10 pro photography tips for better city and architecture photos at night
Architecture and street is a fantastic genre of photography where you can create brilliant compositions using the lines and shapes of buildings in your cityscape.
Jeremy Flint is a professional photographer specializing in travel, landscape and location photography. Jeremy won the National Geographic Traveler Grand Prize in 2016 and the Association of Photographers Discovery Award in 2017.
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We met him in the beautiful, architecture-rich city of Oxford, England, and paired him with a reader of PhotoPlus: Canon magazineHari Mangat, for a masterclass in taking amazing photos of buildings as day turns to night.
Here, you’ll find Jeremy’s top 10 tips for cityscape photography, as well as some of the images Hari was able to capture when applying them to his own photography.
You can find out more about Jeremy’s work at his website.
01 manual mode
To start, Jeremy suggested Hari set his Canon EOS 7D Mark II to its manual mode, which would give him full control over his exposure settings: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It also means that his camera settings will be locked and won’t change even if the lighting changes. Jeremy recommends checking your shots regularly on the back of the camera screen to make sure the exposures are good and reshooting if you’re not completely satisfied.
Using manual mode, Jeremy suggested Hari start with an average aperture of around f/8, which is usually the ‘sweet spot’ on most lenses and wide angles, so he can achieve sharpness. fantastic in all its urban scenes. He also set the shutter speed to 1/200s, which would be fast enough to eliminate camera shake caused by vibration when holding the camera.
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02 Professional tripod
For landscape and architecture shots, you usually have time to frame on a tripod to get the composition exactly how you want it. This also has the benefit of helping to eliminate camera shake and allows longer exposures to blur moving elements, such as clouds or people. Jeremy’s tripod of choice is a Gitzo GT2542LS with a Manfrotto 405 ball head.
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03 Hang on a wall to stabilize yourself
Space was very limited on the viewing platform at the top of the church tower and as such tripods were not permitted. If you want to get sharp handheld shots with fading light levels, it can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. We increased the ISO value, activated any image stabilization on the lens or camera body, and leaned firmly against the edge of the viewing platform to remain as stable as possible. Of course, you should always wear your camera strap firmly around your neck to avoid accidentally dropping your camera!
You might think that a wide-angle lens might be the best choice for landscapes and cityscapes, but a long lens like the 70-200mm used by Jeremy can also work. They allow you to zoom in on details for full shots and also help compress perspective, so buildings appear closer together. Jeremy’s telephoto lens of choice is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM.
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05 Correct the white balance
The orange glow of streetlights produced images that were too “warm” using the camera’s built-in auto white balance mode. But when shooting in Raw, you can correct the white balance with programs such as Photoshop CC using the Hue and Temperature sliders to suitably cool the images. You can also change the in-camera white balance preset or create a custom one to get it right when you’re out in the field.
• Quick Reference: White Balance Presets?
06 Speed priority mode
Shutter priority mode (or Tv value/time on Canon cameras) is a semi-automatic mode in which you set the desired exposure time, as well as the ISO value, and the camera will then determine the aperture value needed for a decent exposure based on the metering mode algorithm you have chosen. If you see the aperture icon flashing, it means the aperture cannot open wide or close enough to create the correct exposure, which means you will need to adjust your shutter speed until it stops blinking.
07 Banish the blur
When you’re set up on a tripod to take long exposures at night, just pressing the shutter button on your camera can cause enough movement to result in unsightly camera shake. Jeremy uses the two-second self-timer mode, so there is a short delay between when he presses the shutter button and the exposure begins.
A shutter release cable accompanies Jeremy on every shoot around town, as it allows him to shoot from a distance, meaning he doesn’t hit the camera when pressing the shutter button for those longer exposures .
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08 Create a starburst effect
Turn light sources at night, such as streetlights, into a “star” with high aperture values. A high aperture value, such as f/22, will create a lush starburst effect on your light sources, although due to the restricted light output of using a narrow aperture, you will likely have to dial on a tripod. If your lens aperture has five blades, you will have a five-pointed star, and so on.
09 Full frame camera
Jeremy’s favorite camera is the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Its 7fps frame rate might feel a little pedestrian compared to faster mirrorless models, but you rarely shoot at a fast pace for cityscapes and landscapes, instead compose carefully and focus- you on a single shot. The 30.4-megapixel full-frame sensor is well-suited to capturing detail in low-light scenes.
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10 wide angle lenses
Hari’s Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is fantastic for low-light urban scenes, as it has a super-wide f/1.4 aperture, which sucks in plenty of light with great bokeh and low ISO values for better image quality. It’s as sharp as a razor! It should be noted that Hari’s 20mm lens behaved more like a 32mm optic, due to the 1.6x crop factor on his Canon EOS 7D Mark II, so his shots had more of a frame standard wide angle than super wide.
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