The city landscape can vary so much country to country that what you thought you knew about ‘urban photography’ can change in an instant. Because cities are constantly evolving they provide continually new inspiration.
We’ve put together our list of the best cities for photography buffs. These cities all inspire us to stretch our idea of city photography in unique ways, adding something different to the conversation between photographer and subject - whether that’s a model you’re working with or the city itself. These are the best cities for urban landscape photographers with portrait photography ideas in there too. We would love to know how each of these cities prompts you to push your work in new and exciting directions.
And of course, no list can include everything, so let us know if there’s somewhere you really recommend!
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: A City On Water
Venice is a uniquely beautiful and atmospheric place, with its winding backstreets, grand Gothic architecture and canals punctuated by charming bridges.
You won't find a single car in sight. There are none in the city; instead people get around by Venice's distinctive gondolas and other canal boats. Although it's often a very busy city, the lack of cars also lends it a certain peace. Visit in winter if you want to skip the crowds!
There's no shortage of photo opportunities in Venice. You won't be able to resist taking photos at every turn - every narrow street and glittering canal practically begs to be photographed. It's easy to wonder the streets for hours - prepare to get a bit lost! You can even take a day trip around the beautiful lagoon and its smaller islands.
Plus, there are plenty of historical sites St Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace, The Bridge of Sighs, and many impressive art galleries.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography
The whole city during Carnival season!
The Carnival of Venice happens every year in the weeks leading up to Lent. Visit the city during the festival to see the elaborate costumes visitors and residents don for the occasion (and perhaps get dressed up yourself.) Expect ornate Venetian masks, baroque gowns, and menacing capes. It's an otherworldly experience, and a great excuse to party.
The atmospheric city is a perfect backdrop for portraits during the Carnival. Just make sure to ask permission before taking photos!
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: Quintessentially British Architecture
We recommend bringing your lunch up to the top of the Tate Modern for a view of the London skyline. This is one of our personal favourite spots for urban photography in London because it offers such diverse views of the city landscape from one (free & easily accessible) location.
The classic architecture of St Paul’s and the Faraday building is straight ahead, and the ultra modern buildings of the City are to the right, plus you get to see the selection of iconic bridges crossing the Thames.
Later in the afternoon, you can usually find a man on South Bank below blowing giant bubbles for tourists, which make for some excellent and unusual frames for St Paul’s.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography
Camden Lock has long been a meeting ground for the UK alternative scene, making it a real bucket list item for a London photography trip. It is very crowded so we recommend shooting from the hip. For even more portrait photography ideas, head into the markets for exciting range of backdrops that change season by season.
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: The Sagrada Familia
Perhaps one of the most iconic buildings of the modern era. Started in 1882 and oozing with Gaudi’s unique character, this Unesco World Heritage site has been 136 years in the making so far. Here, urban photography meets medieval Gothic and surreal 1920s modernism.
Head to the Placa de Gaudi, just over the road from the cathedral. Here you’ll get a wonderful shot of the Sagrada Familia reflected in the small lake at the centre of the park.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Park Guell
Another Gaudi masterpiece (this one finished!) Park Guell is up on a hill and receives the most beautiful quality of light. The curving, semi-subterranean tunnels will frame your subject beautifully and allow you to capture some truly creative shots.
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: Sunsets on the Eiffel Tower
Head to Montemarte to frame your shots of the Eiffel Tower with beautiful historic French buildings. This will add a classically french, romantic twist to photos of this iconic landmark.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: the Louvre
Perhaps no one can use the Louvre as iconically as the Carters but we can sure try. With its moody lighting and beautiful surroundings, the settings will enrapture your subject - so all you have to do its capture that wonder.
What you won’t find anywhere else: Rugged nature right in the heart of the city!
Wander around the University of British Columbia campus and you get the feeling of an ultra modern city that has just been transported to the middle of the wilderness. Vancouver synthesises the wildness of nature with city living like nowhere else.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Stanley Park
A quick trip over to Stanley park allows you the opportunity for some beautiful shots that feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere- without having to traipse all your gear and outfits way out into the woods. It’s not strictly urban environment photography, but we couldn’t skip this from our list.
6. Hong Kong
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: Urban Design Like Nowhere Else
Beautifully designed and colour blocked estates, that are eminently Instagrammable. The whole city landscape seem to have been designed first and foremost to be photographed.
If you want a shot of Choi Hung estate, try get there early, as a lot of these estates fill up early with photographers. (Though you could also stick around and watch for the tangle of tripods, extension sticks and the folks laying on the floor for the perfect angle!)
How to Find This Shot:
From Choi Hung MTR Station take Exit C4. Walk into the Estate and turn left which takes you to the car park. The colourful basketball court is on top of the structure.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Mong Kok
An urban landscape photographers dream! Mong Kok is an iconic neon saturated street, gorgeous for night time photography.
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: The Northern Lights
Whilst many other places experience the northern lights there’s no place like Reykjavik. Gorgeous Icelandic design and breathtaking scenery take the experience to a whole other level. Whether you’re in the city centre or looking out across the coast, Reykjavik is the perfect place to photograph the aurora borealis.
When photographing in Iceland, remember to protect your lens from getting foggy in the extreme weather - when changing between temperatures try and isolate your camera by putting it in a plastic bag or at least wrapping it in a scarf- your body can adjust a lot quicker to getting back into a warm car than your camera can!
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Northern Lights Again!
The northern lights are so unique, that we had to have them twice.
Bringing people into your shots can really emphasise the sense of scale, and emphasise the natural beauty of Iceland. Remember to warn your subject top stay ultra still to avoid blurring out of the long exposure.
8. New York City
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: Skyscrapers Galore
As the largest metropolitan area in the world, it’s no surprise that urban photography in New York is all about the skyscrapers.
This clever spot features one of the cities first and best loved skyscrapers; the Empire State Building. Washington Street aligns perfectly to give this beautiful view of the Washington Bridge with the Manhattan skyline in the background and the Empire State Building framed perfectly by the legs of the bridge.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Brooklyn By Night
Brooklyn is home to some of the world’s most innovative and experimental drag queens. Ask the performers beforehand if they’d be willing to pose for
Check out drag photographer extraordinaire Magnus Hastings for inspiration.
9. Los Angeles
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: Instagram Heaven
LA is probably the most Instagrammable city in the world, which for photographers can lead to feeling vemödalen: “the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.”
This doesnt mean its not worth going, you just need to find your own unique take.
Spots like the Santa Monica Pier can change incredibly over the course of a day, giving you a huge variety of light and atmosphere to capture.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Venice Beach
For this same reason, we would recommend sticking near the beaches for candid portrait photography, where people are more relaxed and prone to spontaneity.
If you’ve already got a model, Beverly Hills’ iconic palm trees and the art deco glory of the Getty Museum make excellent settings - and try out the art district neighbourhood for an ever-changing selection of world class murals.
10. Washington DC
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: DC's Monuments & Memorials
DC is chock full of iconic monuments that look dramatically different at different times of day, and year. The white stone really takes on the colour of the surrounding sky at dawn and dusk
Consider using a neutral density filter, the longer exposure time will (hopefully) filter out tourists wandering in and out of shot.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: DC Metro
Ride out to the suburbs where everyone starts to relax and you can get some wonderful candid shots of people transitioning between their home and work selves.
The iconic 70s palette adds a warmth to the shot that is hard to achieve on other Metro systems.
What You Won't Find Anywhere Else: Sakura
The blooming of the cherry blossoms represents for many the Japanese concept of ‘Mono no aware:’ a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常 mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.
Head to Tokyo's parks in early April to experience the cherry blossoms in their full glory for yourself, and capture some truly beautiful shots.
Best Spots for Portrait Photography: Harajuku
Is there any style more closely associated with a specific location than Harajuku? The birthplace of kawaii culture and Japanese pop culture, you'll see people decked out in a full array of unique and colourful outfits.
Explore the area around Harajuku Station, but definitely make sure to explore cute backstreets such as Takeshita Street and Cat Street.Many people come to Harajuku with the expectation of being photographed, which makes for some amazing opportunities with willing subjects. Check out the iconic FRUITs magazine for inspiration.
But remember: being photographed regularly means that people expect a level of professionalism. If you’re asking someone to pose for you, have your settings sorted out first. Or, shoot from the hip and then make sure to ask them afterwards and be polite. Always remember to say "Thanks a lot" : どうもありがとう (Doumo arigatou)
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list as much as we did making it. And we weren't joking about wanting your recommendations- what cities inspire you and where would you like to go photograph next?
Let us know in the comments!