locations on a map and make sure you have enough time to look around and photograph unexpected sights. Sometimes the best pictures at a destination are not the things that you expect to see, but things that you did not expect to see.

    Then make a list of the following most important recordings for you or your customer. Make this a priority.

    Try to capture familiar landmarks in a new or interesting way. This can be done through the frame of a doorway or window, a reflection or a completely different angle or point of view that has not been used before.

    Write a reminder to get a good variety of images at every location you visit – landscape orientation, portrait orientation, images with negative space, and images that crop well for Instagram. Also think back to why this city is unique or exotic and make a note to get pictures of the food, the people, the clothing – everything that is different.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Book your hotel

    Now you have made your shot list, look at the most important locations on your map and book a hotel nearby. It can be tempting to save money by staying in a hotel farther away, but being close to the proposed photography locations is a huge advantage. It will not only shorten travel time, but you will also have the advantage of coming to your room all day long.

    When I photograph a city, I often go back to my hotel for a break. You can take a break, grab a hot or cold drink, back up your images and view the progress you've made for the next round of photos. Depending on the weather, you may even need time to warm up or cool down.

    When searching for a hotel, always look for historic or beautiful hotels that offer you additional photographic options. Also don't forget to choose a hotel where you feel that your belongings are safe when you are not there.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Take a travel tripod with you so that you can capture scenes with a slow shutter speed.

    Pack your kit

    Versatility is the key when packing your kit. Fast zoom lenses are generally the best friend of the travel photographer. Also view the notes that you have made during your research. What kind of lenses do you think the photographers used? Does your customer expect images with a very shallow depth of field? Do they want to take photos with long telephoto lenses or ultra wide angle lenses?

    Plan your kit taking into account these considerations together with the expected weather conditions. For a two-day trip I would usually take the following:

    • Two camera housings that use the same batteries and lenses, at least one of which is weatherproof.
    • Two zoom lenses with a wide focal range, at least one of which is weatherproof.
    • One or two small fast prime lenses – these are very useful for low light conditions and shallow depth of field.
    • As many reliable, high-quality SD cards as you have. Make sure you format them before you travel.
    • As many batteries as you have for your camera system.
    • A small travel tripod and a few filters with neutral density.

    More information about the travel set that I have included in my article, The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Sydney Opera House sails with the Sydney Harbor Bridge in the background.

    Traveling to your destination

    As you approach your journey, keep an eye on the weather and current events in the city you are going to. Will this cause problems or challenges? Do you have to take other things with you? As I write this, I am preparing for a few days in Hong Kong, where protests are taking place. I don't think these protests will affect my journey or what I intend to photograph, but it's good to always be good to stay up to date with what's going on.

    Before I arrive at my destination, I always look for a way to use my iPhone when I arrive there. This may mean that I have a SIM card for the country that I visit or that I install international roaming before I go.

    On the way from the airport or train station to my hotel, I look for interesting things to photograph. I have my phone on hand with maps that follow the journey I am taking. When I see something interesting, I take a screenshot of the map, so that I have the exact location on my phone for future use.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Children play in the Faroe Islands, photographed on a telephoto lens.

    Once you've arrived

    You have arrived at your hotel, dumped your bag and are now ready to take to the street and check off that shot list. Make sure you have everything you need and leave everything you don't need at the hotel before you leave. Don't forget to take it easy with air conditioning or heating – extreme temperature changes can cover the camera lenses.

    Take a few minutes to check your camera (especially your ISO and image quality settings), making sure you have fully charged batteries and formatted memory cards. Then synchronize the clocks on your cameras at local time.

    Regardless of the time I arrive, I always try to take to the streets as quickly as possible to get an idea of ​​the place. At tropical locations, shooting conditions are not always ideal in the middle of the day when the sun is very bright with the sun above your head. However, it is still possible to look for opportunities to keep photographing. During a recent trip to Indonesia, I found the most beautiful light in a semi-covered marketplace in Borobudur. I took some of my favorite photos of the trip at that market.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Borobudur market.

    After the sun is below the horizon, you may think it's time to go back to the hotel, but always look for opportunities to photograph food vendors or night markets. You need a fast prime or zoom lens in combination with the use of a higher ISO to take handheld images or a tripod for longer exposures.


    When you are done shooting for the day, it's time to go back to your hotel and back up your photos.

    For every trip I make a new Lightroom catalog on my laptop. I then import the images into Lightroom and indicate that the images from my SD cards must be copied to an SSD hard drive connected to my MacBook.

    After importing, I copy these folders and the Lightroom catalog to a second SSD disk. I always keep these SSD hard drives in separate locations – one with me in my camera bag and one in my luggage. While I view my recordings in Lightroom, if there are photos that I think are perfect for my needs or my client, I still back up those selected images to DropBox. When I get home, I transfer the folders and Lightroom catalog directly from my laptop to my desktop computer.

    photograph a city-mat murray

    Final thoughts

    I hope these tips will help you think about what to plan and research when you first arrive in a city with an assignment.

    Always remember that despite the amount of research and planning you do, you often have things out of your hands. If you can't get that iconic shot due to weather conditions, street closures, scaffolding or who knows what else, don't fool yourself. Instead, focus on other options that you can use while you are there to make the most of your time.

    Do you have other tips that you want to share about photographing a city within 48 hours? Share it with us in the comments!

    photograph a city in 48 hours

    The post Top tips for photographing the best that a city has to offer within 48 hours first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Matt Murray.

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