How to photograph a city in a day

A commuter waits on a jetty by the Hooghly River in Kolkata
Image courtesy: Bodhisattva Sen Roy

The urban environment provides photographers easy access to the greatest variety of subject matter. In the time it takes to walk a block or two, you can photograph panoramic skylines; people up close, at work or at play; abstract architectural details; frenetic street activity; and peaceful park scenes.

You can capture elements of the past and the present through the city’s architecture in one carefully composed street scene, focus in on torn wall posters in a dimly lit alleyway and within minutes be framing up the most recognisable landmark in the city. In this itinerary, renowned travel photographer Richard I’Anson lays out a basic framework for getting the most moments from a city in one day, no matter where you are in the world:

  • Rise before dawn to get to a predetermined location before the sun rises to capture the classic skyline or city view at first light.
  • Make your way to the waterfront (provided the city you are in has one) for early-morning activity.
A stone angel quietly sheds a tear at an old graveyard in New Delhi
Image courtesy: Bodhisattva Sen Roy
  • Head into the city centre for people and traffic-free architectural photographs of key buildings and those alluring quiet streetscapes.
  • As the city wakes up, head to the morning markets for an hour or so.
  • Back to the main thoroughfares and city squares as peak-hour crowds and traffic build up for busy streetscapes.
  • Walk the streets searching out new views, urban details, interesting shops and people engaged in daily activities.
  • As the city starts to settle down after the morning rush, head to the city’s museums and art galleries.
A panoramic view of Jodhpur as seen from the ramparts of the imposing Mehrangarh Fort
Image courtesy: Bodhisattva Sen Roy
  • Get to a busy eatery and photograph it as it begins to fill with lunchtime crowds. It is also a good opportunity to have some lunch yourself but not before you capture the dishes.
  • Take an early-afternoon walk around shopping precincts before visiting places further from the city centre.
  • Mid-afternoon, check out the craft markets and city squares to photograph souvenir stalls, street performers and people shopping.
  • Take advantage of the late afternoon light to capture the city’s skyline or views from a vantage point.
  • Stay on at the viewpoint to photograph the skyline at dusk as the lights take effect or dash to another location to photograph a key building or streetscape in the half-hour after sunset.
  • Spend the evening in the night markets, photographing bands playing in bars and people dancing in nightclubs.
  • Rest and review photographs of the day.