9 Tips for Better Urban Portrait Photography

Winford Hunter

When it comes to wedding and portrait photography, urban backdrops can provide a wealth of opportunities. For one thing, cities are full of interesting textures and patterns that can add visual interest to your photos. Concrete walls, brick buildings, and metal fire escapes can all make great backgrounds, foregrounds, or leading lines for portraits. In addition, the lines, angles, and grandeur of urban architecture gives photographers plenty of creative options and storytelling elements. Of course, urban backdrops also come with their own challenges, such as clutter in the background and low light in certain areas. To help you navigate and improve your city photography, here are 9 tips for better urban portrait photography.

  1. Look for Reflections and Windows
  2. Find Multiple Light Sources and Reflectors
  3. Incorporate Graffiti and Urban Art
  4. Nighttime is the Right Time
  5. Long Exposures and Shutter Drags for the Win
  6. Get High for a View of the Skyline
  7. Incorporate People and Environments
  8. Maximize the Interesting Architecture
  9. The View Across a Body of Water is Often the Best

(The following images and tips are provided by the award winning photographers at Wedding Maps and used with their permission.)

1. Urban Portrait Photography: Look for Reflections

Urban environments are full of reflections and frames from the windows of office buildings and businesses that are just screaming to be utilized in creative compositions. See some examples below.

urban portrait photography example of bride and groom
Photo © Party of Two (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
multiple exposure of bride and groom over city architecture.
Photo © Dan Sauer (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

2. Find Multiple Light Sources and Reflectors

City backdrops are also full of unique lighting. The sunlight bounces off of the reflective buildings and creates multiple light sources. Sometimes the light is soft and can be used as a reflector for fill light.  Other times, it can act as spotlight to highlight your subject(s) in the photo. See the example below.

bride and groom in train station
Photo © Frank Balzan (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

3. Incorporate Graffiti and Urban Art

Urban backdrops often have interesting street art that gives the city a unique personality and character. Tastefully incorporating some graffiti and other wall art into your urban portrait photography can create interesting, creative photography. See the example below.

urban portrait photography example.
Photo © Jay Henington (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

4. Nighttime is the Right Time

One of the best, most unique ways to capture urban portrait photography is after the sun has set and the buildings light up the night sky. This is where your flash and lighting skills shine, and you have a chance to  differentiate yourself from other photographers. See some of the examples below.

Indian wedding couple against city backdrop.
Photo © Jason Vinson (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

5. Long Exposures and Shutter Drags For the Win

Urban environments are full of invigorating, beautiful chaos. The sights, sounds, hustle and bustle all come together for a unique energy that can be creatively captured with long exposure photography. Use long exposures, i.e. shutter drags, to capture movement in the people, the traffic, and anything else moving in the scene. Here are a few examples below.

Bride and groom portrait in front of speeding cars.
Photo © Sean Thurston (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
bride and groom in front of city architecture.
Photo © SMJ Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
couple sitting in front of massive building.
Photo © Mauricio Urena (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

6. Get High for a View of the Skyline

Of course another great way to capture a cityscape is above it all. Many city weddings are on the top floors of tall buildings, and some might even have balconies and rooftops to use for your portrait photography backdrop. See a few examples below.

two grooms atop building overlooking city.
Photo © Raph Nogal (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
Couple in water with city backdrop.
Photo © Joanna and Brett (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
bride and groom with mountain landscape behind them.
Photo by Creando Fotos (Website)

7. Incorporate People and Environments

One difficult aspect of urban photography, especially in the larger, busier cities, is getting clear photos without people or crowds. In some locations, you can beat the crowds by shooting at off hours, such as sunrise. However, this can present challenges for clients who simply don’t want to wake up that early or for wedding clients who need to stick to a reasonable schedule. Instead of battling the crowds and potentially getting frustrated with the situation, you can embrace the environment and incorporate into the story of the photos. See some examples below.

bride and groom on bridge, with bicyclists in foreground.
Photo © Kivus and Camera (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

8. Maximize the Interesting Architecture

One of the best aspects of urban portrait photography is that many cities have interesting and beautiful architecture. These buildings, bridges, sculptures, and other artwork can provide character to the photos. They can also create scale and perspective when juxtaposed with the much smaller subjects.  See some examples below.

architecture portrait
Photo © Lets Make a Memory (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
engagement couple in front of interesting building.
Photo by Jos and Tree (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

9. The View Across A Body of Water is Often The Best

When it comes to photographing skylines, here’s a quick tip. The best views of the skyline are often across a large body of water. The body of water not only creates a beautiful reflection of the skyline but it also eliminates the chances of smaller buildings or other objects obstructing the view of the buildings.  See a few examples below.

couple by lake
Photo by Lazzat Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
urban portrait photography example of couple
Photo by Holding and Co. (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

More Examples and Inspiration

We want to end this article with some more examples of urban portrait photography to show you that there isn’t a “correct” or universal style that fits every scene. Each and every photographer will approach a scene in a different way, and that’s part of what makes our craft so unique and great. Here are a few more city portraits from some incredible photographers.

bride and groom walking down city street.
Photo by Christine Ladehoff (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
couple in front of building with small, colored fountains in front of them.
Photo by Belinda Philleo (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
urban portrait of couple
Photo by Jeff Tisman (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)


When it comes to portrait photography, urban environments are some of the most fun and interesting places to shoot. The lines and geometry of cityscapes mixed with the contrast of light and shadow present seemingly unlimited creative options and potential. We hope this article gives you some tips and inspiration for your next urban photoshoot.

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