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03-12-2014, 07:53 PM   #1
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Advice for skyline picture?

Ok, my daughter has an art project due regarding the subject "City". I thought taking her out to photograph the city's skyline would be good. However, I'm uncertain as to how we should go about this. We scouted out a vantage point today. I think we're going to have our best chance of low traffic at midnight-2am. That will also give us the skyline all glittery from the lights. This is her project. She needs to take the pictures. I need to be able to help her the best that I can. Any advice on how to best capture this?

03-12-2014, 08:17 PM   #2
dms
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You likely will need to set a best guess exposure setting and then look at the display and adjust it. If you have a prime lens of about 24mm or wider that may be better than a zoom. If a zoom, adjust to get the desired view. [Oh--you list your equipment--so see below.]

I suggest using tungsten for white balance (you should set it/don't put camera in auto white balance. I only use raw--so my suggestion of iso 1600 may not be the best. In jpeg you may have an advantage to go higher.

I assume you have a tripod. If not borrow one or bring a small table or the like and a bag filled w/ rice or beans to set the camera on.

Camera needs to be in manual (M) exposure. I suggest about 1 sec to start with and the lens at 1 stop closed down. If the lens is of moderate aperture (opening) and the lights are strong this shutter speed may be good. More likely you will need to go higher--maybe 4 sec.

Either K-x or K-5 will do fine. If she needs to bring the camera in and show/tell what she did the k-x may be better. Actually for the shot either will do equally well. 35mm lens may be too narrow but I would take it and the wide angle zoom.

You want a fast lens if possible and likely a wide lens. If the lens has aspherical elements (most DA, F and FA's do I believe) they likely will do better with the lights staying round.

Last edited by dms; 03-12-2014 at 08:31 PM.
03-12-2014, 08:21 PM - 1 Like   #3
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do not go for late night, black skies are uninteresting, unless you plan to fill the shot with a nice foreground and little sky

best time IMO is blue hour, the time after sunset before the sky is completely dark, or before sunrise as the sky is beginning to lighten from black, but the lights in the city are still on, take this sunrise example of mine, but go slightly earlier as the sun is just poking out a touch here. Without colour in the sky, its just blackness


03-12-2014, 08:23 PM   #4
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A few thoughts.

Find a high point to get your shot. If you can line yourself up with a major street with lots of traffic, even better.

Use a tripod, a timer or remote and shut off your flash. Attach a moderate wide angle.

Aperture set at f/8 or higher for greater depth of field. (I generally work with f16 in aperture priority)

Wait until building lights are lit up.

Use different white balance settings to get different effects. I never use auto white balance. If there is a nice sunset go for the daylight white balance.

03-12-2014, 08:34 PM   #5
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Also dont rely on the camera to determine the correct exposure when it is dark. It will often over expose, as the meter will aim for an average exposure across the frame, but you will really want to pick out the lights, without overexposing them too much. Try out quite a few different exposures and see what you come up with. I find about -2.0 EV is good for getting something in the right range if you are using auto metering.
03-12-2014, 08:44 PM   #6
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The shot will most likely be taken with the K-x, since that is hers & my k-5ii is set up the way I want it & I don't want to change it to suit her unless there's some extremely compelling reason she can't get a good shot with the K-x.

Lenses...

I'll have to dig them all out.

DAL 18-55
DAL 55-300
DA 35
DA 50
Sigma 28-105 2.8-4
F35-70
FA28-70 f/4

I've got more. I'll have to look. I do have a 28mm all manual lens. (No automatic anything.)

Last edited by dansamy; 03-12-2014 at 08:55 PM.
03-12-2014, 08:47 PM   #7
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Bright Lights, Big City?

Hello dansamy,
Nighttime cityscapes are pretty easy, just like other timed exposures. Once you've found the best spot, set up your tripod and find a lens (or zoom setting) that's wide enough to capture the skyline, plus a bit extra on each side for cropping- In other words, frame it slightly 'wide', not too tight.
I use my lowest ISO setting for max resolution, whatever lens I'm using is stopped down 2 stops from max aperture, exposure compensation between -0.7 or minus -1.0. Shoot in AV mode, 2-second timer delay and a cable release or electronic release. Bring a flashlight!
Depending upon just how much light is available, the exposure will be 5-15 seconds long. This will yield the long, continuous river of car lights. If the shutter speeds are too long, double the ISO and it will cut the SS time in half. I just vary the f/stops between f/5.6, f/8, f/11, that provides me with a few different frames to use in PP.
Tips; Don't touch the camera before, during or just after exposure, use the remote release and take a look at the exposure as it flashes on the LCD. If it's too light or dark, change the exposure compensation to suit. Stop every few shots and check the histogram, chimp the past shots, adjust as needed.
Don't raise the tripod center column, keep it bottomed out on the neck, less vibration on long exposures. This means the taller folks will have to crouch or stoop a bit, but it works! If you raise the center column, you no longer have a tripod, you now have a monopod.
These same settings work well for fireworks (3-5 second exposures, generally, adjust ISO to suit) and most other timed exposures.
If the A/F starts 'hunting' in the dark, set infinity focus manually and leave the lens on M/F. Check focus every once in a while (chimp and scroll in tight) to make sure it hasn't shifted.
Relax and have fun! There's no rush with timed exposures and the results are very dramatic.
Good luck to you and your daughter,
Ron

Last edited by rbefly; 03-12-2014 at 10:00 PM.
03-12-2014, 08:50 PM   #8
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The second time you do it will be better than the first, Dansamy. You will have been able to study the EXIF data of your test shots and see which settings worked and which didn't.

What I'm saying is, do a dry run before the real thing for your daughter's assessment.

03-12-2014, 08:52 PM   #9
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Well, it's due in two weeks. I hope we have time to do this.
03-12-2014, 08:56 PM   #10
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The FA28-70mm would be my choice--it has very low comma (distortion that makes the lights look smeared at the edges) and I would set it a f/5.6. Pretty good resolution and not too long an exposure.

I suggest put in manual focus and set to infinity. The suggestion about the blue hour is also one I think makes good sense to try. Car traffic (ribbons of light) may be interesting. Even then I would try it in tungsten white balance--lights will be more true in color and the sky a little bluer than real--which may be attractive.

I think M (manual) exposure mode is the easiest--becasue it is easy to adjust after you see the results. You just keep increasing or decreasing the exposure time. Double or halve it each time till it looks good.

You have lots of suggestions posted--not all consistent so you need to pick and choose.

Last edited by dms; 03-12-2014 at 09:15 PM. Reason: Added about white balance
03-12-2014, 09:03 PM   #11
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Stitch it and make it into a freize
03-12-2014, 09:11 PM   #12
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Not sure how she will show the images--but if you take two pictures (one after the other) at same exposure settings, but just move camera to left or right (but with some overlap) they will make a nice panorama. You can just combine them in computer software, or just tape two prints together. No need to do anything fancy and they will be fine. We used to do this a lot in the old days--even in museum displays.
03-12-2014, 09:21 PM   #13
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Hi

Most definitely not too late or much after midnight. A lot of lights are turned off by then. (Office buildings for example) This may not be so much a problem in very big cities like London, Paris, New York (or similar), big city night life will carry on for longer.

Best results will give you the end of day blue hour or the morning blue hour, however in the morning not all lights of buildings will be on, particularly building flood lights.

This may not be possible, but best results will also be obtained shortly after it has rained as the wet roads will add extra reflection and sparkle to the image.

Check out the blue hour in your local with this calculator:
Welcome to Blue Hour and Night Photography | How to learn tutorials | bluehoursite.com | Blue Hour and Night Photography | How to learn tutorials | bluehoursite.com
03-12-2014, 09:33 PM   #14
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I do some business traveling, and take my camera along. The only real time I have available is in the evenings, and I like 'scapes - landscapes and cityscapes. So, this is what I do.
  • First, I start with Google, and google the city's name along with something like "skyline". Then when the results scroll up, I click on the "image", to get a set of images that google found available on the web. Here is an example using Huntsville skyline
  • After getting a set of images up, I scroll through them looking for good possibilities, lights, perspectives, and what ever else that may be available to make a good shot. I click on the images to go to the web sites that they are on to see what the web sites say, or the context of the images. That helps a lot of the times with some additional information - or not. Also, the images themselves may provide a set of suggestions as to a good time of the day - like blue or golden hour.
  • Next, with some ideas and some of the images, I go to google maps or google earth to figure out where the image(s) were taken from. Also in google maps and google earth, they have embedded images, so - I figure out the most likely locations, then start clicking on the image symbols to see what images might be available from that area. Usually within a few clicks I find a similar image to the one that I am looking for, so that indicates to me that this would be a good location.
  • Then, with a location or two in hand, I want to see if there might be anything special that may point to, or indicate a time. I use a blue and golden hour calculator for this. There is a good one at this site.
  • I move around the map and zoom into the city and location that I am interested in, click on the map to place the "red balloon" and then click on [submit]. That calculates the sunrise/set moon rise/set along with the associated bearing lines and builds a table for the current month of times. It also puts up a time line under the map. I can then use this to see if the sun/moon is going to rise or set that might provide an interesting perspective - for a good image. Also, a blue or golden sky is much more interesting than a black one sometimes, and usually during the blue hour (twilight), the city has all the lights on..
  • Now, I have the location, some sight lines, a good time, also a map with directions on how to get there. I usually use my 12-24 or a 28 or a 31 to shoot. I do like the blue "hour" since it usually gives some interesting shots. Also, near the end, it may look dark to your eye, but to the camera it still has a lot of blue.
  • I usually shoot in Av or Manual. I also take a lot of shots, with a variety of shutter times. Also, I tend to use bracketing - 5 frames at +/-2ev. Then I use oloeno photoengine to stack them together (you can get a free non crippled 30 day trial download) - its easy to use, just click on one of their preset buttons.
  • Most of the time it works out pretty well. Other times - you get there and there is a crane in the way, or the place is dug up or.... So, you adapt and improvise to make the best of a marginal situation.

03-12-2014, 09:48 PM   #15
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I also have a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 on the way. Should be here tomorrow to Saturday at the latest.
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