5 rules for shooting and displaying urban photography

How to find the dramatic in the everyday

There’s something really compelling about urban photography. Whether it’s rain dancing on city streets, billboards cutting through the twilight or candid photos of strangers rushing by, whole worlds of stories in their eyes, urban photography can deliver a powerful narrative and an irresistible melancholy. It’s as fascinating to look at as it is to shoot, because it’s all about finding the dramatic in the everyday.

After many years in the photography business, the photo printing experts at My-Picture.co.uk have taken care of printing thousands of urban photography snaps on all kinds of formats. Here’s what they’ve learned.

1. Monochrome is everything

If in doubt, take the colour out. Most classic urban photos are monochrome, and of the many canvas prints featuring urban scenes that My-Picture.co.uk prints the vast majority are either shot in monochrome or converted to monochrome during the online customisation process. Stripping an image of its colour immediately sets a tone and creates a melancholic mood. 

Without the diffuse glow of the colour palette, we shift our focus onto what’s essential

A great example of that is monumental architecture. Shooting detailed buildings in monochrome is a really effective way to draw the viewer’s eye to the textures and most intricate details.

2. Raw emotion

Everybody has a story, and from the early days of modern urban photography pioneers such as Diane Arbus have told those stories through candid photography. 

Always intimate, often kinetic and frequently captured on the fly with intuitive composition, such photography can have an incredible impact. If you’d like to emulate the greats like Arbus the techniques she used are actually quite simple – it’s mastering them that takes the time and the talent.

To take a portrait of a stranger that achieves a revealing depth, you have to establish a dialogue prior to the shoot

Don’t just stick your camera in someone’s face, though. People aren’t oddities to be held up for examination. If you show respect for and a genuine interest in the inner life of your subject, you’ve got a strong foundation for successful and striking urban portraiture. 

3. It’s about scale

When you analyse the customised photo products created by My-Picture.co.uk you’ll discover something telling about urban photography: big cities work best on big prints.

If a photo’s fantastic in itself, of course it could be printed on a stamp and still look great

But presenting it in a bigger format can be the perfect way to bring out the full intensity – as well as the sheer scale – of the urban environment.

And of course, any metropolitan skyline will work wonderfully on a panoramic canvas. Iconic sites such as Times Square were made for panoramas, which reproduce the sense of space and scale that makes them so striking in the first place.

4. A frame that packs a punch

Have you ever thought about the effect of framing on your photos? If not, urban photography may well be the genre that makes you start, because the way you present your photograph has a huge impact.

Whether it’s a jazzy street-level portrait or an iconic silhouette such as the Empire State Building you have to consider the medium for your message. Do you print onto regular canvas, or would the image work better as a framed photo

The oblique cut of the passe-partout framing in a My-Picture.co.uk framed photo is all you need to achieve that true gallery aesthetic

Passe-partout framing is a really powerful tool for photographers. Even the most evocative, compelling image can benefit from passe-partout, where the photo is given the space to breathe. It draws your eye to the photo as well as bringing a touch of sophistication to the whole package.

5. Have your camera ready at all times

Urban photography demands quick reflexes, and a fair bit of luck. With so much happening at any given moment in the urban environment, it’s a genre defined by unpredictability and synchronicity. So be sure to have your camera to hand at all times – your next chance to create a masterpiece could pass in the blink of an eye!  

Urban photography isn’t just about technique. It’s about recognising the moment, noticing the hidden details, being in the right place at the right time.

It’s a mix of experience and original thinking, of timing as well as talent. And of course, when it all pays off and you get the perfect shot you’ll want it to have the perfect presentation too.

With years of experience printing many thousands of urban photography pictures, you can be sure that My-Picture.co.uk will deliver just that. The rest is up to you.