Night Photography (Skylines and Architecture)
Night Photography... Skylines and Architecture
I do not consider myself an expert in this field, but I feel that I have had enough success with it to try to pass on some of my findings through trial and error. So hopefully, anyone out there that would like to either venture into this type of photography, or has tried without success will find this write up helpful.
Depending on where you are headed for your best views of a certain subject, there are things you may want to look out for, and ways to avoid situations that may be harmful to you.
Try to shoot from a fairly populated area like a tourist attraction or a local gathering spot. You want to avoid completely desolate areas if at all possible. This can be a breading ground for the “Wrong Crowd” and that is a situation you do not want to put yourself in.
If for some reason the scene that you want to capture cannot be captured from an area that is populated, and you have to venture away from the civil world. There are a few things you can do to make it safer for you.
A) Make sure the area you are going into has one way to get in and one way to get out. This way if you notice something that you are uncomfortable with, you can continue in the opposite direction and get to an area that is more populated, or at least out of “Harms Way”
B) Bring a Flash Light. This will help you keep an eye on the terrain that you are walking over. This can prevent you from tripping, or falling into a hole, or what ever other obstacles that may be on the ground.
C) Bring a partner/buddy along with you. Besides being safer traveling in groups, they can also be helpful with ideas and angles.
D) And the final thing is to bring a cell phone in case of an emergency.
There are a few pieces of equipment that are necessary and a few pieces that are helpful yet not necessary. I will list what I use whenever I go out to photography my NYC Skylines, and bridges.
A) Camera with capability of “Long Exposures” (No less than 6 seconds, with bulb mode is a plus)
B) A sturdy Tripod. (Strong enough to handle a slight wind)
C) A lens that produces little or no “Flare” (Check Lens reviews for this info)
D) Either your camera should have a self timer or you should have a remote shutter release. And an added bonus if your camera has the “Mirror Lock Up” setting. (All of these options will prevent minor camera shake that can produce images with motion blur, or “soft images”
NOT SO NECESSARY, BUT HELPFUL
E) A note book to jot down information about your shots while you are shooting. Yes, EXIF can be helpful, and many Digital Cameras support EXIF. But the Trusty notebook is always an added bonus.
F) Spot Meter (Either In Camera or handheld) – NOTE: I will explain this later…
G) A Flash for special effects, and exposing foreground if desired.
Setting up the Shot
The first thing I do is view the area that have arrived at. I find where my best angles will come from, I see who and what is around. I try to figure out where my problems may fall. (People walking in front of the camera, cars driving by, over-head lights that may interfere with exposure, etc…)
The second thing I do is find a spot that is free from people walking right next to me. This prevents camera shake. I set up my tripod on a nice level ground, or I adjust the legs to make it level. (You may want to bring a carpenters level if your tripod does not have its own level bubble, these can be found at any hardware store)
After my tripod is set up, and I have my camera in place, and my remote in hand, I start to meter for my shot. Please note that metering for a night scene is not easy, and it is never on the money, so experimenting is key. But lets continue with the metering. What I do is put my camera on “Spot Metering” I pan with my tripod and take readings from all of the important highlights in my scene. (Lets take a NYC Skyline for example) I will take meter readings off of all the buildings that are lit by bright white light, and then readings off of some of the buildings with dimmer light. After I finish jotting down my readings, I try to average them out the best I can. Lets say at f8 my camera is telling me the brightest light should be exposed for 4 seconds, and the dimmest light at 8 seconds. This would give me an average of a 6 second exposure. But I don’t want to take just 1 exposure of the scene. What I will normally do is take multiple exposures of the same scene. At least one exposure at 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 seconds. That is 5 exposures for the same scene. I will then take an even longer exposure to try to grab some detail from the really dark areas. Maybe 10-12 seconds. Again, these are just examples… And I tend to shoot the same scene about 20-25 times. At different fstops and different shutter speeds. After all, if I am going to spend 2 or 3 hours shooting a series of scenes, I want to make sure that in this time, I have some work that I can keep and be proud of.
The difficult thing to deal with in digital photography and shooting at night with bright lights in your scene is “Clipping” or over exposing. In order to get detail in all the buildings, the highlights are bound to get over exposed. So what do you do? Well, there is one thing you can do, and that is merging images together in a photo editing program. You will take multiple exposures of the same scene at different shutter speeds. This is called “Bracketing” You expose one image for shadows, one image for mid tones, and one image for bright highlights. What you are essentially doing is underexposing one shot, “correctly” exposing another shot, and over exposing that last shot. You then take these images into a photo editing program that is capable of blending images together. You then take the best features from each image to get the optimal exposure. In this write up, I am not going to get into how to do this in photo shop, this write up is specifically for the field.
Another thing that I love to add to my Skylines is running water. Unfortunately some States do not have cities with running water, or still water surrounding them. Fortunately for me, NYC is surrounded by water on all sides, so this water is an added bonus, and can add some lovely color to my scene. This replaces what would otherwise be a black or dull area in the photograph. When I am shooting with water in the scene, I tend to close my aperture to around f16 or so, and use even longer exposures… Around 16 to 30 seconds depending on the scene and how bright the lights are. By doing this, the water looks very soft and extremely reflective because even though the lights on the water seem faint to your eye, keeping the shutter open for a long period of time lets all that light into the sensor and really brightening them up.
Noise Reduction – What if your camera does not have it?
Some people do not have noise reduction. Well there is a trick to noise reduction that can be done.
First – After you shoot a frame, put the lens cap over the lens, and take the same exact exposure. (If you are doing panoramas do it for each frame)
Second – Bring both images into photoshop (Regular Exposure, and Lens Cap exposure) and make the Correct exposure image “Active”
Third – Right Click image to “Drop the image box” Then click “Apply Image”
Fourth - Drop the Source Box and Highlight your “Lens Cap Image”
Fifth – The layer box will read background, the target will read “Name of your correct exposure”
Sixth – Drop the blending box and click subtract (Between 80 – 90%) this should remove most of your noise.
Note: This is only good for “Long Exposure Noise” and not “High ISO Noise”
That’s about it for field tips… Hope it was of some help to anyone that is interested.
And remember, just because it is night time does not mean you need to boost that ISO… Keep it as low as it can go… ISO 100 is your best bet… ISO 200 for any camera that does not go down to 100. Remember, these objects are not moving, so you are not trying to use faster shutter speeds, drop that ISO and leave that shutter open as long as needed…
Most of all, ENJOY, and be SAFE!!!
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