Night Cityscape photography tutorial

I have done some research into this and there several approaches to this type of photography.  The following is the way that I do it with my current equipment.

Start by scouting locations in daylight and selecting the areas you wish to shoot from for the composition that you desire; determine if you can legally access the location at night.  Be sure to survey the area for lights nearby that will basically blind the camera to the actual scene that you are looking at.  Take several shots from the area to review for details and potential problems.  Once you have the location, think about the moon and the phase that you wish to have in your image, if any.

Once you have the location and the date for the moon phase you wish, be ready with your equipment and practice setting it up, at the time of the shoot it may be necessary to set up everything in the dark.   Plan the schedule for that night out ahead of time, i.e. arrive at parking area at 9:30pm, setup by 10:00pm, etc.  Use a flashlight as little as possible for two reasons:

1. It takes time for your night vision to work, the light resets that process.

2. Flashlights in areas that normally do not have lights will draw the attention of the local law enforcement and you will have to explain what you are doing.  They may ask you to leave even if you have every right to be there.  If this happens, just do what they ask, otherwise you could end up facing some sort of charges based on local laws.

Once on site and set up, it is time to select the settings for you camera.  My personal choice is to go for good depth of field in the images.  This means a small aperture (the smaller the better), a long exposure and a low ISO for best detail.  Think of it like taking a landscape that needs the close grass in focus as well as the mountains, only at night.  This is where you may need a remote control or a cable release if your camera will not automatically do exposure times that are long enough.  Use your handheld light meter to determine the correct exposure and then bracket as many stops as you feel you need to get the effect you desire.   Note: It is possible to do this without an external meter; however you will be restricted to the programmed limits of time for your exposures.

Spend some time there, wait for the moon to be in different positions, watch the traffic flows; it may be possible to get an image without light trails from cars if you wish.  Do not rush the process and miss the shot you wish because you did not have the patience to wait for the correct conditions.  If you do not get the results you wanted, review the images and determine what to try next trip out.

Once you are back at the computer with the images, remember; work on copies of the images not the original files.  It is easier to start the correction process over from another clean copy of the image than to try to undo everything you did.

These are not processes for the impatient and remember to enjoy what you are doing.  If you are not enjoying it, why are you doing it?

I have a couple of shots I am in the process with and when I am happy with them I will post copies of them here.


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