Using the Perfect Lens for Travel Photography in Big Cities

The perfect lens for travel photography is obviously the one that you’ve got with you. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a wide-angle lens when photographing during your travels. In the majority of cases, it will do everything you need when you’re visitng big cities. Cities are much different than the suburbs and rural areas in that they bring everything close to you. So to take that all in, you’ll need a wide-angle lens like a Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD. We’re going to go through a bunch of things for anyone picking up their first new lens and bringing it with them on a trip!

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Why You Need a Wide Angle Lens

There isn’t much that a wide-angle lens can’t do when combined with a high megapixel camera body. Over the years, we’ve used the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD many times. If you’re a Sony shooter, it’s seriously one of the best wide-angle lenses you could get your hands on. We’re not going to spend the entire article hyping this lens up, so here are a few reasons why the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD is so great:

  • Small: it’s nearly 3 inches by 4 inches.
  • Lightweight: it’s not much heavier than a standard American can of soda.
  • Weather sealing: We’ve taken this lens into some dusty and rainy conditions over the years and it’s always kept working.
  • Autofocus: Tamron’s RXD motor is fast, quiet, and precise.
  • Image quality: Tamron has always had some pretty unique colors that give each lens nice character.
  • Price: at the time of writing this article, it’s going for only $799 after $100 Holiday Instant Savings.

All of these combine to make the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD great for cityscapes. It’s seriously in the running to be the perfect lens for travel photography.

Oh yeah, and it controls distortion and other traditional flaws pretty well, too! But more than that, and to the point of this section, cities are sprawling, vast areas. You can often look around and notice something different in every single direction. To make better sense of it all, a wide-angle lens can take all that in. With a zoom like this Tamron lens, you can also get to a nearly normal angle of view at 28mm on the long end.

Now I’ll rattle off a few reasons why Wide Angle lenses are so great for cities and travel photography:

  • They can be the only lens you need because they’re so versatile.
  • They can take in entire scenes.
  • They provide a completely refreshing perspective.
  • Our staff has some of our most fun using wide-angle lenses.
  • Because they’re so wide, you can shoot at a slower shutter speed with them, which makes them great day to night lenses. This is how the reciprocal rule of shutter speeds works, and then couple that with the image stabilization built into Sony cameras.
  • Cities can be really wonderful places to photograph during inclement weather. (Think of all the beautiful scenes you’ve seen of New York in the snow!) Wide-angle lenses help you capture vast, snow-covered areas very well; especially if they’re weather sealed.

Now let’s dive deeper into a few more tips!

Get High, and Get Low

Cities have multiple levels. It’s hard to get high or low with landscapes unless you’re in the mountains or have a drone. But that’s a different story with cities. You can get to a higher building easily and have a great view! This is yet another reason why wide angle lenses are the perfect lens for travel photography! You’ll capture a whole lot in a single shot. You can’t do that with a telephoto lens. And if you want to zoom in on the details, you can do it in post-production! 

Pro Tip: When all else fails, shoot at a low-angle and slow the shutter speed down. You’ll capture the frenetic lifestyle of city living if you’re around a lot of people.

With all this said, don’t forget your angles. Look up! Squat down and use the LCD screen! Get high up and stretch your arms out! As an extra tip, don’t just photograph from eye level. Try holding the camera down by your hips and shooting from there.

What To Do About Lines

Lots of photographers have the idea that you always have to have straight lines: I don’t agree with this. Curves and warped perspectives can help make for a very fun photo. Besides, the distorted look is really trendy right now! If you really want straight lines, then shoot wider and fix them in post-production. But otherwise, you can still move around or zoom in to get the right perspective. Sometimes, colors steal the show. The perfect lens for travel photography should really help elevate what colors you get from your images. Ideally, you’d want to do less post-production during vacation or even afterward.

With a lens like the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD, you can zoom in to 28mm and then adjust from there.

Two Different White Balances

Let’s stick to colors! This is one of the reasons why cities are so perfect! You can set your camera to auto white balance, but you might not be happy with it all the time. So instead, you can stick to two white balances: daylight (5500k) or tungsten (3200k) and get everything you need. Cities tend to fluctuate between those two lighting situations. Want the Blade Runner look? Find some white lighting and shoot at 3200K. Using a wide-angle lens, you can get some very cinematic-looking photos. It’s another reason why the perfect lens for travel photography is the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD.

The first photo in this section was shot with Tungsten lighting in daylight white balance. That’s how we’re getting the very warm look. The second photo is shot in Tungsten with Tungsten lighting. That’s how it looks more neutralized. Wide-angle lenses tend to have more vivid colors, so a lens like the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD will really emphasize this.

Use the Water

The surrounding water in cities can help you create very fun photos. This is especially the case at night as sometimes, boats light up the surrounding waterways. Long exposures can be best here, so too are high ISO photos! When photographing the water, think about it as a layer in a photo. Combine this with how you’d think about landscapes. Don’t put your horizon on the center, for example. Using your wide-angle lens, have the water (the sky, the city, etc.) make up most of the scene, Get close to the water, too! A lens like the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD can be perfect for travel photography for this reason.

Pro tip: The golden hour (specifically sunset) and golden light lasts longer during the winter.

Sunset itself is still pretty short. But in every big city I’ve been to, you can get golden light for an hour or two before actual sunset. And that brings us to our next tip.

Sunlight Hits Differently in Cities

Sunlight in big cities is an oddity because of the way cities work. Cities have a lot of reflective windows that turn various surfaces into mirrors. The light reflects off of those surfaces and creates a ton of opportunities for spotlight and such. It will create little pockets of beautiful light all over. Generally speaking, when you’re on the surface and sidewalks, ISO 400 and a wide-angle lens is the safest bet in a big city. Then just shoot in aperture priority and wide-scene autofocus settings. During cloud coverage, the light is super soft all around. Sometimes it’s affectionately called the “Softbox look.” The diffused light reflects off the buildings as well, which gives some very nice shadow fill when you’re photographing a scene down the street.

Shooting at Night in Big Cities

Cities at night are a completely different type of life and view. Cities are often well illuminated by lots of lights. So you can walk around with no frustrations. The best settings? Start off between ISO 1600 and ISO 6400. That should be enough to give you a fast shutter speed on aperture priority. Then combine this with a locked white balance setting and just go shoot. Look for leading lines, try different angles, and most importantly, try not to shoot at eye level. If you do this, you’ll see why the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD is the perfect lens for travel photography.

Happy shooting!


Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.