Wednesday, March 17, 2010

City Skylines

Photographing city skylines at night is a real challenge if you want to get a really good photograph. First you need to find a great vantage point to create a good composition. Then you need just the right light to balance your sky against your foreground, and not blow out all the lights. Since I have always done these with just one shot, it is a matter of shooting several shots as the sky gets progressivly darker. You can make adjustments in Photoshop or some other editing program, but you can only fix so much. The big thing in digital photography is now HDR. This stands for High Dynamic Range.  In simple terms, you take anywhere from 3 to 7 exposures and bracket with over and under exposures. This captures all the detail in the brighest lights, and all the detail in the darkest shadows. This data is then brought into Photoshop and it blends all this data together to create the image. There is a seperate software called Photomatix that processes these tpes of merged files even better than Photoshop does. I have the software now and have just started experimenting with this type of photography.

Living very close to St. Louis gives me a good skyline to practice on. These are long exposure shots were a tripod and cable release are mandatory. The worst thing about these are being down on the East St. Louis riverfront after dark. A nasty crime ridden place. I have observed river rats bigger that small dogs.

Here is a skyline scene I did of Nashville TN. from my last trip there. I was on an old bridge that had been converted to a bicycle and foot traffic only bridge. That is the Cumberland River that winds around the city of Nashville. I had to wait for the sun to get down far enough below the skyline to bring out the colors and cloud detail. These really are about patience and timing.
This is a panoramic scene of the Chicago IL. skyline all the way out to the end of Navy Pier. This is 12 vertical photos stitched together in Photoshop. I had never tried to do one of these at night. I was in Chicago for a seminar so I went out to the Adler Planetarium and shot it from there. I waited until the sun got down to the left side of the photo, but you can see the dramatic falloff of light across the city as the sun is now below the horizion at this point. I felt it was OK for a first attempt, but I need a lot more practice. If you click on any photo they will open in another window so you can see them a little better. 


  1. Wow! Simply beautiful. You have some serious eye candy here. I've always wanted to try to shoot a city skyline ever since seeing the picture of the Dallas skyline that one well advertised photograpay school uses in their material. With no convenient access to a city and no previous knowledge as to how to go about getting a successful shot, I've never bothered.
    It is kinda like when I never attempted to pbotograph any birds in the yard until meeting our other knowledgable friends on treknature who were so kind to share tips as simple as having a feeder log. That opened up a whole new world.
    I can see taking a successful and magnifigant city skyline won't be as easy as plucking a titmouse or chickadee off the feeder log, but I thank you for provinding the info necessary to give me and others a chance at success should we decide to try.


  2. Thanks Dan. Hope to someday get one good enough to make a reallly large mural size print.