Written by guest photographer: Deborah Sandidge
Creative Nightscapes…From Twilight to Starlight
Many photographers pack up their gear right after sunset. However, the most magical time to make pictures can be twilight or night! Shooting at twilight and beyond allows the photographer to create beautiful story-telling imagery. Night transforms an ordinary scene into something extraordinary, providing a wonderful opportunity to expand your creative and artistic options. From cityscapes to landscapes, and from twilight to a starry sky, beautiful nightscape opportunities are limitless.
Photographing cityscapes using a small aperture and a long exposure creates wonderful little starbursts that sparkle from various points of light. These starbursts can add a glamorous quality to a nighttime scene. To achieve this look you can accentuate lights in your image using Star Effects using glitter, glow, or both. Star Effects complements the composition by enhancing the existing lighting, giving it more allure. For example, when I photographed Havana there was already a subtle glow from the city lights. I used the City Lights 1 preset to take advantage of the existing light, gently accentuating the soft glow throughout the image.
To determine the best nightscape composition, and to have a few alternative compositions, scout out locations ahead of time. Make a few test shots during the scouting. The photograph is your story, a visual narration of what you experience, and your interpretation of the scene. Don’t be afraid to find an angle and perspective that makes your composition more expressive. I photographed Havana from the balcony of the 24th floor of a hotel visited earlier in the day. I felt the higher perspective created more interest, which portrays more of a story.
You can create much more impact by photographing during flattering light conditions (see from the Bay Bridge, San Francisco photo below). This bridge wouldn’t look as interesting, colorful, or elegant during the day. It’s only during twilight, when the sky takes on a rich blue color that things start to get exciting. The lights on the bridge create starbursts, and the city lights and night sky are reflected in the water. The beautiful light conditions give you the opportunity to create a glamorous look.
I photographed the bridge using a long exposure and small aperture (f/16), which dots the bridge with starbursts throughout the image. If a wide aperture had been used (and consequently shorter exposure) the bridge lights would be represented as round circles of light without the starburst effect, which is not as dramatic. You can create even more drama throughout the image by using Topaz Adjust to enhance the detail, color, and exposure throughout the composition. Try Photo Pop for a very subtle effect.
To accentuate the color throughout your composition, experiment with white balance. Don’t worry about the “correct” white balance, find a setting that artistically represents the scene. I find 4000K a good place to start. If you are shooting in Raw format, you can tweak white balance after the fact, which is most helpful if you change your mind! If you have Live View enabled, a feature on many cameras, you can scroll through the various white balance settings to find the most complementary colors.
One of my favorite tips is to use a filter on the lens such as the FL-W filter. In conjunction with a white balance setting of 5000K, this creates stunning violet and gold colors throughout your image (shown in the photograph of New Orleans below). However, if you want to experiment with digital color filter effects, try one of the many colorful filters in Lens Effects.
I photographed the Venice scene below in HDR for more dynamic range in the composition. I used Star Effects to bring subtle detail to the lamps. The lights warm up the scene, and the pink glow on the background buildings creates a more inviting picture. A finishing touch of Simplify adds a slight painterly touch. Twilight is a visual treat that you can capture with your camera, allowing you to create expressive, one of a kind photographs.
Once the rich blue sky of twilight has faded into darkness, you can photograph the stars to complete your evening. Look for clear nights, and avoid light polluted areas of big cities. Landscapes work beautifully for star photography. For star shots, use a wide aperture, expose for 25-30 seconds, and increase the ISO as needed to create a good exposure. I like to use a Nikon 16mm fisheye lens or 14-24mm lens, both are f/2.8 and work well for star photography. I’ll also use a white balance setting of 2800-4000K. Double check the histogram after you make an image to ensure the stars and sky are being exposed correctly. Create a little magic by shooting a starry night!
What’s great about photographing nightscapes is that you don’t need sophisticated or expensive equipment to create beautiful pictures. You may already have a tripod and cable release. If you don’t have a cable release, just use the self-timer feature on your camera. Bring along a flashlight to make camera adjustments easy. Nightscape photography provides many creative alternatives that are not available during the day. Whether you shoot landscape or cityscapes, twilight or a star filled sky, nightscapes photography can be beautiful and rewarding.
Give it a try! Follow Deborah’s top tips for shooting nightscapes: http://www.topazlabs.com/blog/how-to-shoot-nightscapes
About Deborah Sandidge
Deborah Sandidge is professional photographer who enjoys sharing her insight and creative ideas through writing, workshops, teaching, and seminars around the world. She is the author of Digital Infrared Photography. As an instructor at BetterPhoto.com, Deborah teaches Enhancing Images and Creating Works of Art, as well as Digital Infrared Photography.
Deborah’s style of creating dramatic story-telling imagery reflects in her travels, and interaction with the people she meets. Deborah believes that every photographer’s unique perspective and style makes each photograph distinctively different.
Nightscapes portfolio: http://www.deborahsandidge.com/Photography/Nightscapes