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5 tips for photographing a city in under an hour

Photography / No Comment / August 4, 2015

One of the highlights of a recent holiday to Switzerland was a lightning visit to Zürich. Staying at Chur, some 70 miles to the east, I used my Swiss Pass to take a train to the city’s central station. Arriving just after 9.20pm, to be fair to my wife who wouldn’t really have wanted me to wake the hotel up at 1am, I needed to be on a return train 45 minutes later.

My plan was to get as close as I could to the shore of the lake as possible and then work my way back up the Linmatquai, taking long-exposure shots along the river. A tram going in the right direction came within a couple of minutes of waiting and took me to a suitable stop in about 10 minutes. I abandoned the idea of going right to the lake front, lest it took me too long to get back, and made instead for the Münsterbrücke. As I was setting up my tripod, all the nearby building floodlights were switched on, taking the beauty of the scene to a completely different level:

Grossmünster, Zürich

Grossmünster, Zürich

This is looking further along the quayside towards the Rathaus:

River in historic city at dusk

Rathaus, Zürich

Then I moved adjacent to the Rathaus and got a really nice shot along the other bank, dominated by the Frauenmünster:

Zürich – Fraumünster und Münsterbrücke

Zürich – Fraumünster und Münsterbrücke

Finally, with the clock towards my train home starting to tick very loudly, I snatched one last shot of the Groβmünster:

Zürich – Grossmünster

Zürich – Grossmünster

Walking briskly and then running down the station concourse, I made it to my train home with a minute to spare!

So here are the lessons I draw from my crazy night:

1. Research what you want to photograph beforehand. Sites like and Flickr are invaluable planning tools, whilst apps like the Photographer’s Ephemeris will tell you when the sun’s going to rise or set.

2. Work out how to get there and, if time is very limited, what you can cut out of your itinerary.

3. Set up quickly and efficiently. I travelled with a Lowepro Fastpack 350, which enables quick access to my camera body. Beneath a  flap it also carries my light-weight travel tripod. Assembling this involves extending legs that each telescope into five segments, so this was a little time-consuming, but usually it’s a worthwhile trade-off against bulk.

4. Take your personal security seriously. I was alone, carrying expensive gear in a strange city at nightfall, so I stuck to popular areas that should be safer.

5. If you get the opportunity like this, take it! I got some great shots, and since I was travelling on a pre-paid travel pass, the evening didn’t cost me a pfennig extra.

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