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Shooting Buildings At Night - Our cities change appearance as the sun sets and it's a great time to shoot buildings.
When buildings are illuminated at night their shapes and features are enhanced in a very different way than by daylight and it's a great time to take photographs. The most challenging thing is getting the exposure and colour balance right, which we'll help with, otherwise the standard rules of composition apply which we'll cover briefly first.
|Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk|
When shooting upwards expect the building to slope inwards at the top, especially when a wide-angle lens is used. Move to a higher position to reduce the distortion or use a special shift lens that's designed to correct perspective but these are expensive and aren't really a sensible option for the casual shooter.
Try to include the whole building by using a wider-angle lens or stepping back to a more suitable viewpoint. Choose the position carefully. The same building could be shot head on, at an angle of, say, 3/4 or by using a telephoto to capture a section with a more graphical feel.
When the sun goes down the light changes in two ways; firstly the exposure time required increases and secondly the colour of the light becomes warmer. Lets first look at the exposure. In low light the shutter speed that's necessary to ensure a good exposure will usually be too long to avoid camera shake when hand holding the camera. Using a tripod enables you to shoot at these long exposure times of between 1/15sec and several seconds. If you don't have a tripod you can usually find a wall, lamppost or tree to support the camera, which can help considerably. Or you can try switching to a higher ISO as most cameras now cope well in the higher ranges. The Samsung NX200, for example, lets you shoot as high as 12800 ISO at normal settings. Which means that in low light situations, such as shooting buildings at night, you can take high-speed photos with minimal noise or blurring. When needed, the ISO range of the Samsung NX200 can be expanded further too.
Low light can also fool the camera's meter and this happens because it looks at the mass of dark and tries to compensate to make it mid grey. By doing so, you get an exposure time that is too long for all the illuminated parts of the scene, such as neon lights, street lights or spot lit areas of a building as they become grossly over exposed.
To avoid this, you need to compensate for it. As a guide, use your exposure compensation setting to reduce the exposure by a couple of stops when most of the area is in darkness and by one stop when the building has a medium coverage of illumination.
Look at the table below for examples of night scenes and the necessary exposure times:
|Neon lights filling the frame||1/8sec f/8||1/15sec f/11|
|Brightly lit theatre district with Neon lights||1/4sec f/8||1/8sec f/11|
|Bright street scenes||1/2sec f/8||1/4sec f/11|
|Floodlit buildings and monuments||2sec f/5.6||1/2sec f/5.6|
|Distant skyline of offices streets etc||4sec f/2.8||4sec f/5.6|
Colour balanceA good time to capture buildings is just as the sun has set when nature delivers a beautiful glowing sky with rich deep tones. An illuminated building offset from this is delightful, but you have to be careful with the colour as there can be a slight orange or yellow cast created.
Buildings illuminated by artificial light can also be problematic, depending on the lighting used in them. Two popular types are: Fluorescent and Tungsten. Fluorescent tend to be used inside in offices and Tungsten in spot lights that part illuminate buildings.
With digital cameras you can preview the image to check the colour balance and if it doesn't look right, just change the white balance setting you're using.
Take care when carrying a camera around at night, especially if you're venturing off the beaten track. Keep alert and where possible, take a friend with you.
What to shoot?
- Look for tall buildings you can shoot from. You can always ask permission to go in to an office block to shoot from one of the higher floors. From up high you'll be able to shoot skylines as well as focus on single buildings.
- For something different, try to shoot the same location in daylight and in the evening. You'll soon see how buildings have a very different feel at night.
- Cropping in on illuminated buildings can make the image more striking and reduce the black from surrounding, unlit areas.
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