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Photographing Town / City Lights At Night - John Gravett explains why photographers need to get out at night more.
With the clocks going back in the next few weeks and the evenings drawing in, what better excuse to get out and take some photos at night. The period from dusk to dawn is so neglected by photographers, and can yield such exciting opportunities.
- Camera & lens
- Tripod (if possible)
Technique:Needless to say, after the sun has set, lighting levels are significantly lower than during the day, so shutter speeds at night tend to be longer. A tripod will act not only as an aid to composition, but will enable shake-free shots in any lighting. Recent trips have seen me visit Florida and Paris, and I kept shooting as late as possible into the day (night).
As a general guide, lit buildings tend to look better when there is still a touch of light in the sky, so the outline of the building is still clearly defined against a dark blue, rather than an inky black. That said, that lighting only hangs around for about half an hour each evening, not leaving you a lot of time for different locations. So use it as a guide, not a rule!
Night lighting often gives more contrasty lighting than shooting by day, so keep an eye on blown highlights and blocked shadows. Preferably shoot RAW files to ensure that you can recover detail at each end of the histogram and retain good shadow detail.
ISO / shutter speeds and depth of field are as much a consideration at night as during the day, with the shot of the building with the waterfall, I had no figures in the shot that needed to be sharp, and wanted reasonable movement in the water, so a 6 second exposure at f/10, at ISO200, made sure I had enough depth of field for front-to-back sharpness and taking it before dark, ensured enough light around the building and in the non-floodlit areas of the waterfall. The other Florida shot is less about the street lighting, but all about the lightning. A 25 second exposure at dusk during a thunderstorm ensured the street lights would be well recorded, and good cloud detail in the sky, the long(ish) exposure increased my chances of getting the lightning in the picture, a few attempts were needed before I was lucky.
Paris is a great city, and I love the atmosphere there after dark. I never go out without my camera and after dinner one evening was enthralled by the cafés and people dining, which give a feeling of the place.
Modern DSLRs allow hand-held shots at really high ISO levels, and VR lenses improve your chances of sharp shots. I shot most of these at only ISO1600. Also try to find scenes that make a statement of place, such as the classic metro sign with the building in the background.
The shots of the louvre were taken the same evening – unfortunately after all light had gone from the sky, but I used both an wide lens and a fisheye to really make a feature of the reflections in the water features around the pyramid. As I didn't have a tripod with me that evening, I took plenty of pictures – not all were sharp, but by taking plenty, I increased my chances.
When hand-holding a fairly low shutter speeds, set your camera to continuous shooting, and let off a few frames at a time – the first shot will often have shake, as that is the one on which you pressed the shutter release, the subsequent pictures may well be sharper, as you are simply holding the shutter button down, rather than pressing it!
If you can find an elevated location – and my hotel room was on the 10th floor – distant shots across cityscapes can also look spectacular – use a tripod and in addition to straight shots, experiment with zoom techniques, to make streaks of the various lights in windows.
Article by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays - www.lakelandphotohols.com
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