17 Tips for Shooting Better Urban Portraits

The post 17 Tips for Shooting Better Urban Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.


Are you interested in doing an urban portrait shoot, but you’re not sure where to start? An outdoor shoot in your local town or city is a great way to be more creative, think on your feet, and come away with some unique images that you can’t get from a shoot in a studio or your local park. However, If you’ve never done one before, you may be a little daunted. In this guide, I run you through my top tips for shooting better urban portraits.

One way to make sure your talent is relaxed at the start of the shoot is by asking them to smile and getting some fun shots to kick things off.

1. Have a vision for the images you want to shoot

Begin with the end in mind. Create a mood board of urban portraits using a free tool such as Pinterest. These could either be your images or inspirational images from other photographers. Keep these in mind as you plan your shoot, as this is the standard you’ll be aiming for.

2. Location scouting

Before you plan your shoot, get an idea of the type of urban landscapes in your area. What kind of images could you take here? How could the buildings and street scenes feature in your photographs as a point of interest or as a background texture?

Every town and city has its unique charms – from heritage buildings to seaside piers to abandoned shopping centers. Find what’s interesting about your area and use it.

You can find out more about what I look for when scouting locations in my previous dPS article, How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography.


There’s always something of interest to shoot. Open up to the creative possibilities in your town.

3. Find talent for your shoot

The easiest way to find someone for a shoot is by asking family or friends. This way, the pressure is off, as you have someone familiar to work with that you can test your ideas on. Make sure you ask someone that is not too shy or self-conscious, though; after all, it will involve posing for photographs in a public location.

If you’re ready to test your urban portrait skills with a model, organize a TFP (time for print) shoot. These have been around since the pre-digital days, when photographers, models, and make-up artists would collaborate and give their time for free in exchange for physical prints of images taken during the shoot. These days, images from TFP shoots are usually digital files shared over the internet.

Finding people to work with should be relatively easy. Most cities have photographer and model groups on Facebook. Type the name of your area with the words model or photographer and see what comes up. If you have no luck, you can also ask in general photography groups if anyone knows of a TFP-style group you could join.

Image: In this image, I have lit Alyssa with a video light. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens.

In this image, I have lit Alyssa with a video light. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens.

4. Ask for expressions of interest

Once you’ve joined a local Facebook group, have a scan of the posts and see if it’s the kind of community you wish to work with. If you feel comfortable, it’s time to post your expression of interest.

Create a post introducing yourself and calling for expressions of interest in a TFP urban portrait shoot. Link to examples of your work and your Instagram.

Let people know specific details about the shoot. This includes the approximate location, proposed days and times, and the types of shots you’re looking to get. You can also link to or share images from your mood board on the post to set an expectation of the kind of shots you’ll take. If you use images on the mood board that are not yours, make sure you credit the photographer and explicitly state whose work it is.

Finally, ask people to comment on the post or send you a private message, expressing their interest. Also, ask them to link to their Instagram or portfolio.


Safety is important on any shoot – never put yourself or your talent in danger to get a shot. I took this image with the model on the footpath.

5. Arrange details for the shoot

After you’ve chosen whom you’d like to work with, organize the shoot. Agree on the day, time, and location. Prepare to negotiate regarding which day you can shoot, but not on the time. Always choose the time of day that you know will work best for photography. For me, that’s about an hour before dusk as this provides opportunities for natural light and after-dark images.

If the model is under 18, check that their parent or guardian is coming along and that they will be able to sign a model release form.

Ask your model what they’re planning to wear for the shoot. Quite often, they will ask for your advice or provide you with options. Explain that it would be ideal to have two or three different looks. Some people will prefer to have completely different outfits for the first and second half of the shoot (if there is somewhere to change). For others, it means bringing along some fun accessories like glasses, sunglasses, a hat or jacket.

If you’re arranging a shoot a week or two in advance, don’t forget to stay in touch with your model. Remind them a day or two before the shoot.


Sunglasses can be very handy on a shoot – especially when there are neon signs! Anneke, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

6. Have a plan

Think back to your location scouting. Have a list of 8-10 places where you’d like to shoot that are within walking distance of each other. Draw a map in your notebook and plan your route and the types of shots at each place. Typically, I only shoot in 6-8 locations, but I like having a couple of options up my sleeve in case some don’t work out.

Finally, don’t be afraid to throw your plan out the window if a better opportunity presents itself.

17 Tips for Shooting Better Urban Portraits

7. Plan your kit

It’s tempting to take as much kit as you can carry on an urban portrait shoot. However, strike a happy medium between taking enough kit to give you options without having to hire a Sherpa to carry your gear.

I typically take two camera bodies (Fujifilm X-T3 and X-T2) with prime lenses, with a third lens in my bag. My lenses of choice are usually the Fujinon 16mm f1.4 for wide-angle and environmental portraits, and either the 35mm f1.4 or the 56mm f1.2 lenses for portrait work. With the APS-C crop factor, these work out to 24mm, 52.5mm, and 84mm equivalent lenses in full-frame terms.

Although I love zoom lenses for family portrait shoots, I only take fast prime lenses on urban portrait shoots.

Double-check all your camera settings when you pack your gear. Things I check are:

  1. I’ve selected the same JPG film simulation on both cameras,
  2. I have the same auto ISO settings,
  3. JPG + RAW is selected in the image quality settings.
  4. There are spare formatted SD cards and spare batteries in my bag
  5. I have model release forms and a pen.

8. Get to know whom you’re photographing

Make sure you turn up early – you won’t make a good impression if your talent is waiting for you and wondering if you are going to turn up or not. Get to know your model and their chaperone. Everyone can be a bit nervous at the start of a shoot, so have a good chat with them before you even think about pulling out a camera.

9. On the shoot

Remember, on these kinds of shoots, you don’t need quantity, you need quality. I aim to get a dozen images I’m really happy with. This means potentially shooting in a different way than you usually would. Take your time with directing the model and getting the composition right before taking the shot.

Make sure you get a variety of shots – close-ups, full length, looking to the camera, looking away. Also, remember to get some different looks by using any accessories the model has brought with them.


Make sure you get a variety of shots – not just close-ups.

10. Be prepared to direct the model

Directing talent is a skill you will need to learn – especially with younger up-and-coming models with limited experience. There’s no need to be worried if you have no experience doing this yourself. Get yourself the 67 PORTRAIT POSES (PRINTABLE) Guide from DPS to have on your phone (or print them), or have a stash of urban portrait images, ready to flick through to give your talent some ideas on how to pose.

17 Tips for Shooting Better Urban Portraits

11. Check your ISO and shutter speed

As the day moves into night, keep a check on your ISO and make sure you have usable shutter speeds above 1/80th of a second. The most annoying mistake I’ve made on these shoots is looking at the back of the LCD screen, thinking that I’ve captured a sharp image, only to see that the image wasn’t as sharp as I thought on my computer screen later on.

12. Limit any negative self-talk

Negative self-talk can affect us all. If you had an idea for an image, but it doesn’t work out on the shoot, move on and forget about it. Many images are still there for the taking.

13. Carry your own lighting options

For the first half of an urban portrait shoot, I rely on natural or ambient light. As darkness envelopes the urban landscape, I look to my own lighting options.

The first option I usually take is a speedlight flash that I can use on-camera, or trigger remotely. Typically, the light from these types of flashes can be harsh, so you may like to use a light modifier such as a mini softbox.

The second type of lighting that I use on my urban portrait shoots are small LED video lights. These are fantastic, and I love using them. Again, you can use one through a light modifier for a softer effect.

Image: Using an on-camera flash can lead to some creative effects.

Using an on-camera flash can lead to some creative effects.

14. Safety

Safety should be your number one priority on a shoot like this. Identify any hazards before the shoot and brief your model. The last thing you want is someone getting hurt. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you get a bad vibe from an area, it’s best to move on.

Never leave any of your bags on the ground unattended. A few moments of inattention is all an opportunistic thief needs.

15. Legal

Always operate your shoots legally. Research if you need any permits to shoot in your city, look into public liability insurance, and have model releases signed before the shoot.

16. Limit the shoot time

Keep the shoot between 60 and 90 minutes; you’ll be amazed at how fast this will go. It’s better to have it run shorter and end on a high than run it longer with everyone exhausted. For younger models, keep it to under 60 minutes.


Keep the shoot length to under an hour for younger people – modeling is very tiring!

17. Editing your images

I always try and get it right in-camera, with only minor edits made to images afterward. One decision you may have to make is how much you want to clean up the image in post. In the example below, there were a lot of cigarette butts on the ground. I decided to remove these in Photoshop to make a cleaner image.

17 Tips for Shooting Better Urban Portraits


In this image, I removed all the cigarette butts and other debris from the road as I felt it detracted from the image. Sasha, Brisbane, Fujifilm X100F lit by a Godox flash.


Urban portrait shoots are a lot of fun and can stretch your creativity as a photographer. They help you to think on your feet and overcome challenges. If you’ve never done one before, there’s no need to feel daunted. Do your research and planning, and it will all fall into place.

If you have any questions or comments about planning an urban shoot, let us know below.

The post 17 Tips for Shooting Better Urban Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits

The post Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.


With a range of feature-packed cameras that are fun to use, and a line of stunning lenses, a Fujifilm X-Series kit is the ideal companion for urban portrait shoots.

I have been shooting with the X-Series for four years and love the system and the results I get from it. However, with so many good options available, one problem you may have is choosing a lens or kit to shoot with!

In this guide, I discuss what you need to consider when choosing a lens for a shoot, and a list of my favorite Fujifilm lenses for shooting urban portraits.

Advantages of using a Fujifilm X-Series Kit

There are a few key advantages that the Fujifilm X-Series has for urban portrait shoots. Being a mirrorless system, it’s generally smaller and lighter than DSLR kits. In practice, though, my camera bag probably isn’t much lighter because I usually fill it with more of the excellent Fujinon lenses.

Image: Fujifilm’s X-Series is ideal for urban portrait shoots for so many reasons.

Fujifilm’s X-Series is ideal for urban portrait shoots for so many reasons.

Excellent ergonomics and usability is a hallmark of the system. I love that I can change aperture on the lens instead of via a menu – in fact, I could never move back to a system where I have to change aperture via a menu now. The camera bodies feature shutter speed and ISO dials on top of the camera, so you have all the elements of the exposure triangle at your fingertips without a menu in sight.

Live view is another feature I couldn’t live without – it’s amazing seeing what your exposure will look like before pressing the shutter button. This is particularly useful in low light situations that you often encounter in urban shoots. Another dial on top of the camera is exposure compensation – you can easily adjust the exposure as you look through the viewfinder, which is perfect for the way I shoot.


Using live view on my Fujifilm X-T3, I could see exactly what adding extra exposure compensation would do when photographing Anne.

Another big advantage of Fujifilm cameras is their stunning color rendition – the best of any digital camera manufacturer. Fujifilm has used their decades of knowledge to produce JPG simulations that bear the names of class film emulsions: Provia, Astia, and Velvia, to name three.

The images in this article are JPGs (Provia simulation) with only small edits made in Adobe Lightroom. You can, of course, shoot in RAW alongside JPG and add your own looks or presets in post-production.

Camera bodies

I prefer to take two camera bodies with me on my shoots: the Fujifilm X-T3 and X-T2.

You can pretty much substitute any of the excellent X-Series lineups into your urban portrait kit, from the X-T series I use to the X-Pro line and the X-E line. I’ve even shot urban portraits with the X100 line of fixed-lens compact cameras.

If you only have one camera body, that is workable – you just need to be careful if you plan on changing lenses in urban environments to minimize the possibility of dust ending up on your sensor. The last thing you want on your mind during a shoot is the feeling of dread that you just let a whole lot of dust bunnies inside your camera.

Image: Choosing a lens for an urban portrait shoot is a balancing act between a focal length that fl...

Choosing a lens for an urban portrait shoot is a balancing act between a focal length that flatters your subject, but still allows you to be close. This image of Bailey was taken with a Fujinon 23mm f1.4 lens.

Lenses for urban portraits

The Fujifilm X-Series boasts a stunning range of superb lenses, with more being added every year. Fujifilm regularly updates a lens road map to let photographers know what new additions are coming. Portrait shooters have many fast primes available to them, as well as weather-resistant primes and a fantastic range of zoom lenses.

When choosing a lens for a shoot, I consider the following things:

Focal length

How flattering is this focal length for portrait photography? The images should flatter your client or model and make them look amazing.

Working distance

What’s the practical working distance of your lens? Ideally, for urban portraits, it’s good to have a lens choice that flatters your client for portraits, but without you being too far away. For me, this rules out some options such as the Fujinon XF 90mm F2 R LM WR lens.


In low light, I often find myself shooting at, or close to, the maximum aperture of the lens (the smallest number). In this image of Natasha, I was using the Fujinon 56mm f1.2 lens at f1.6.

Maximum aperture

The maximum aperture of the lens determines how wide it can open. The smaller the number, the ‘faster’ the lens is, allowing you to take images at high shutter speeds in lower light. ‘Slower’ lenses will not be able to shoot at the same shutter speeds unless you crank up the ISO, which can affect image quality.

During the middle of the day, this may not be important, but with less light after the sun goes down, fast lenses are important for sharp images and to keep the ISO lower. The X-series lineup has a range of very fast prime lenses with many maximum apertures at F1.4 and even F1.2.

Weather resistance

If planning a shoot in the rain or snow, a weather-resistant lens and body are a must. This is generally something I don’t need to think about – if it does start raining during a shoot, I usually move to an undercover location. Usually, clients don’t want their hair, makeup, and outfits ruined by a downpour.

Listed below are my choices for urban portrait lenses.

Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 R


I love this lens – there is real magic to it. It’s my number one choice for urban portraits. The XF 35mm F1.4 is the closest Fujifilm has to the full-frame equivalent angle of view of 50mm – a classic focal length used by photographers for decades.

One of the three original lenses in the X-Series lineup, it has a fast maximum aperture of F1.4, making it perfect for images with a shallow depth of field and night shooting.

Featuring stunning optics and pleasing bokeh, this lens gives you a relatively short working distance for portraits. Best of all, it’s a lot cheaper than most of the other lenses in this guide.


I love this shot – so much fun! Alyssa in a phone booth, Brisbane, Australia.


The 35mm F1.4 lens has a magic quality. I love that the lens is flattering for clients, yet it allows you to get quite close to them while shooting.

Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 R WR


The next choice on my list is arguably one of the best lenses Fujifilm has ever produced – the stunning Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 lens.

With a full-frame equivalent of 24mm, you may think this is an odd choice for a portrait session, but it’s a perfect lens for wide-angle environmental shots. With a minimum focus distance of just 15cm, this lens is the perfect option when working in confined spaces.

The excellent build quality of the lens is also matched by its stunning optics. Although any distortion is corrected in-body by the camera, you still need to be careful when shooting with it. Place your model or client towards the center of the frame for the best results.

Image: Sasha sitting on beer kegs in a Brisbane laneway. There wasn’t much room in the laneway...

Sasha sitting on beer kegs in a Brisbane laneway. There wasn’t much room in the laneway, so the 16mm F1.4 was a perfect choice for this shot.

Image: The short working distance and wide angle-of-view enabled me to take this image of Natasha in...

The short working distance and wide angle-of-view enabled me to take this image of Natasha in front of some metal shutters.


Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R


The XF 56mm F1.2 R lens is perhaps the jewel in the crown of the X-Series lineup. Stunning image quality and beautiful bokeh make it a winner in anyone’s book.

This is the lens that all Fujifilm portrait photographers either have in their kit or on their wishlist. With a full-frame equivalent of around 85mm, it is substantially lighter than full-frame equivalent lenses for DSLRs. It boasts a super-fast F1.2 maximum aperture, is tack sharp, and has the most pleasing bokeh in the X-Series lineup.

For portrait work, this lens is fantastic. Just bear in mind that in urban environments, it’s not always a suitable choice, as you need a greater working distance when using this lens.


Sasha in Brisbane, Australia. I love how sharp she looks in this frame, and how the out-of-focus lights have rendered in the background.

Image: Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. With a bit more working distance, full-length portraits are a...

Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. With a bit more working distance, full-length portraits are also possible with this lens.


Fujinon XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro

Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits

Perhaps the most underrated lens in the entire Fujifilm line up, the XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro, was another of the original three lenses released for the system. It had a reputation for being slow to focus, but improvements to the firmware for this lens have made a big difference. I have no hesitation in using it on shoots.

Although it has the word macro in its name, the lens can only shoot at a 1:2 magnification ratio. (Generally, a 1:1 magnification ratio is regarded as true macro.) With a maximum aperture of F2.4, it’s not as fast as other lenses in this article, but the lens still provides excellent image quality and has a very good bang for your buck.

Image: Alyssa at dusk, Brisbane. The XF 60mm F2.4 is an excellent option if the XF56mm F1.2 is out o...

Alyssa at dusk, Brisbane. The XF 60mm F2.4 is an excellent option if the XF56mm F1.2 is out of your budget.



Alyssa in Brisbane. The XF 60mm F2.4 is stunningly sharp.


Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R

Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits

The Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R is another lens often mentioned as the best in the X-Series lineup. With the 1.5 crop factor, it’s Fujifilm’s closest lens to the traditional full-frame 35mm angle of view. This angle of view makes it perhaps the most versatile lens in the lineup for any given range of shooting scenarios – a big plus.

Another fast lens with a maximum aperture of F1.4, the lens is optically stunning and produces sharp images and beautiful bokeh.

Although I love this lens, I often leave it at home and take along the XF 16mm 1.4 and the XF 35mm 1.4 instead. However, it still deserves a place in this guide as it’s an excellent choice for urban portrait shoots.

Image: Bailey, Cleveland, Australia. The XF 23mm F1.4 lens is super-sharp and produces beautiful bok...

Bailey, Cleveland, Australia. The XF 23mm F1.4 lens is super-sharp and produces beautiful bokeh.


Bailey, Raby Bay Harbour, Australia. It was quite dark when I took this shot, but with a higher ISO and some exposure compensation, Bailey looks fantastic – as do the pretty lights in the background.



The Fujifilm X-Series lineup is ideal for shooting urban portraits. The range features a range of compact, feature-packed camera bodies, along with optically stunning fast prime lenses.

Although you could invest some serious money in this system, there are many excellent value-for-money options, including the X-E line of camera bodies, as well as the X-T30 and the X-T20. In terms of lens choices, two of the original X-Series lineup – the XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 60mm F2.4 lenses – represent excellent value for money, blowing the competitor’s budget lenses out of the water in terms of quality.

If you have a bigger budget, also consider the X-T3, the new X-Pro 3, and the excellent XF 16mm F1.4, XF 23 1.4, and XF 56mm 1.2 lenses.

I’ve been using the system for four years and love the images the system produces straight out of the camera, thanks to the magic of Fujifilm’s JPG film simulations. The beautiful rendering of colors makes post-processing work a breeze.

What Fujifilm X-Series camera bodies and lenses do you use for urban portrait shoots? Let us know in the comments below.



The post Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography

The post How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.


Are you bored of doing portrait shoots in the studio or the local park? Try mixing things up with an urban portrait shoot. The city streets, the buildings, the laneways – this is your cinematic backdrop. All you need is a little bit of planning and a lot of imagination. If you’ve never done a shoot like this before, you might be wondering how to choose locations. In this article, I will run you through my process of choosing urban landscapes for portrait photography


Bailey in a window, Brisbane. I took this shot with some off-camera flash outside my local library. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 23mm f1.4 lens.

An urban portrait shoot in my city? No way!

You may think that your city or your town has nothing of interest, but it does. You just have to look with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I’ll be on a photo walk with another photographer, and they don’t seem to see the potential that their town has to offer. “Wow, look at that doorway!” I’ll say. With a puzzled face, they reply, “It’s just a doorway!” 

No, it’s not just a doorway – it’s a potential scene in your next urban portrait shoot. 

Image: Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with...

Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Every town or city I’ve ever been to has its charms and a unique look: from modern glass and steel skyscrapers to historic buildings to run-down industrial areas. There are so many aspects of urban locations that you could include in your shoots: laneways, street art, doorways, neon signs, steel shutters, and traffic trails, just to name a few. 

There’s also the unique way that light falls in urban environments: harsh beams of light that fall between buildings, beautiful soft light that you find in doorways and under bridges, and in Brisbane, dazzling light reflecting off skyscrapers. The possibilities are endless.

The best time for an urban portrait shoot

The best time for an urban portrait shoot is whenever you and your client or model are both available. Regardless of the light, the weather, or the locations. The success of the photoshoot is ultimately in your hands. 

My favorite time for doing urban portrait shoots is just before dusk. This allows you to get a good mix of golden hour photos with sunlight, blue hour photos as the city lights come into play and nighttime shots with artificial light. 


Alyssa in an industrial alleyway, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 60mm f2.4 lens.

Location scouting

I usually run portrait shoots for around 90-minutes, allowing me to shoot in 6-8 locations. 

It’s best to do your location scouting at the same time of day that your shoot will take place. This is so you can look at the light, see how it falls, and plan accordingly. In practice, though, I usually end up doing my scouting during the day. 

Before I arrange the shoot, I take some time to wander about the city to find 8-10 locations close together. The reason I look for more places than I’ll need is to be flexible on the shoot. Cars or trucks can block alleyways, big crowds could move through the area at the time of the shoot, or the lighting could be all wrong. There’s a whole lot of things that could make the location unsuitable when you arrive at the scene.

Although it’s tempting to plan to shoot in two locations at opposite ends of town, unless you have easy access to transport on the day of the shoot, it will be impractical. Photoshoots can be tiring for everyone, so asking your client or model to walk several city blocks and back again to shoot in one location may not be the best idea. 

What to take during location scouting

When you’re scouting for locations, have a notepad and pen ready along with your smartphone. When you see somewhere that you like, take a photo on your phone for reference and jot down some notes. I always draw a map of the city streets in my notebook. Then I plot the locations on it and plan a direction for the shoot.

What I’m looking for during my walk is a cool urban location in which to place the client or model. Some locations will leap out at you, and you will know that you should take some photos there. Others may not reveal their charm until later when the lights are low. 

Image: Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. F...

Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. Fujifilm X-T3 with 56mm f1.2 lens

As you’re wandering around, there’s a couple of things you need to keep in mind:


What is this place going to look like at dusk or nighttime? Remember that for many shots, you will be shooting with a wide-open aperture, or close to wide open, so many of the details in the background will be blurred. 

Potential risks

It may look cool, but is this place dangerous in any way? Think of how you will place the model or client in this scene – are there any risks that you need to be mindful of? Is there a lot of traffic? Is it a dangerous neighborhood? You should consider all of this when you’re planning, as safety should be your top priority for these shoots.

Below are some of my go-to shots when I plan an urban photoshoot. I took all of these within a few blocks of each other in central Brisbane, Australia. 

Neon lights

Neon shots are a favorite with the Instagram crowd, and it’s easy to see why. They are so much fun and a great image idea to have up your sleeve.

Neon signs are something that, quite honestly, I never usually notice. However, as soon as you start looking for them, you’ll be amazed at how many your town has.


Alyssa, Brisbane. This neon light is outside a takeaway shop in central Brisbane. I was attracted to the three different colors the sign had.

Beer kegs outside a pub

As soon as I saw these beer kegs in a laneway outside a pub, I knew I wanted to incorporate them in a shoot. I’ve used them as both a background element and also as a prop for models to sit on.

In this shot of Anne, I struck gold. By chance, it was one of the busiest days for pubs in the year – Melbourne Cup Day. There were a few dozen kegs in a laneway all stacked on one another. I lit this shot with an LED video light.


Anne in front of beer kegs, Brisbane. I love the shape, color, and reflection of the kegs in the background. Fujifilm X-T3 with an 8-16mm f2.8 lens lit with an LED video light.


Many Australian cities are blessed with alleyways. In many ways, they are the perfect place for photoshoots. Expect atmospheric lighting, an industrial look, street art – and best of all – little traffic. While Melbourne may be the laneways capital of Australia, Brisbane has many too.

Image: Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights p...

Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights provided in this shot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Telephone booth

This is a really fun place to use for some shots – if you can still find one these days. You may also have to take some time to explain to younger clients or models on how to use a public payphone!


Alyssa in a phone booth in Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens.


Reflections are a go-to image idea for urban portrait shoots. Many buildings provide you with glass or reflective surfaces.

Image: Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Old signage

I love history and nostalgia, but sadly there isn’t much left in my city. One day I noticed this sign and thought I’d love to do some shots here.

Image: Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Take your next portrait shoot to the streets

Urban portrait shoots can be a lot of fun. If you’ve never done one before, I hope that this guide has inspired you to look around your city for urban landscapes for portrait photography.

For your first time, you can always ask a friend to be your model if you want to try things out and see how the images look. Practice makes perfect.

Remember, safety is a very important factor in a shoot like this – both for your client or model and for yourself.

Urban shoots have helped me grow as a photographer. I feel more creative, I see possibilities for images in the mundane, and they’ve also helped me to think on my feet and improvise. ­­­­

So what are you waiting for? An endless array of scenes is right on your doorstep. Take your next portrait shoot to the streets.

Do you have any other tips for scouting urban landscapes for portrait photography? Share with us in the comments!

The post How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours

The post Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Always be on the lookout for interesting scenes in cities. I saw this view in Taipei from a metro train and went back at dusk.

You have two days and two nights to photograph a city you’ve never been to before. How will you make the most of this opportunity and come away with amazing photos?

You could just turn up without much advance thought and deliver a stunning set of images that fits the brief perfectly. Leaving things to chance is not always the best plan, though. You will be better prepared and more confident if you research and plan your trip in advance.

Whether you’re working for a client, an editor, or taking photos for your own portfolio, these tips will help you make the most of your trip. Here is a guide to photographing a city and the best it has to offer in 48 hours.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Find what is unique about your destination and capture it.

What’s unique about the city?

The first question you need to ask is what makes the city unique? Does it have stunning architecture? An incredible food scene? Unique modes of transport? Vibrant markets? Make sure you keep this in mind as you plan your trip.

What types and styles of images are you being asked to deliver?

What type of shots are you, your client, or your editor expecting? Find out what their expectations are in as much detail as possible. Is there a particular style or theme you need to shoot for? Will your images be used to accompany a story on a particular subject, for advertising, or as a standalone photo essay?

Think of the final use of your photos. Will you need to capture landscape or portrait orientation photos? Do you need to shoot images with negative space to allow for text to be overlaid?

Image style is an important consideration. Is your client looking for bright, colorful photos? Images showing well-known landmarks? Hidden gems? Photos with a shallow depth of field? Moody black and white images? Photos of people experiencing the city? It’s important to get agreement on this too.

Create a mood board

Visualizing your shots before you go can help the planning process. One way you can achieve this is by creating a mood board for the trip, showing the types and the style of photos you will aim to produce. The good news is, it’s easy to do with a tool such as Pinterest.

A mood board can also be handy if you don’t have a formal brief. If you create one for yourself or your client showing the type and style of images you propose to take, this can stimulate further discussion. It might be exactly what they’re after, or it could prompt them to get involved in the process and suggest changes.

photographing a city-matt-murray

On my list of shots for Taronga Zoo was an iconic view of the Sydney with animals – thankfully, this giraffe helped me out!

Weather and climate

The next thing to research is the expected weather and climate at your destination. Bear in mind, some destinations, such as London and Melbourne, are notorious for variable conditions all year round. Getting a sense of what to expect will help with your daily planning and can guide your choices for clothing and equipment.

For example, if you’re heading to Asia during the wet season, you’ll need to think about taking clothing and camera gear that is water-resistant, whereas if you’re on a trip to somewhere hot and dry, such as Dubai or Death Valley, you may need to consider a hat and sunscreen.

Next, look at the sunrise and sunset times for the city when you will be there and plan your day accordingly. Make a note of them and think of the most important shots you need to capture at those times. These times will also indicate the number of daylight hours you have on location.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Autumn in Sydney was a good opportunity to capture golden leaves.

Online planning resources

Two resources that can help you are the Photographers Ephemeris and PhotoPills. These handy guides for photographers also give you information like how long the blue hour and golden hour last for, the direction of the sun at sunrise and sunset, and much more. This can be very helpful, though, remember, in built-up environments, you’ll never truly know how the light falls on your scene until you’re there.

Background city research

Researching your destination is one of the most important things to do before you leave. Learn as much as you can. Potential sources of information include travel magazines, travel blogs, official tourism websites, and YouTube videos. It’s also worthwhile downloading guidebooks from companies such as Lonely Planet, or if you’re on a tight budget, you could borrow them from a friend or your local library.

As you’re doing this research, make a note of previous coverage the destination has had in published articles or photo essays. If you plan to use the same or similar angle, aim to capture the destination in a unique or better way.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Image research

Pay close attention to the types of images used to illustrate and promote this city. What style are they? Do they fall into a particular genre? What kind of lenses do you think the photographer used? This is all useful information.

Then turn to more visual references. What kind of images show up for your destination using a Google image search? Is there a famous view of the city you’d like to capture? Next, search on Instagram. Look at images used by the official city or country accounts, popular hashtags for your destination and even geolocation image searches.

Take a look at recent Instagram posts, carefully reading the description. Was the image taken in the last few days? If it was, this might help you understand the weather or lighting conditions at your destination. If there is no context to when the image was taken, it could’ve been from last month or last year.

Another key place for researching your destination is stock photography sites. What images are the best sellers for the city? Keep these in mind when you’re shooting. As well as your main client, think of other markets where you could sell your images such as stock libraries.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Always look for detail shots at your destination that show the way of life.

Create your shot list

I love travel photography as it includes so many other genres. On a single assignment, you can include landscapes, cityscapes, street scenes, portraits, food shots, detail shots, architecture, and documentary-style images. Remember this as you create your shot list.

First, lock in the locations you need to be for sunrise and sunset and have a rough plan for the rest of the day. Plot these locations on a map and make sure you’re leaving yourself enough time to look around and photograph unexpected sights. Sometimes the best shots at a destination are not the things you expect to see, but things you didn’t expect to see.

Then list the next most important shots for you or your client. Make these a priority.

Try to capture well-known landmarks in a new or interesting way. This could be through the frame of a doorway or window, a reflection, or a completely different angle or viewpoint not used before.

Jot down a reminder to get a good variety of images at each location you visit – landscape orientation, portrait orientation, images with negative space, and images that crop well for Instagram. Also, think back to why this city is unique or exotic and make a note to get images of the food, people, clothing – anything that’s different.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Booking your hotel

Now you’ve created your shot list, look at the key locations on your map, and book a hotel nearby. It can be tempting to save money by staying at a hotel further away, but being close to your proposed photography locations is a huge advantage. Not only will it cut down on travel time, but you will also have the advantage of popping back to your room whenever you like throughout the day.

Quite often when I’m photographing a city, I head back to my hotel for a break. You can have a quick rest, grab a hot or cold drink, back up your images, and review the progress you’ve made ready for the next round of photos. You may even need time to warm up or cool down depending on the weather.

With your hotel search, always be on the lookout for historic or beautiful hotels that could provide additional photographic opportunities for you. Also, remember to choose a hotel where you feel like your gear will be safe when you’re not there.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Carry a travel tripod so you can capture scenes with a slow shutter speed.

Packing your kit

Versatility is the key when packing your kit. Fast zoom lenses are generally the travel photographer’s best friend. Also, look at the notes you made during your research. What type of lenses do you think the photographers used? Does your client expect any images with a very shallow depth of field? Do they want images taken with long telephoto lenses or ultra-wide angle lenses?

Plan your kit, taking into account these considerations along with the expected weather conditions. For a two-day trip, I would typically take the following:

  • Two camera bodies that use the same batteries and lenses, at least one of which is weather resistant.
  • Two zooms covering a wide focal range, at least one of which is weather resistant.
  • One or two small fast prime lenses – these are very handy for low light conditions and shallow depth of field shots.
  • As many reliable high-quality SD cards as you have. Make sure you format them before your trip.
  • As many batteries as you have for your camera system.
  • A small travel tripod and some neutral density filters.

You can see more about the travel kit I take in my article, The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography

photographing a city-matt-murray

Sydney Opera House sails with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

Traveling to your destination

As your trip approaches, keep an eye on the weather and current events for the city you’re heading to. Will this present any issues or challenges? Is there other gear you may need to bring? As I write this, I am preparing for a few days in Hong Kong, where there are currently protests taking place. I don’t think these protests will affect my trip or what I plan to photograph, but it’s good to always good to stay up-to-date with what’s going on.

Before I arrive at my destination, I always sort out some way to use my iPhone when I get there. This can mean either having a SIM card for the country I’m visiting or setting up international roaming before I go.

On the way from the airport or train station to my hotel, I look for interesting things to photograph. I have my phone at the ready with maps loaded up tracking the journey I’m taking. If I see something interesting, I screenshot the map, so I have the exact location on my phone for future reference.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Children playing in the Faroe Islands photographed on a telephoto lens.

Once you’ve arrived

You’ve arrived at your hotel, dumped your bag and are now ready to hit the streets and tick off that shot list. Before you go, make sure you have everything you need and leave anything you won’t need at the hotel. Remember to go easy on the air conditioning or heating – extreme temperature changes can fog up your camera lenses.

Take a few minutes to double-check your camera (especially your ISO and image quality settings), make sure you have fully-charged batteries and formatted memory cards. Then synchronize the clocks on your cameras at local time.

Regardless of the time I arrive, I always try to hit the streets as soon as I can to get a feel for the place. In tropical locations, shooting conditions are not always ideal during the middle of the day when it’s very bright with the sun overhead. It’s still possible, however, to look for opportunities to keep shooting. On a recent trip to Indonesia, I found the most beautiful light in a semi-covered market place in Borobudur. I took some of my favorite shots of the trip at that market.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Borobudur Market.

After the sun is well and truly below the horizon, you may think it’s time to head back to the hotel, but always see if there are opportunities to photograph food vendors or night markets. You’ll need either a fast prime or zoom lens in conjunction with using a higher ISO to capture handheld shots or a tripod for longer exposures.


When you’re finished shooting for the day, it’s time to head back to your hotel and backup your images.

For each trip, I create a new Lightroom catalog on my laptop. I then import the images into Lightroom, specifying that the images should be copied from my SD cards to an SSD hard drive plugged into my MacBook.

After the import, I copy these folders and the Lightroom catalog to a second SSD drive. I always keep these SSD hard drives in separate locations – one with me in my camera bag, and one in my luggage. As I review my shots in Lightroom, if there are any that I think are perfect for my needs or my client, I make another backup of those select images to DropBox. When I get home, I transfer the folders and Lightroom catalog from my laptop straight to my desktop computer.

photographing a city-matt-murray

Final thoughts

I hope these tips will help you think about what you need to plan and research when you’re in a city for the first time on assignment.

Always remember, though, despite the amount of research and planning you do, things are often out of your hands. If you can’t get that iconic shot due to weather conditions, street closures, scaffolding or who knows what else, don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Instead, concentrate on other opportunities that you can capture while you’re there to make the most of your time.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on photographing a city in 48 hours? Share with us in the comments!


photographing a city in 48 hours

The post Top Tips for Photographing the Best a City has to Offer in 48-hours appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography

The post The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.

Travel has always been my first love. In 1994 I bought my first camera – a Pentax Zoom 90 WR point and shoot – because I was going to Europe for a two-year working holiday. The only way to share photos with family back then was to have the film developed and post the prints home!

While photography (and technology) has changed remarkably in the last 25 years, what you should look for in a camera for travel photography is much the same: small, light, capable of great results and preferably weather resistant.

I’ve used all sorts of camera brands over the years. However, for me, Fujifilm X-Series cameras and lenses are the perfect travel companions. Whether it’s a trip to the Australian outback, visiting remote Buddhist temples in the Javanese jungle, photographing puffins in the Faroe Islands or capturing traffic trails in Taiwan, my X-Series cameras have always produced stunning results. Here are my recommended Fujifilm X-Series kits for your next big adventure.

Best minimalist kit

Camera: Fujifilm X100F
Lens: Fixed F2 Fujinon lens
Weight: 469 grams

The best minimalist kit choice was easily the stunning Fujifilm X100F. This is the best compact digital camera ever made. Yes, it really is that good!

Many photographers – including diehard users of other brands – use this as their “take everywhere” shooter. The X100F is small and quiet, and the fast f/2 Fujinon lens creates beautiful images. It may be small, but it boasts an impressive array of features including a leaf shutter and built-in neutral density filter.

Like all the cameras I feature in this article, the X100F can shoot RAW alongside Fujifilm’s array of stunning JPG film simulations, that replicate the look of classic films such as Provia and Velvia. Fujifilm cameras produce the best JPGs I’ve seen straight out of the camera.

This choice is a little unusual as it has a fixed lens. That’s right. You can’t take it off and swap it for another lens. If the 23mm focal length (35mm in full-frame terms) isn’t your preferred choice, the system also has wide-angle conversion and telephoto converter lenses. However, these do add extra weight to your kit. One of the few downsides to the X100F is that it’s not weather resistant. But, at least it’s small enough to fit in your pocket during a downpour.

One body plus one lens kit

Camera body: X-T30
Lens: XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS lens
Approximate weight: 693 grams

If you only have space to take one body and one lens on a trip, I would recommend the brand new Fujifilm X-T30 with the XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens. I’ve been using this line of cameras since buying the X-T10 as a second body back up to my X-T1, and I’ve also used the X-T20. The X-T cameras with a “0” after them are lighter, cheaper, non-weather resistant versions of the flagship models, but usually feature much of the same technology. For example, the X-T30 has the same 26.1MP X-Trans 4 CMOS sensor as the X-T3.

Alternatives for the camera body would be the X-T20 and the X-E3. The X-T20 gives you a screen that tilts up and down for overhead and low to the ground shots. Whereas, the X-E3 is the more minimalist choice, and features a joystick that controls where the focus point is in the frame. The X-T30 and the X-T3 have both of these features.

My choice of lens for this kit is the XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS. Not only is it one of my favorite Fujifilm lenses, but it’s also the lens that I’ve used the most over the last three years.

Often sold with camera bodies, many newcomers to the X-Series remark that the XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS lens is “surprisingly good for a kit lens.” In no way is this lens like the subpar beginner kit lenses produced by other manufacturers. The XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS is a stunningly sharp lens in its own right and has produced some of my favorite images ever.

It may not be weather resistant, but it does feature OIS (optical image stabilization) to ensure your shots are as sharp as possible at lower shutter speeds. It’s a variable aperture zoom lens, meaning that the maximum aperture changes as you zoom through the range. However, you can still shoot at f/2.8 at the 18mm focal length, and f/4 at the 55mm end. It’s a top lens for landscape, cityscape, and portraits.

Best kit under 1kg

Camera body: X-T30
Lenses: XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS + XF 35mm f/1.4 R
Approximate weight: 880 grams

My picks for the best kit weighing under 1kg include the same choices as the ‘One body plus one lens’ kit above, with the addition of the XF 35mm f/1.4 R. The first time I used this lens, I was blown away by its sharpness and stunning bokeh. It’s a top lens for portraits, still life subjects and even street shooting.

It did have a reputation of being slow to focus, but with Fujifilm’s ongoing firmware updates to both lenses and camera bodies, this has greatly improved. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it in any situation. This lens has a fast maximum aperture of f/1.4 that enables you to shoot images handheld at night without raising the ISO too high or lowering the shutter speed too low.

One zoom, two fast primes kit

Camera bodies: X-T30
Lenses: XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS + XF 35 1.4 R + XF 60mm f2.4 R Macro
Approximate weight: 1.095kg

For a lightweight travel kit weighing just over 1kg and featuring two fast prime lenses, add the XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro to the kit above. This is another option often overlooked by newer lenses on the block, but it offers superb image quality for portraits and macro shots.

Although it’s not a true macro lens (it offers 1:2 magnification rather than the standard 1:1 magnification for a true macro lens), it is an incredibly light option for close up shots. It weighs less than a third of the weight of Fujifilm’s XF 80mm F/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro lens.

Best weather resistant kit

Camera bodies: X-T3
Lenses: XF 16mm F1.4 R WR, 23f2, XF 50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR.
Approximate weight: 2.6 kg check

The best weather resistant kit features Fujifilm’s newest X-Series flagship camera. The X-T3 has won high praise from users and critics alike since its release in mid-2018. It is an impressive performer, having the fastest autofocus in the X-Series lineup and a continuous shooting rate of up to 20 frames per second. I’ve really enjoyed using this camera alongside my X-T2, which is still an excellent camera.

The newcomer to this kit is the XF 16 f/1.4 WR lens – often praised as the best lens in the X-Series lineup. Weather resistant, the lens is optically stunning, and a solid performer for landscape, cityscape, and low light shots. With a close focusing distance of 15cm, the XF 16 f1.4 WR lens is highly versatile. I’ve loved using it for food photography.

Best travel kit with zoom lenses

Camera bodies: X-T3 and X-T30
Lenses: XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS and XF 50-140mm F/2.8 R LM OIS WR.
Weight: 1.8kg

This kit gives you the best of both worlds: the light X-T30 with the XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens, and a weather resistant combo of the X-T3 with the stunning XF 50-140mm F/2.8 R LM OIS WR lens.

Weighing in at 995 grams, you might actually question why I would choose this lens as part of a travel kit? I’ve even been laughed at when I’ve suggested this lens for travel. Although it’s heavy, this lens is a must-have in my travel photography kit.

Like an equivalent focal range 70-200mm, the lens has a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, meaning that you can shoot with a shallow depth of field throughout the zoom range. This is particularly helpful during low light situations, or to achieve shallow depth of field at any time.

This XF 50-140mm F/2.8 R LM OIS WR lens also features OIS (optical image stabilization) and has a pleasing bokeh. I’ve used this lens for landscape, cityscape, and portraits. If I could only pick one lens for travel, I’d have to flip a coin to choose between the two amazing zooms in this kit.

If you have different weight or budget considerations, you could substitute the excellent XF 55-200mm F/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS lens in this kit. I’ve never regretted taking this lens along with me on trips, but if you plan on shooting in low light at the far range of the zoom, you will be shooting at a maximum aperture of f/4.8, which may slow down shutter speeds. Thankfully, this is another lens with OIS (optical image stabilization).

My favorite kit

Camera bodies: X-T3 and X-T2
Lenses: XF 16mm F/1.4 R WR + XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM OIS + XF 35mm f/1.4 R + XF 50-140mm F/2.8 R LM OIS WR
Approximate weight: 2.9 kg

This is my favorite kit. It may be the heaviest listed in this list, but this is what I would typically take on my travel adventures. It pairs two weather resistant camera bodies with my two favorite zooms and two favorite primes. This kit has a reach from 16-140mm (24-210 in full-frame terms) and covers many shooting situations. The XF 50-140mm F/2.8 R LM OIS WR lens may not be the longest in the X-Series lineup, but it’s still capable of capturing stunning wildlife images.

X-Series options I don’t recommend for travel kits


In 2018, Fujifilm released the entry-level X-T100. Although this attractive looking camera looks very much like the rest of the X-Series line-up, its autofocus can’t match the cameras I’ve featured above.

18-135mm lens

The XF18-135mm lens is often on the list of recommended lenses for Fujifilm travel photography. Having owned and used one, it doesn’t make my list. For a slower, all-in-one travel zoom, I don’t think it has enough reach.

27mm lens

The 27mm F/2.8 pancake lens is sharp, and you can often buy them at a bargain price. It’s a firm favorite amongst many Fujifilm photographers, but it doesn’t make my list as it’s the only lens in the lineup not to have a ring on the lens to change aperture.



The Fujifilm X-Series range is perfect for travel photographers for so many reasons.

With an impressive lineup of prime and zoom lenses for all budgets, the X-Series has you covered for a wide range of situations including low light photography and adverse weather conditions. The camera bodies feature retro charm and excellent ergonomics, and no other system can match the beauty of Fujifilm’s straight out of camera JPGs.

Whether it’s a day trip near home or the trip of a lifetime, Fujifilm X-Series is my number one recommendation for travel photography.

Do you use Fujifilm Cameras for your travel photography? Let us know what you use in the comments below.

The post The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Matt Murray.