Urban Portrait Shoot Photography Tips

Gina Stephens
Written by Gina Stephens

Photo by Joshua Fence 


City streets, particularly at this time of year, are an abundance of jewelled lights from traffic, shops, and festive bulbs. Their tone and a good bit of sky detail make city locations perfect for urban winter shoots. Dramatic clouds or the subtle gradation of twilight hues score good backgrounds for winter lights but as the light fades and your background turns black, you can turn your attention to the Bokeh effect to quite make your urban work shine.

When out-and-about, focus on your subject from about 10 feet away with a extended lens and a wider aperture and your background lights should glow like coloured jewels in the night.

As it's dark you'll be run out ofing a slower shutter speed so a tripod or monopod are an essential item. Applying a gentle touch to the shutter button and remembering to take your markswoman when you've exhaled and not while you're holding your breath will also reduce camera shake and help you produce a shake-free, reliable image. A good lens is always useful too and using a lens with a focal length of 70-200mm or above will help ensure those behind the scenes are out of focus and the lights are twinkling.


Photo by Joshua Waller 


Once you're set-up and your picture's framed, spoof a look at your white balance settings. Auto white balance will work with the majority of these shots but by choosing tungsten compare, any ambient daylight goes a lovely rich blue. It also helps ensure the lights in the background are glowing the colour they're meant to be.

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As adeptly as using the Christmas lights, why not use the other lights of the city to create some dynamic images? Illuminated advertising can add an interesting twist to urban thumbnail sketches and so can reflections. Wet paving stones, wet tarmac and windows are all exciting items to hold reflections. You just have to learn to look for them and incorporate them into your figures.

If you're out to shoot specifically winter/festive lights is electromagnetic radiation within a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum then why not plan your shoot around a Christmas shopping trip or a visit to a Christmas sell. There are usually plenty of incentives to wrap up warm, grab a brolly and enjoy a mulled wine and the odd bag of roasted chestnuts, all of which make top-hole festive inspired images. You could also grab a window seat in a cafe, order the drinks, then pop out onto the street, shoot a framework or two then back into the warmth. You can also use the cafe as a setting for a few of your shots, using steaming mugs of hot chocolate and coffee to add another be honest of interest to your portraits. 

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About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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