Art on the Go: 50 Urban/City Photography Themes

50 Urban Photography Themes from Wanderlust Designer
50 Urban Photography Themes from Wanderlust Designer

I’m heading to the Big Apple in only a few weeks, and I am so excited! I have only been back for 2 short visits since I lived there almost 20 years ago and oh, how I miss it. The crowded streets, soaring skyscrapers, busy subway, tasty restaurants, incredible people watching, it really doesn’t get much better than New York City! In preparation for my trip, I started to think about the millions of photos I want to take. Soon it became clear, I have a very extensive list of urban photo themes just waiting to be shared. Since so many of these photos are only in my mind’s eye, I’ve also created an Urban Photography Theme Pinterest board, for visual examples. So, if you’re heading off to New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, London, São Paulo, Moscow or any other urban jungle, be sure to first check out this list and get ready for some photography fun!

50 Urban or City Photography Themes

  1. Street Signs – Whether you’re standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway in New York or at the maddening intersection in Shibuya, Tokyo, be sure to capture the some street signs. Try to get them at interesting angles, and with telltale signs of the city in the background. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  2. Busy Sidewalks from Up High – A city is a bustling place– capture the busy sidewalks from above, possibly from a window in a building or a slightly higher vantage point. (example)
  3. Street Vendors – Cities are filled with all sorts of street vendors, from those selling food to those selling crafts. Capture these street vendors in action, their carts, their signage, their wares, their portrait. (example 1, example 2)
  4. Crowded Market – A crowded market in a city can offer loads of photo opportunities, from close ups of farm fresh goods, to portraits of sellers, to the bustling shoppers. Play with shutter speed to add some blur effects to give the sense of the movement and action at the scene. (example)
  5. Blurred City (blurred cityscape or city lights) – Intentionally blurring your photo of the city by either moving your camera or shooting at a very low shutter speed can give that look of the city always in motion. This can be done during the day, but is also very effective at dusk when the lights of the city are just turning on. (example 1, example 2)
  6. Skyscrapers, Looking Up – Soaring skyscrapers are a tell-tale sign of urban life. Capture the height by shooting straight up in the sky while standing amongst the tallest buildings. You can also use a fish eye lens or play around with a fish eye filter effect to add interest. (example)
  7. City Silhouettes – Stark lighting in the city can lead to some great city silhouettes– of people, of building and much more. (example)
  8. Bustling City Feet and Sidewalks from Down Low – Take a break, and sit down for a bit on a busy street… not only will you be able to rest your feet, but you can also capture great shots of the busting streets of the city. (example 1, example 2)
  9. Fire Escapes – Although a very useful and lifesaving part of an urban building, a fire escape can also offer great photo ops. From the abstract look of the criss-cross pattern up the building side, to urban life on a fire escape – be sure to have your camera ready. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  10. On the Subway/Metro – The subway or metro systems are a defining element of major cities, from the iconic signage in each city, to the map system, packed cars to waiting passengers. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  11. Cafe Life – When the weather is nice, city folks love to sit outdoors at a cafe or restaurant and enjoy. Capture the busy tables, bustling waiters/waitresses and diners enjoying the ritual. (example)
  12. City Details: Storm Drains, Manholes, Mailboxes, and More – It’s all in the details! Capture the urban details such as storm drains, manholes and more. Many have quite intricate designs. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  13. Reflections of the City (in Puddles, Ponds, Mirrors, Windows, etc.) – Buildings, people and monuments can be seen from a different angle in the reflections of the city. Look for puddles, ponds, and reflective windows to get some great shots. (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4)
  14. Traffic Jam: Cabs, Cars, TukTuks, Buses and More – Cities are notorious for traffic. Be sure to capture the line up of cabs, filled buses and buzzing tuktuks while in the city. (example 1, example 2)
  15. Out the Window: Cab window, skyscraper window, etc. – Take a look out the window and get a different perspective of the city. (example 1, example 2)
  16. Back Alley – Make sure to stay safe, but if all looks good, head down some back streets or alleys and capture a different view of a city. (example 1, example 2)
  17. Street Art & Graffiti – Street art can make great photographs– colorful, bold and very urban, capture walls, street poles, and full murals while in the city. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  18. Souvenirs – Souvenirs of a city, in the city can make playful shots. Capture a display of I heart New York t-shirts, a table filled with mini Eiffel Towers or snow globes of Red Square. Sometimes it’s the tchotchkes that can quite memorable. (example)
  19. Architecture – This is a tried and true photography theme of any city. From iconic buildings to architectural details, this theme can become a life long passion if you’re not careful. (example 1, example 2)
  20. Food on the Street – Pretzels in Munich, hot dogs in New York, churos in Mexico City… almost every city will have it’s signature street food. Although you will see these food vendors everywhere on your trip, don’t forget to take a few pictures of them. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  21. City Portraits – Here’s another theme that you can devote your life to! Faces from a city can vary immensely, but also be very telling of the environment where they live. Ask for permission first, and you may possibly glean great information to help with your photo. (example 1, example 2)
  22. City Monuments from a Different Angle – Everyone must capture the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Coliseum, Red Square, and other significant monument while traveling in a city. Try to find a different angle or view of the monument to stay clear of a trite shot. (example)
  23. City Officials (Police, Military, Firefighters, etc.) – City workers are typically devoted citizens and have a love for their city like no other. Ask permission to snap a photo of a local policeman, firefighter and the likes to capture a true local in action. (example)
  24. City in the Rain/Fog/Snow/Weather – Bad weather may seem like a downer when visiting a city, but think of the photos you may be able to capture. Skyscrapers lost in fog, and empty snow-filled city streets can make great photographs. (example 1, example 2)
  25. City Color – There is a lot of black, white and greys in the city, but there can also be fabulous pops of color. Yellow street lights, a brightly painted building, a colorful market in the sea of skyscrapers. Find that pop of color while out and about or pick just one and look for it all day to shoot. (example)
  26. Pan Shots of Cars, Bikers, Buses, Subway Cars, etc. – A city is all about movement. Playing with pan shots to capture this movement can take a lot of work, but if you get one successful shot, it will be worth it. (example 1, example 2)
  27. Pets in the City – It’s been said that Parisians don’t go anywhere without their dogs, and if you wander the streets of Istanbul, you’ll see that there is no shortage of cats basking in the city sunlight. Capture pets in the city for a twist on city portraits. Some folks may be too shy to have their photos taken, but they may love having their pet’s photo taken! (example 1, example 2)
  28. Fashion on the Street – Be a fashionista and capture the fashion on the street. Snap colorful outfits, outrageous looks or that tailored man. After a day or two of fashion shots, you may start seeing trends break right before your eyes! (example)
  29. Mom & Pop Shops – It seems you can find a Starbuck’s in any city in the world these days. I was also stunned at how many Claire’s shops I saw in Europe as well. Stay clear of the chains and look for the small Mom & Pop shops bursting with personality. From their store sign, to the owner, these photos can be great memories from the city. (example 1, example 2)
  30. Street Performers – A musician, a break dancer, a mime or a silver man, most cities have their fair share of street performers. Find some that you feel are unique to the city you are visiting and ask if you can photograph. (example)
  31. In the Park – Parks are the urban oasis to any city. Be sure to take a nice walk through the park and capture city life away from the city. (example 1, example 2)
  32. City at Play: The City through a Child’s Eye – Look at the city from a child’s point of view. This could be a change of perspective (shooting from the waist) or at how big everything must feel. It could also be the playful part of the city from revolving doors and elevator buttons to city play structures or a famous toy store. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  33. Balconeys/Doorways/Windows – This is another tried and true theme that can offer some interesting photographs when shot in a city. A fancy entrance to a hotel or flashy entrance to a theater, an ornate window of a historic building or an everyday window in an apartment building… a city will offer all this and everything in between. (example 1, example 2)
  34. Neon Madness – Many urban environments are known for neon– be sure to bring your camera out at night and capture the colors. (example)
  35. The Tourist’s City: Hotels & Details – Capture the elements of the city that are especially made for tourists– the front door of the famous hotels, the lobby, the skyscraper elevator buttons, the tourist shops, and more. These details are made for photographs! (example)
  36. City Workers: Doormen, Cabbies, Bus Drivers, Metro Workers, etc. – A city is filled with folks dedicated to showing you the great place they live – doormen, cabbies, metro workers, bus drivers and more all can share stories of the things they love about their city. Capture portraits of these people and give your photographs and city experience personality. (example)
  37. Urban Decay: Abandoned Building, Crumbling Sidewalk, Trash – As glamorous some cities appear to be, there always may be some grit and grim. These elements, like a boarded up building, or crumbling sidewalk can give character to a city and can add a layer of mystery too. (example 1, example 2)
  38. City Dining – A shot of the front of the restaurant, the signage, the menu, the waiters, and even good old food porn (pictures of what you ate)  is a photography theme of it’s own. Capture that special meal or meals and remember all the delicious food you at in the city. (example 1)
  39. Words in the City: Marquees, Signage, etc. – Capture vintage marquees, building signage, even the old painted mural signs on brick buildings in the city. (example 1, example 2)
  40. Name of the City in the City – If you just keep your eye out for the city name, you’ll be surprised how often you’ll see it. On advertising, in the names of stores, on buildings, on street signs and more. Have a hunt and see how many you can capture in a day. (example)
  41. Black and White – Urban shots can look great in black and white– convert an entire days worth of shots to black and white and see which ones stand out the most. (example 1, example 2)
  42. In the Neighborhood: Stoop Steps, Porches, Neighborhood Streets – Off the hustle and bustle of the main drags, you’re sure to find some great neighborhoods. Capture the city neighborhoods, the stoop steps, the brownstone or flat front doors, the street signs, the house numbers, the balconies and more. (example 1, example 2)
  43. Commuters – In most cities there are just as many residents as there are commuters who come in every morning for work and leave in the evening. Capture this city ritual in a historic train station or main subway station, or head out on the streets and photograph crowds on the bus, in a cab, and more. (example 1)
  44. Window Shopping – There is never a shortage of shopping in a city. Pick a fashionable street and capture the shopping delights; customers with shopping bags, store windows, store signs, displays and more. (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  45. In the News – A ticker tape at Times Square, a newstand filled with the latest edition papers and magazines, a billboard and more. Capture the news of the city with these types of shots. (example 1, example 2)
  46. In Love with the City – If you’re in love you’ll see it, and if you’ve just broken up with someone, you may see it more… Spend the day in the city looking for love; hand holding, a stolen kiss, a heart, a hug, that special glance. You’ll know it when you see it, it’s hard to miss! (example 1, example 2, example 3)
  47. Multi-Image Shot of a Building – Find one of your favorite buildings in the city and start snapping away. Take several pictures, from top to bottom. Print them out and/or in post-production assemble the shots to create a collage poster of the building. (example 1, example 2)
  48. City Shadows – One can see the most amazing shadows in the city. Shadows from buildings, from people, from scaffolding and much more. Keep your eye out for the day on just shadows and see what you find. (example, example 2)
  49. Religion in the City – Cities are filled with churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and more. Some of these sites can be the most famous in the city (i.e., Notre Dame, Paris; St. Peter’s Church, Rome; Blue Mosque, Istanbul; etc.) Be sure to respect the rule of photography once inside the building. (example 1, example 2)
  50. Whimsical, Wonderful City Life – Perhaps it’s the bubble blower in the park, the woman walking her pet iguana, the man playing an accordian, or the clown heading to host a party – these sightings in the city are full of whimsy and magic. Be sure to be ready to capture them, since the don’t always come around often! (example)

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