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Too many of my travel photos look like this. The subject of the photo is obviously the church, but the random people and cars around it are quite annoying. The traffic light in front of the mosaic is an eyesore.

I'm looking for any advice on how to compose city shots better.

I know a few obvious things. For example, shooting from far away or high up leaves only the buildings visible. Also, if people are moving and there aren't too many of them, they can be removed by either using a long exposure, or by taking multiple pictures and median-filtering.

But in many situations it won't help. Sometimes I have to shoot from street level, and there are too many people to filter out. I don't particularly like long-exposure pictures with blurry people. Filtering also won't help with static objects like traffic lights, overhead power lines, etc.

Instead, what I'm looking for is ways to compose the shot to make these additional object less distracting. For example, in this picture the people look less distracting to me. The boat covered with blue tarp would normally make me cringe, but in this picture it somewhat emphasizes the mood (it seems like it's hiding from rain, even though in reality the tarp is probably always on).

There are relatively simple rules for general photography, like "having leading lines adds depth to the image". Are there similar rules to make people and other things less distracting in city shots?

Note that this is not a question about street photography. That's because a street photographer's main subject are people (and many pictures include relatively little background); in my case, the main subjects would be buildings, landmarks, etc., and I'm only trying to make people around them less distracting.

  • If the crowd moves fast enough and the exposure is long enough, they will disappear from the final image. – Jasen Jul 28 '15 at 2:48
  • Hi @eugene, welcome to photo.SE! I don't know if you're familiar with SE, but the tour page sums it all up (you'll also earn a badge after reading it). Anyway, I hope you like this community and keep coming back. – Roflo Jul 28 '15 at 15:06
  • You may find How can I make an interesting, unique photograph of a city skyline? helpful here, although it's focused on different aspects of cityscape composition. – mattdm Jul 28 '15 at 18:44
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Compose early. You tend to get better light and less people early in the morning. I also keep a tripod and wireless remote with me. When there are a lot of people I will throw my camera on my full extended tripod, bring all of the legs together and then hold the camera a lot higher in the air by holding the lower part of the legs. Sometimes the extra 6' I get doing this makes a big difference. If you have some extra money you could look into a tilt-shift type lens and manipulate your depth of field. I know the tilt-shifts are something that architectural photographers will gravitate towards.

  • +1 for the camera-on-a-stick-trick... this is one of the many reasons I love small cameras. This combined with some tilt-shifting (actual or digital) makes getting closer to buildings less perspective-damaging, and getting closer is often the only way to reduce the number of pesky foreground objects... especially those &*!@# power lines. :) – junkyardsparkle Jul 27 '15 at 23:46
  • I would also substitute "at the best time" for "early", since the best time for avoiding things like parked cars can vary quite a bit depending on the actual location in question. – junkyardsparkle Jul 27 '15 at 23:58
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I don't have any magic formula to remove distracting elements, but what distracts me most in the first picture you show is not that there are people and cars, but the fact that people and cars are crossing the border of the picture.

If you can't remove these element from your picture, try to actually incorporate them in your composition. OK, you can't make the picture "church with nobody in front" that you wanted to take today? Take this "church with tourists in front" instead. Step back or zoom out, and get the people's feet in frame. If possible, get higher to change the perspective (get vertical lines to be parallel, and show that you are above people and cars).

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The most important factor in capturing a great cityscape, is to familiarise yourself with the subject.

When does the sun create shadows that darken people, cars, lamp posts and unwanted items and highlight your main subject?

From where does the sun rise and set? and at what times?

What effect does this have on your image?

When do the roads become busy?

When is there an increase in people?

What shadows are being cast and where? How is this effecting the composition?

From what angles are you able to take attention away from unwanted items?

What focal distances are creating the most interest for you?

What aperture setting is creating the best effect on the depth of field?

Are you making full productive use of the light available? I.E positioning yourself from a vantage point from where you can take full advantage of the dynamic range available to create the contrast between your main subject and unwanted items?

Most cityscape/landscape photographers, can at times, spend a whole day at the same location, sometimes repeatedly over weeks to be able to capture their image as perfect as they perceive it to be.

Now, I am not saying that you need to spend days and weeks getting to know your city, but to ensure you capture the best cityscapes, you need to be prepared with the above knowledge to some degree.

If time is of constraint, you can prepare yourself the night before in your hotel room with a lot of these pre-requisites, IE sunrise/sunset times and orientations, rush hours, school times, shops opening and closing times. From here you can make calculated guesses to where you can be by using the hotel maps or google earth to position yourself for the best cityscapes and at the best times.

All this preparation will provide you with a clear understanding and visibility of what you are capturing and as a result, help you produce the images you desire.

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