Arguably, one of the best locations to go out and do some low light and night time photography is a town or city as they provide the greatest number of subjects and opportunities. As the sun sets and the ambient light levels fall away, towns and cities come to life. Artificial lights are turned on and many buildings become floodlit, vehicles turn on their headlights providing streaks of yellow light and streaks of red as they drive through the city streets and neon signs bellow out to the passersby. There are many instances when the darker it gets the brighter and more vibrant the city becomes and the more interesting it is to photograph. So, how do we go about photographing a night time cityscape?
As with all photography assignments it is important to carry out a bit of planning before jumping in with both feet. Before you think about the location and subject it is important to consider the photography equipment you are going to need. Whilst it is tempting to take all the photographic gear you own it is worth remembering that this type of photography is very mobile and you need to carry it around with you. In addition, the more stuff you take the greater the chance it may be stolen or accidentally damaged. So, take the bare minimum you can get away with.
It is important to carry enough lenses to cover a wide focal range. The easiest way to achieve this is to carry a pair of zoom lenses. One covering the short focal lengths, such as 28mm – 80mm and one to cover the longer lengths, such as 75mm – 300mm. The next item on the list should be a sturdy tripod. Shooting in such low light is going to mean long exposure times, often multiple seconds or minutes, and it is impossible to take sharp hand held shots that aren’t blurry in these conditions. A remote shutter release is also required to ensure that images are sharp. An external flash gun may also be useful (although it is not one hundred percent necessary) as will some filters. All the kit should be kept in a single bag to make carrying it around that much easier.
With the kit sorted out, the next thing to consider is the subject and the location. If you want to take images of specific subjects, such as churches and chapels or historic town halls there is a discrete number of locations you can visit. If, however, all you want to do is take some images of artificially lit buildings or moving traffic there is a lot more scope and it is likely you can go to almost any part of the city and get the type of shots you are looking for.
Towns and cities are busy places that are often full of people. Obviously, there will be busy times such as at the weekends or the first couple of hours after the normal working day, and quieter times, such as weekday nights after nine o’clock. You will find it easier to take images during the quieter times therefore try to aim to get to the city during these times. A sturdy tripod is not a small piece of equipment and it will take up a bit of room and pavement space, therefore the fewer people there are for both you to navigate around and to navigate around you the better. In addition, it also reduces the chances that someone will walk in front of the camera during the exposure hence ruining the shot.
It is likely your photographic equipment cost a small fortune therefore security should be a top priority. You don’t want to leave yourself open to being mugged therefore you need to ensure you stay in the safer and more friendly parts of the city. In addition, it is best to have a companion with you to watch your back and ensure your kit remains safe as you are focusing on taking those cityscape images.
Photographing cityscapes can be a challenge although it is often worth the time and effort. One of the most important things to consider when photographing cityscapes is your safety. Take a step a bit too far back and you face a risk of being run over. Enter in to the wrong part of town at the wrong time and you may be mugged or have trouble with drunk clubbers wandering between drinking holes. Pick the right time and the right location and you should encounter few problems. Just keep your wits about you.