Photographing a City Skyline at Night

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The biggest challenges to taking a photo at night are making sure your camera doesn’t move and that your exposure is long enough. If the camera moves, you get light trails instead of twinkles. If your exposure is too short, you don’t get much of anything! This exercise shows you how to shoot a city skyline at night with a dSLR and a point-and-shoot camera.

Two important tools for getting steady, non-blurry night shots are a tripod to stabilize the camera and a timer feature that lets the camera begin its exposure a few seconds after you’ve hit the shutter release.

1

Find a good spot, such as the top of a building or hill, or from across a body of water.

Get as far away as possible from the skyline so that you can see it fully, but not so far away that it’s difficult to photograph the details. If you are close enough to see city streets, via these steps, you get streaming light from car lights, which is a fun effect.

2

Set your exposure.

Point-and-shoot: Use a preset mode for a night shot, typically identified by a little moon and/or star symbol. Some point-and-shoot cameras come with multiple low-light options, such as a higher quality one optimized for use with a tripod (meaning it provides a lower ISO, longer shutter speed shot that would be hard to take handheld).

dSLR: Set the camera to manual or shutter-priority mode at a lower ISO setting, such as ISO 100 or 200. Doing so gives you a higher quality photo. Set your shutter speed to 1/5 as a starting point, with an aperture of about f/10 (or, if you use shutter-priority mode, set the shutter speed and ISO, and your camera automatically selects an aperture).

With a dSLR, shoot Raw files (instead of JPEG) if your camera has this mode. When you edit your photos later, you’ll have an exponentially higher tonality range to adjust and tweak.

3

Take an experimental handheld photo to see how your exposure looks (don’t worry if the lights are blurry).

Point-and-shoot: Simply continue to the next step.

dSLR: Adjust your shutter speed accordingly if the image is either too dark or underexposed. If the photo’s too dark, decrease the shutter speed by one or two stops, and then try again. If the photo’s overexposed, increase the shutter speed by one or two stops, and then try again.

4

Mount your camera on a tripod or set it in a stable position after you have the exposure you want. If you have a self-timer mode, set it as well.

If your camera and/or lens has an anti-shake or image stabilization mode, disable it for the photo. Using image stabilization with a tripod can actually make your photo look blurrier!

5

Carefully position your camera with the composition and framing you want, and then shoot!

Examine the results of a few shots, see whether you need to make any adjustments, and then shoot again if necessary.


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