Portrait photography

9 tips for better urban portrait photography

When it comes to wedding and portrait photography, urban decors can offer a multitude of opportunities. For one, cities are full of interesting textures and patterns that can add visual interest to your photos. Concrete walls, brick buildings, and metal fire escapes can all make great backgrounds, foregrounds, or leading lines for portraits. Additionally, the lines, angles, and grandeur of urban architecture provide photographers with many creative options and storytelling elements. Of course, urban settings also present their own challenges, such as clutter in the background and low light in certain areas. To help you navigate and improve your city photography, here are 9 tips for better city portrait photography.

  1. Look for reflections and windows
  2. Find multiple light sources and reflectors
  3. Incorporate graffiti and street art
  4. The night is the right time
  5. Long exposures and shutter trails for the win
  6. Take to the skies for a view of the horizon
  7. Integrate people and environments
  8. Maximize Interesting Architecture
  9. The view of a body of water is often the best

(The following images and tips are provided by the award-winning photographers of wedding cards and used with their permission.)

1. Urban portrait photography: look for reflections

Urban environments are full of reflections and frames from the windows of office buildings and businesses just begging to be used in creative compositions. See some examples below.

Photo © Group of two (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
multiple exposure of the bride and groom on the architecture of the city.
Photo ©Dan Sauer (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

2. Find multiple light sources and reflectors

The backdrops of the city are also full of unique lighting. Sunlight bounces off reflective buildings and creates multiple light sources. Sometimes the light is soft and can be used as a reflector for fill light. Other times, it can act as a spotlight to highlight your subject(s) in the photo. See example below.

married at the station
Photo © Franck Balzan (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

3. Incorporate graffiti and street art

Urban backdrops often have interesting street art that gives the city a unique personality and character. Tastefully incorporating graffiti and other murals into your urban portrait photography can create interesting and creative photography. See example below.

example of urban portrait photography.
Photo © Jay Henington (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

4. The night is the right time

One of the best and most unique ways to capture urban portraits is after the sun has set and buildings light up the night sky. This is where your flash and lighting skills shine and where you have the opportunity to differentiate yourself from other photographers. See some examples below.

Indian wedding couple on city background.
Photo © Jason Vinson (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

5. Long exposures and shutter trails for the win

Urban environments are full of invigorating and beautiful chaos. The sights, sounds, bustle and bustle come together for a unique energy that can be captured creatively with long exposure photography. Use long exposures, aka shutter trails, to capture the movement of people, traffic, and anything moving in the scene. Here are some examples below.

Portrait of the bride and groom in front of high-speed cars.
Photo © Sean Thurston (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
married in front of city architecture.
Photo © SMJ Photography (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
couple sitting in front of a massive building.
Photo © Mauricio Urena (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

6. Take to the skies for a view of the horizon

Of course, another great way to capture a cityscape is above it all. Many city weddings take place on the upper floors of tall buildings, and some may even have balconies and rooftops to use for your portrait photography backdrop. See some examples below.

two bride and groom on top of a building overlooking the city.
Photo © Raph Nogal (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
Couple in water with city backdrop.
Photo © Joanna and Brett (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
newlyweds with mountain landscape behind them.
Photo by Creando Fotos (Website)

seven. Integrate people and the environments

A difficult aspect of urban photography, especially in larger, busier cities, is getting clear photos without people or crowds. In some places, you can beat the crowds by taking photos during off-hours, such as sunrise. However, this can present challenges for guests who simply don’t want to wake up so early or for wedding guests who need to keep a reasonable schedule. Instead of struggling with the crowds and potentially getting frustrated with the situation, you can embrace the environment and make it part of the photo story. See some examples below.

bride and groom on the bridge, with cyclists in the foreground.
Photo © Kivus and Camera (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

8. Maximize Interesting Architecture

One of the best things about urban portrait photography is that many cities have interesting and beautiful architecture. These buildings, bridges, sculptures and other works of art can add character to photos. They can also create scale and perspective when juxtaposed against much smaller subjects. See some examples below.

architectural portrait
Photo © Let’s make a memory (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
engagement couple in front of interesting building.
Photo of Jos and Tree (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

9. The view of a body of water is often the best

When it comes to photographing horizons, here’s a little advice. The best views of the skyline are often across a large body of water. The body of water not only creates a beautiful reflection of the horizon, but it also eliminates the risk of small buildings or other objects obstructing the view of the buildings. See some examples below.

couple by the lake
Photo by Lazzat Photography (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
urban portrait photography couple example
Photo by Holding and Co. (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

More examples and inspiration

We want to end this article with a few more examples of urban portrait photography to show you that there is no “correct” or universal style that fits every scene. Each photographer will approach a scene in a different way, and that’s part of what makes our craft so unique and awesome. Here are some other city portraits from some amazing photographers.

bride and groom walking down the city street.
Photo by Christine Ladehoff (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
couple in front of building with small colorful fountains in front of them.
Photo by Belinda Philleo (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)
couple urban portrait
Photo by Jeff Tisman (Website | Wedding Cards Profile)

Conclusion

When it comes to portrait photography, urban environments are some of the most fun and interesting places to photograph. The lines and geometry of cityscapes mixed with the contrast of light and shadow present seemingly limitless creative options and potential. We hope this article gives you some tips and inspiration for your next urban photo shoot.