Photographing Empty Urban Landscapes

Posted by Acratech on 22nd Dec 2015

For urban landscape photographers it’s that time of the year again - the most wonderful time of the year, when for a brief window even the busiest of arterial streets will be almost entirely free of traffic. This allows you to capture some wonderfully empty cityscapes, leveraging long, sweeping architectural lines to create otherworldly images without even leaving town. Provided, of course, you’re willing to venture out into the (literal) no-man’s land that takes over cities in the United States between roughly 7 and 10 am every Christmas morning.

When searching for images to illustrate this, we came across photographer Derek Bermingham’s blog, where he has posted a series of shots he took in Vancouver, British Columbia, between 8 and 10am on Christmas Day 2013. We really love how Derek took liberties with the empty city, framing several shots from the center of intersections or large roadways to play up the empty space. His use of classic black & white to amplify the Noir-effect of a city devoid of people was also a nice touch.

However you decide to present these empty urban landscapes, a couple of ground rules will help you maximize this brief window of time and capture the images you’re hoping for.

Create a game plan

Let family know that you’ll be out of the house for a solid four hours early Christmas morning, so as to avoid last minute confusion or frustration. This is obviously harder if you have small children; if you do maybe focus instead on honing your candid portraiture skills instead (this is a great tutorial on that subject).

Scout locations in advance

Your window of opportunity to get the shots you want is narrow; don’t squander it looking for a subject when you can already have a rough list of 2-5 sites you’re planning to shoot at. Ideally check them out early in the day and a few days in advance, in order to get a decent feel for what angles light will be hitting reflective glass surfaces, and what other static features you might be able to work with in your compositions.

Check the weather

If it will be raining or snowing, don’t give up hope; instead, pack a dry bag for your gear, bundle your camera in plastic or a waterproof shell, and work with whatever conditions you find.

Check your gear (and your wake-up alarm)

This should be obvious before any/every photoshoot, but as long as we’re making a list, it’s a good reminder.

Arrive early

Pack a thermos of coffee and a light breakfast, and try to get to your first location about 30-60 minutes before sunrise. You can use this time to find parking, compose your first shot/s, and, once you’re ready and waiting, drink the coffee you packed.

And as always, happy shooting!