HDR in the city

Article Written by Jim Nix

Like many HDR photographers, I would be very happy just staring at and photographing incredible landscapes all day…every day.  I love them, and so does everyone else.  That’s natural.  They can be incredible and inspirational.

But unfortunately, I have found that it’s pretty hard to get to the right places often enough.  I dream of shooting in some spots across the Rocky Mountains in North America, or the great mountain ranges in Europe, or New Zealand…really, anything in New Zealand.  Man that place looks awesome!  But the truth is that it is not easy or even possible at times to get to these places.

I travel a bit for work, and my work happens in cities.  So white bouncy castle although I get to see fabulous places, I am rarely able to get out to the countryside and shoot the amazing landscapes that are somewhat nearby.  It just doesn’t happen.

Instead, I have developed a deep interest in and appreciation for all that you can photograph in a city – and believe me, a city is an HDR goldmine!

Here are 3 key tips and 7 subjects that I find inspirational for HDR in a city:

Key tip: First things first – get up early and shoot sunrise.  I know, it’s hard to do, and you’re not a morning person and all that.  But guess what?  Neither is anyone else.  That means you get to shoot in relative isolation, even in large cities.  Many of my favorite shots are taken around sunrise in some far-off city.  I’m usually the only one out!  Plus it’s a pretty awesome way to start off the day.

Key tip #2: Scout your locations online and the sunrise time *first*, so that you are in place for sunrise.  I ALWAYS look up the sunrise time on the web, and plan my route (and my wakeup call!) so I am in place for the shot I want, both during blue hour and sunrise.

Key tip #3: Download the Stuck on Earth app for finding the best spots.  Seriously, if you aren’t using this gift from Trey Ratcliff, you are missing out.  Yes, I said gift.  It’s a free app, and it totally rocks.  I also try and pick my hotel to give me the best proximity to key spots.

Subject #1: Skylines are really popular and for good reason – they’re just awesome.  But one thing I always try and do is look for a way to get a reflection of the skyline in a river or lake.  Or, since you are out shooting early in the morning (you read #1, right?) be there for blue hour and catch the city lights twinkling in the water.  Worst case, get it at sunset – it’s beautiful either way.  Or better yet, get both!

Subject #2: Churches are one of my favorite subjects.  I love architecture, and churches are beautiful, regardless of your religious views.  Everyone takes the long view down the aisle, but mix it up and get some off-angle shots too.  Stand at the altar and shoot back down the aisle to the front.  Shoot just the details on the altar.  Shoot the columns.  Shoot any statues you see in there.  Then go shoot outside.  Shoot the bell tower, if there is one.  There are a lot of options.

Subject #3: Train stations (especially in Europe) are incredible subjects.  Best bet here though is a weekend morning, if you are looking for shots without a massive crowd (which is my goal).  I have actually stood in the train station in Glasgow, Scotland early on a Sunday morning and had it all to myself.  These are busy all through the week but weekends are much better.  All the business people are at home, and the tourists are usually still asleep.

Subject #4: Bridges…ah…sweet bridges.  I freakin’ love shooting bridges!  There are so many angles and interesting compositions you can do with them.  The nice thing here is that many times you can get a bridge AND a skyline together – a double dip!  Plus if at all possible, go under the bridge – it’s always worth exploring.

Subject #5: Street scenes are another favorite subject of mine, especially if there are cobblestone streets.  Whenever I am in Europe I always look for cool street scene shots, and again I prefer these around morning blue hour or sunrise because that usually means the streets are empty (a personal preference).  The historic architecture there is just so photogenic, but really I shoot street scenes all over the US and come away with shots I like every time.  You don’t have to go to Europe for this stuff.

Subject #6: Back alleys are perfect for HDR, assuming you are cool with a little grunge.  Although I always hit the big spots on my trips, I try and carve out a little free time to wander some back streets and alleyways.  I always come away with some fabulously cool grunge shots.  These usually include graffiti, which I love anyways.

Subject #7: Universities always seem to have a great architecture.  I am not sure if great architecture is supposed to inspire kids to learn, but it sure inspires me to fire up the Nikon.  Whenever I have time and a decent-sized university is nearby, I add it to the list of “must-shoot” spots on a trip.  I always come away happy.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are many more things to shoot in a city: hotel lobbies, bars and nightclubs (signs are a personal favorite), gritty old doors, city parks, graffiti, light trails down a street…the list goes on.

Bottom line – though we long to shoot incredible landscapes, city travels can yield a wealth of HDR opportunities – especially if we get up early enough. 🙂

Thanks for looking and have fun out there!

Jim Nix is a photographer, traveler, HDR enthusiast, explorer, iPhone shooter, and tea drinker based in Austin, TX. He shares his photos and travel experiences on his blog at http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/

Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/NomadicPursuits