Saturday, January 3, 2009


Photographing a city skyline at night is a goal of many photographers. And more often than not, this goal is usually pursued shortly after the photographer has purchased their first tripod, since compositions of this type require ‘long’ exposures.

Beyond the need for a tripod, there still remains two important steps if one is going to find the experience of shooting a city skyline rewarding.

IF you make it a point to shoot your city skyline shortly after dusk, you will not only record an exposure with greater contrast and color, BUT you will also have no trouble in getting the correct exposure without the need to “bracket”. Beginning about fifteen minutes after sunset and lasting for the next ten minutes, the exposure time for the sky is now the same exposure time of the lighted cityscape in front of it. And this is true whether it’s a cloudy sky or clear sky. With your camera in Manual Exposure Mode and your aperture set to f/11, tilt the camera up towards the sky, just above the buildings and adjust your shutter speed until a correct exposure is indicated. Chances are with 200 ISO, you will record an exposure time of around 4 seconds. Re-compose the city scene before you and fire away! It is imperative that you get all of your shooting done during the next 10 minutes because the window of opportunity will soon turn to black.

Shooting city scenes against a ‘black sky’ is something you will want to avoid, since the dark, black sky does not offer up the much needed contrast/color separation that the dusky blue sky did. Compare for yourself in these two shots of the Tampa, Fl skyline.

The first image was shot 20 minutes after sunset while the second image was shot 35 minutes after sunset. Both images where shot with a Nikkor 17-35mm, at 20mm, f/11 for 4 seconds.

Bryan F. Peterson
Founder of PPSOP


cny said...

Maybe it's just me, but I actually like the second photo better. The "At Night" one seems more "mysterious" to me. Though, given the choice, I'd probably prefer to hang the first one on the wall in my home. The second one would make a good background image on my computer.

Sandy K. said...

I loved the first image when I initially saw it, but as I scrolled down and the second image became clear, I instantly preferred that one. Lovely. Moody. Dynamic, in my opinion. Great example of how quickly the light changes, and how different the resulting photographs will be.