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Portrait of a City

Updated on January 26, 2015

New York

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

City of Miami/Miami Beach ocean side

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

To start this project the first thing that one must do is to choose the city which will make up the basis of a photographic portrait.

No matter what city one chooses, there are many images an situations that can go into making the project.

I have written an article titled "Photograph Your Hometown" which focused on images of my city and the nice things about it. This project attempts to go deeper and although they are similar projects, they are somewhat different.

This type of project involves capturing images that clearly depict the city itself; street images or scenes, people, night life, cultural affairs, food, stores, the good and the bad. All together to make a concise effort to document everything that the city means and stands for.

Do not just include pictures of what you know, find useful or believe to be photogenic. Put your self in the place a a new visitor to your city who knows nothing about it and take it from there.

This may actually be your biggest challenge since it is hard to "forget" what you know about your hometown but it is the most important aspect of such a project if you want your images to be convincing.

You can also get out of your comfort zone and document life somewhere drastically different. This could mean travelling to the other side of the world, but it needn't be. Go to the next town, city or urban area.

The largest and most famous flea market in the world, located on the northern edge of Paris at the Porte de Clignancourt.

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

Willing to try this at home?

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Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Wide angle landscapes; Shoot some landscapes with a wide angle lens.

Your shots need to encompass a large landscape to show the context and size of the location yet they should not be of unrecognizable subjects or simply shapes.

The subjects need to be focused enough so that a viewer can distinguish what it is that they are looking at and be able to recognize landmarks. In other words, your viewers need to be able to tell what city it is that they are being shown.

Keep in mind that depending on the city of your choice daytime shots may work best and for others night scenes may be best .

The city of Miami has some features that are easily identifiable at night due to their illumination patterns and in other cities like Paris, landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower will do just fine.

Take both day and night sots and judge their efficacy later to see which ones work best.

Classic red telephone box and London double-decker bus in front of the Houses of Parliament clocktower and Love padlocks on Pont des Arts, Paris

Public domain
Public domain | Source
CC BY-SA 2.5
CC BY-SA 2.5 | Source


Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Regular to medium lenses; These are used for normal pictures of events and activities like the food on a restaurant or cafe, art work on display at a farmers or street fair, unusual things like fountains, buildings, perhaps cars, gardens and so on.

A flash for night scenes but only used to illuminate willing subjects and a tripod.

Plan your shots as if the viewer does not know anything about the location and your job is to show everything that you can about it.

If your work entices someone who has never visited the location to perhaps go there themselves one day then the project worked.

You are in essence telling a story without using words, showcasing the beauty and the appeal of the location.

Photographers who are hired by tourist boards make their living by capturing images that show everything that will make others want to come there but their images are usually "pretty ones".

You on the other hand should include everything although the main emphasis should be on interesting rather than "pretty".

Elephants standing during Thrissur pooram festival in Kerala state of south India

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Try to develop a written piece to complement the images. Telling what activities usually take place, detailing the best places to visit, what traditional events take place and when, as well as the best times to go.

Adding some technical information such as exchange rates, prices, hotel information, best food etc is always a good idea too.

This does help make your work that more appealing to an editor if you should want to use the project for a commercial purpose.

Remember to always ask first for the submission guidelines before sending any publication anything that is unsolicited. You run the risk of not having the material returned to you if not accepted.

How would you use such a project?

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Above all, the project works best if you are also a resident since you know more about where you live than any outsider.

But if you choose a location outside of your home area, you should really do copious amounts of research before venturing into a similar project.

Another key practice is to browse through quite a few samples of previous photographs to grasp the idea of what images work and which do not.

This will help in determining what locations to visit and what gear to have in hand.

"Golden Week" in China a traditional 7 day national holiday

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

St, Peter's Basilica

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

© 2015 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      alancaster149: Thank you. BTW I have always found that B&W works really well for landscapes/cityscapes

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting, Luis. I'd like to use images in this style for a travelogue. For myself I prefer the countryside, although cityscapes are worth a spread. There is scope for down-town views as well, peeling posters, wrecked or wheel-less cars, shuttered shops etc, and reflections in the rain.

      When I lived in Camberwell, in a grainier part of South-east London I had a pair of Zenith SLR bodies used 400 ASA GAF film in one, very grainy, very useful for wet evenings. In the other I'd have a fast - Ilford 400 ASA - black & white film for urban close-ups. Nice rich blacks and grainy greys. Something to get your teeth into!

      Enjoy your picture-taking. Hasta luego.


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