Explore cities at night
Make the most of the light and colour of the urban landscape as it transforms after dark
Cityscapes at night have to be the most popular type of low-light subject. Although wild landscapes have a definite allure, urban areas are so much more accessible to most photographers, since many of us live in or within the immediate vicinity of a city or town. This not only exposes us to more subjects, at the most appropriate times of day, but also allows plenty of time to plan, visit and re-shoot images, with the minimum of travel. All of these factors are necessary in abundance in order to successfully capture night landscapes free from light pollution.
Low-light cityscapes encompass a broad variety of image types, from street and documentary-travel photography to abstract architecture and long-exposure light trail imaging. Often the best times to explore this area of photography are winter evenings, since the sun sets earlier, providing more opportunity to explore compositions at more convenient times. Furthermore, poor weather often benefits urban scenes, by adding reflections in wet streets or atmosphere in the low visibility of misty mornings. This enables photographers to capture images in all conditions, providing motivation to keep shooting throughout the winter months, but also acting as a desirable creative asset.
One of the biggest challenges of photographing in urban landscapes is the density of potential subjects, making it more difficult to identify what to focus on for a successful composition. Key aspects to form the basis of cityscape images are skylines, movement and contrasts of colour and brightness. These are the defining features of most cities, however they must be used in considered proportions if successful images
“The eye is drawn to the brightest areas of a scene… incorrectly placed brightness will break down the ‘direction’ of a frame”
are to be made – if incorrectly combined, they can begin to compete for attention, producing an overly busy scene. The low levels of ambient light create defined contrasts which can be difficult to control. The human eye is innately drawn to the brightest areas of a scene, meaning that incorrectly placed brightness will quickly break down the ‘direction’ of a frame.
Start by deciding how much of a scene you want to show – do you want to capture an entire skyline or produce an impression of the larger scene? The latter is an effective approach for well-known locations, where you want to capture a unique perspective. Next try to look for how the colours in the scene interact, to ensure they complement the framing and create a balanced palette. Finally look to introduce energy to the images by capturing literal or implied movement, through creative shutter speeds or through the use of the strong shapes that can be found in modern architecture.
COLOUR CONTRASTS Look for and emphasise varying hues to create added interest and led the viewer’s eye HOLDING COLOUR While still dark, this sky is not true black. Look for clouds to reflect city lights MOVEMENT Employ longer shutter speeds and compose so moving subjects leadinto and through the frame
BALANCED CONTRASTAim for deep shadows and bright highlights but try to avoidclipping of detail