Big City Lights – Common Photo Themes


Cities are an incredible inspiration to photographers.  There are so many facets of cities that are appealing, from the street photography opportunities to the architectures.  But one of the more mesmerizing features is the appearance of the city at night.  This is when we see the city behind it’s facade of lights.  A city at night has a very different aesthetic than it is during the day.  Our cameras love light, so this month we’re exploring big city lights:

Hungerford Glow by James Attree

"Hungerford Glow" by James Attree

“Hungerford Glow” by James Attree

James Attree introduces us to the London of night in his photograph, Hungerford Glow.  We all know that location is important to where you’re shooting:  London is one of the most iconic cities in the world, even at night.  But what about location as to where you’re shooting from?  Being in the right place is important to the composition when dealing with large structures that can’t take a few steps to the left.  But that’s just part of it.  The city is impressively lit with it’s mixture of colors and play on textures.  To capture all of this in a photograph requires patience, experimentation and careful timing.  My favorite feature of this vantage point is the shadow of Big Ben cast upon the central tower of Parliament.

Dubai Under The Moonlight by Thamer Al-Hassan


"Dubai Under The Moonlight" by Thamer Al-Hassan

“Dubai Under The Moonlight” by Thamer Al-Hassan

Dubai Under The Moonlight, a photograph by Thamer Al-Hassan, shows us a lesser known view of another iconic city: Dubai.  I don’t know this city very well, but I would suspect that this is a more residential district due to the lack of glass typical of the office buildings.   Using the building walls as its canvas, the light here is less ornamental and more utilitarian; but the light is no less beautiful.  I especially love the warm tones of these buildings against the slate sky.  But if that isn’t enough, the rocks and sand in the foreground – and the reflections in the water near the lower left corner – provide some foreground interest and context.  In this single photo, Thamer has taught us a lot about this incredible city.

Searching For Lightning by Brandon Watts

"Searching For Lightning" by Brandon Watts

“Searching For Lightning” by Brandon Watts

Brandon Watts may have been Searching For Lightning, but during his patient wait, he also created this nighttime photograph of San Antonio, Texas (USA).  From this vantage point, you get it all:  Traffic trails, building lights, flood lighting, decorative lighting.  A long exposure under stormy skies reveals an interesting blue and purplish cast to the photograph which is a beautiful dynamic.  Furthermore, the cool dominance of the photograph brings some attention to the warm lighting around that clothes-pin looking sculpture.  I know Brandon was hoping that this composition would also be filled with a lightning strike, but we’re happy to have the shot regardless.  In and of itself, it’s an impressive view of this bustling city at night.

Cityscape by Ross Abraham

"Cityscape" by Ross Abraham

“Cityscape” by Ross Abraham

You really can’t get the idea of the scale of some cities until you look out a tall building window at night.  Ross Abraham‘s Cityscape illustrates how big city lights can reveal truths that aren’t nearly as noticeable during the day: Like how this city, Philadelphia, sprawls much further than it’s large buildings.  From such a high vantage point, you can learn a lot about such a city.  You can see just how long and how straight the streets are, revealing a pretty cool vanishing point composition that can’t be found in many places or at other times of the day.  Ross’s composition illustrates that light has many ways to paint a picture.

Tourists Everywhere by Linh H. Nguyen

"Tourists Everywhere" by Linh H. Nguyen

“Tourists Everywhere” by Linh H. Nguyen

If there’s one thing that Linh H. Nguyen teaches us with his photograph, Tourists Everywhere, it’s that city lights aren’t just for decoration for for showing the way; they can be used for marketing and advertising as well.  Actually, there are two things this shot teaches us.  The second is that you don’t always have to view a city from afar or from up high to appreciate the big city lights.  Urban lighting is sometimes appreciated best from the inside.  In fact, you probably don’t even need to see the skyline to know where this shot was taken.  We’re at the northern corner of Times Square in New York City.  The billboards and marquis here are legendary – possibly notorious – and this is such an iconic location.  But it’s not iconic because of the buildings.  The defining aspect of this space is the lit signage that covers every square inch of this massive intersection.  But Linh only used this as a backdrop for some social commentary.  Instead, he focused on the number of people – clearly tourists – sitting around, waiting, cluttering this small corner of the square.  In the home of the most famous theater district in the world, Linh has certainly set the stage with this photograph.


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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