City or town photography can be a tricky thing, there are people, cars, and trash (in some cities) everywhere. Isolating what you’d like to photograph can prove to be more of a challenge than dialing in the correct exposure. I’m generally not a fan of post processing but I also don’t like to waste a perfectly good photograph. The photo at the top was originally shot in color (it’s a good idea to shoot your black and white photography in color and change it in post processing) and I cropped some distracting pedestrians
right off the planet out of the picture.
Zoom lenses are ideal in the city to get close to things you may not otherwise be able to… it also allows you to travel down an alley without actually walking into an alley. You need to be careful strutting around town with your fancy camera gear. Most photographers get tunnel vision and would not notice if someone was following them, waiting for them to walk down an alley away from safety. Since my girlfriend and I were headed to the theatre I used the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 so I could just drop it in my coat pocket during the show. My ideal lens would have been the Panasonic LUMIX G X VARIO 12-35mm/F2.8 for its image quality and versatility. There was more than a few times I would have loved to be able to zoom in slightly so I wouldn’t have had to crop anything in post processing.
Wide angle lenses will give you the dramatic look you’re going for without having to do Photoshop magic for hours and hours. The wide-angle lens will make lines look like they go on and on and distort buildings in a creative way. The photo below was taken with the 12mm lens (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera) and made the building look a lot taller than it actually was. I suggest you get nice and close to a tall building with your wide-angle lens (or wide setting on a zoom lens) and angle your camera up to give the building the illusion of continuity.
Early in the morning or after the sun has gone down will be the best times if you’re looking for the “dramatic” effect. You could also go during a storm but you risk the damage of your equipment if your camera is not weather proof. In the morning you’ll be able to get some nice shots of the city lights and then continue on as the sun comes up to get some daylight shots. If you go at night you’ll only get night shots with the city lights. I prefer the evening because I enjoy playing with long exposure photography (more on that another time) as well and if you shoot after dusk you don’t have to worry about fleeting time as the sun rises.
You’ve got plenty of places to photograph in the city, I suggest starting on one side and working your way down one side of the street and up the other. This will give you two different perspectives of the same street. Large, old churches make great dramatic city photography subjects. Make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings, don’t be foolish and find yourself in a dark alley by yourself. Enjoy!