5 Tips For Creating Stunning Cityscapes


Cityscapes have a uniquely vibrant feel to them which is unlike any other form of photography. If shot correctly, they can captivate an audience. Yet, at the same time, there can be any number of difficult factors to account for when you're shooting, like moving vehicles, and taking pictures through glass from high buildings.  In this article we'll look at how to overcome these and add more mood, vibrancy, and energy to your cityscapes.

Tip 1 – Shooting Through Glass

The image below was shot from the top of the John Hancock building in Chicago. With thick glass, it was essential that I set the shot up correctly beforehand.

In order to shoot through glass, especially at night, you must counter the light reflections coming from the room you're in. There are suction cup devices that cling to the window and attach to your camera. Often a black material hangs between the lens and the window, cutting off any potential reflections.

Instead, I used an old fashioned black scarf to achieve a reflection free shot. But be sure the scarf or tee-shirt is big enough.

shooting through glass
Photo by Begirl All Over The World

Tip 2 – Adding Car Trails

Nothing gives a cityscape energy like whizzing car trails. In order to capture car trails correctly, it's important to shoot your cityscape as you would normally. Then, increase your shutter speed by narrowing your aperture. This longer exposure will ensure you capture car trails of a nice length. Take as many of these exposures as you wish; the more the merrier.

In photoshop, take your main exposure and place one of your car trail exposures on top of it. On this layer, simply go to the Blend Mode at the top of the layers panel and change it to Lighten. You'll see that all of your image will disappear, leaving only the car trails! You can do this with as many of the car trail exposures as you wish.

light trails after
Photo by Jimmy McIntyre 

Tip 3 – Creating Reflections

This is a controversial tip. Some people love the fake reflection effect, and others feel it is a form of cheating. This is a recent cityscape where I mirrored the city to create a surreal reflection.

To do this you need a flat horizon, and to select the top half of the image with the rectangular marquee tool, copy that layer, and flip it vertically under Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical. Then slide the flipped layer down so that the horizons match.

You can see a full tutorial on this here: Create Fake Reflection In Photoshop

Tip 4: Add City Lights To a Golden Hour Cityscape

This is one of my favourite techniques. Take the image below (the reflection is real), this is a digitally blended image using three exposures of the same scene.

Firstly, I took two exposures, one for the sky and one for the foreground. Then I waited around an hour for a deep blue hour, where the city lights would be strong, and captured that exposure. After blending the first two exposures in Photoshop, I simply used the exact same technique we used in the adding car trails tip! I placed the city lights image on top of our blended image, changed its Blend Mode to Lighten, and that was it. We now have a golden hour cityscape with city lights included!

composite cityscape

Tip 5 – Colour Management: Creating a Futuristic Cityscape

Nothing says futuristic like a cold, blue cityscape, for some reason. For the image below, I desaturated everything except for the blues throughout the image, and the solitary green moss on the rock in the foreground.

Image by Jimmy McIntyre

To do this, just open up a Saturation Adjustment layer, go to the drop down box where it says Master. Choose any of those colours. Next, you will see  a colourful bar at the bottom with brackets and a grey bar. Firstly, slide this grey bar anywhere other than the blue section. Then, push each of the brackets away from the grey bar so that they include all of the colours apart from the blues. Now just got to the Saturation slider and take it down to a level you like. After that I just masked the green back into the rock. And that's it! See below for visual instructions.


I hope you've found these tips useful. Small changes to your workflow can make a huge difference in how your images turnout. With cityscapes, it's worth going that little bit further in order to capture that energy and vibrancy they deserve!

About Author

Travel photographer and international trainer, Jimmy McIntyre was voted one of the best photographers to follow on 500px.com by Fstoppers. His free Youtube tutorials and free Easy Panel for Photoshop have helped photographers around the world achieve powerful results in their images. Feel free to visit his blog here: https://throughstrangelenses.com

Great tips for some awesome images, Very artistic and sounds like fun to do. I will try these out once winter leaves.
Images don’t always have to be “as taken”. Use some artistic licence..

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