Three Creative Ways to Photograph a Cityscape at Night without a Tripod

January 6, 2011 · 0 comments

in Scapes,Travel,Tutorials

Are you a beginner photographer seeking new creative ways to use your dSLR camera? If so, then this tutorial is for you!

Firstly, you’re going to need an understanding of the Shutter Priority function on your camera, as this tutorial makes use of slower shutter speeds.

Definition: Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera shutter is open, allowing the sensor (or film) to be exposed to light. Therefore, the longer the shutter is open for, the more light will be let in.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds (and in most cases, fractions of seconds). Short exposures times are referred to as fast shutter speeds, while long exposures are referred to as slow shutter speeds.

The shutter speeds on your camera usually double with each setting, for example: 1/15th, 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/250th, 1/500th, 1/1000th and so on – the larger the denominator, the faster the shutter speed.

By adjusting the shutter speed, you can control amount of movement of the subject. A fast shutter speed will freeze the action, and a slow shutter speed will make it look blurred as the subject moves.

Now that we understand the basics of Shutter speed, let’s continue!

This cityscape night image was shot hand held, without using any of the creative techniques described below. Use this image as a reference, as all the below images are of the same cityscape.

Method 1: Panning

This method is great for showing movement.

Set your camera to Shutter Priority, and select a shutter speed of around 0”3 sec – 1”3 sec, but this will vary depending on the amount of light in the scene you are shooting. Remember that the slower your shutter speed is, the longer the light streaks will be.

Focus on the scene, and then press the shutter button. I like to keep the camera still for a moment, before panning the camera sideways. This will produce a static scene in the background, and a starting point for the light streaks.

After you have taken the shot, check the LCD screen to see if you are happy with the result. If necessary, adjust the shutter speed and try again.

Take this technique further by panning vertically instead of horizontally, or try moving the camera to form squiggles or loops for a more abstract result.

Method 2: Zooming

This method is great for producing colourful abstract images.

Set your camera to Shutter Priority, and select a shutter speed of around 1” sec – 2” sec, but this will vary depending on the amount of light in the scene you are shooting. Remember that the slower your shutter speed is, the longer the light streaks will be.

Focus on the scene, and then press the shutter button. Just as the camera starts recoding, twist your lens as if you were zooming into the scene. This produces a tunnel effect with squiggly light streaks moving outwards from the centre.

After you have taken the shot, check the LCD screen to see if you are happy with the result. If necessary, adjust the shutter speed and try again.

Take this technique further by combining the zooming and panning techniques into a single image.

Method 3: Bokeh

What is Bokeh? Bokeh is the Japanese word which means “blurred” and bokeh are beautiful circular discs of coloured light.

Set your camera to Shutter Priority, and select a shutter speed that is around 1/60th sec – 1/4th sec, or set your camera to Program Mode. With this technique, you don’t want the shutter speed to slow, or otherwise the bokeh discs will be blurred instead of perfect circles.

With your lens set to Auto Focus, focus on something close to you. Now change your lens to Manual Focus, and aim the camera at the cityscape. You will notice at all the lights have become large colourful circular discs. Compose and press the shutter.

After you have taken the shot, check the LCD to see if you are happy with the result. If necessary, adjust the shutter speed, or reset the focus, and try again.

The beauty of night photography is that you can get really creative and produce abstract photos by painting with the light when using slow shutter speeds. The images you end up with are so different to the original scene, and completely unique. Play and experiment, with digital photography the instant results are so gratifying!

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