Night Photography

What Are The Prerequisites To Capture Long Exposure Shots?

Tin (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam) asked: Your gallery has some really amazing long exposure night shots. I am also interested in taking such photos. How should I prepare myself for the long exposure shots?

If you want to take long exposure shots, there are few requirements in terms of accessories you might need and the camera settings you need to setup. And if you are just starting, you can start with a minimal setup and as you grow more with your experience, you would find out what else you might need to improve your skill. This is what I would suggest to anyone who is starting into any genre of photography; start with the basics, you would make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and keep practicing. This is coming from my personal experience.

Now, to answer your question about the requirements for the long exposure shots, let's talk about the accessories you might need in the first section and then I will go through the camera settings in the following section.

1. Accessories you would need for the Long Exposure shots

- Tripod

Tripod is a must have device when you are taking long exposure shots. The general rule of thumb is: if you are shooting with a shutter speed that is slower than the focal length value, you would need a tripod to get the sharper image. Let’s say you are shooting at the focal length of 80mm, any shutter speed that is less than 1/80th of a second requires a tripod to produce a crisp image. I think it pays to invest in a good tripod (carbon fiber if you can afford) so that you won't have to keep replacing the tripod with every new camera you would buy in the future. I suggest you to get the one that can support heaviest camera-lens combo in the market and have extra features like panning support and easy movement of the camera in all possible directions. I think finding the best tripod requires a little bit of research of your own based on your budget and future plannings.

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An Evening In Pittsburgh

I have forever enjoyed travelling to new city with my camera and indulging in adventurous night photography (secret to my adrenaline rush). Pittsburgh is a beautiful city located just three and a half hour drive from where I live, and I shamefully admit that I had not made it to this city in the past 10 years. It was only last year when the opportunity came up to attend a cybersecurity training program in the city of Steelers. I was very excited for soon I would be doing everything that I love doing. As an IT professional, I was thrilled about the training program but silently I was ecstatic about traveling to a new city and doing night photography. I like to be prepared when I travel to a new place and get my itinerary ready beforehand. Along with some homework I did, I also got a little help from the Uber drivers to pick possible locations for the night shoot, which worked out perfectly for my photography adventure.

Pittsburgh is known as the city of the steelworkers where the United States Steel Corporation's 64-story tall headquarter is located. The famous football team Steelers also got their name from this steel town and the history of it’s steel workers. Sadly, the steel corporation does not own the building anymore but they are still one of the largest tenants in the building. The city lost most of the steel workers due to the change in global economy market.

I chose to drive to the city instead of flying. I entered the city through a tunnel and as I came out on the other end, I was amazed by this view of Pittsburgh’s skyscrapers and bridges. I could not believe that it took me so many years to visit this beautiful city surrounded by the hills. As soon as I checked into the hotel, I went out for an evening stroll around the downtown. Surprisingly, the downtown was pretty quiet and not much was going on (I thought it was a MONDAY to blame!). Then I tried going to a few shops and restaurants and they were all closed or getting ready to close. After walking around for a while, I found one restaurant which happen to open late on Monday nights. It was quite an experience for me on the very first day. Nothing goes down before midnight in DC downtown and here I was in Pittsburgh at 9 pm trying to look for an open restaurant. When I came back and asked the hotel staff about the minimal activity in the city, he said that's how it's always been around the downtown. All the restaurants and small businesses depend on the corporate employees and closes early right after the office hour.

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The New York City!

Living in Washington DC, only four hours drive from New York City, I have been lucky enough to be able to visit this incredible city many times in the last ten years. It is always crowded, busy and messy but still magical. It hosts people from all around the world and serves food from all continents. I read somewhere that, in the New York City, even if someone eats two meals a day in a different restaurant everyday, they wouldn't be able to taste all the restaurants in their lifetime. That says so much about the magnitude of this world's largest city which has so much to offer to everyone. You can possible buy everything that money can buy here. After all, this is the Financial Capital of the free world.

This majestic city is the home for almost 10 Million New Yorkers and travel destination for almost 60 Million tourists every year. No matter what day of the month or what month of the year it is, the crowd doesn't seem to be lessening. People are out and about even if it's blazing hot outside or freezing cold. This city of concrete jungle welcomes you with the magnificent view of countless skyscrapers which seem to be growing in numbers every day. One does not have to be an architect or a photographer to admire the skyline of New York City. When I visited this city for the first time in 2009, I drove through New Jersey Turnpike and reached to the city via Lincoln Tunnel. When I saw the glimpse of these skyscrapers for the first time (from a distance), I was in complete awe and forgot to take a photo. I went there for the July 4th weekend to celebrate America's independence day and witnessed one of the biggest fireworks in the world. Even though I had just started learning about photography, I took my camera with me but didn’t feel ready to go out and shoot. I returned with some casual shots of friends and family gathering and promised myself to come back more prepared. I visited the city many times ever since and had managed to take few shots here and there. However, I was not satisfied with the outcomes and felt something was still missing. I decided to visit the city again and this time, I went back fully prepared to capture NYC in its full glory. This time, I was determined to get the shots I have always wanted and from as many places as I could pinpoint.

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Another Shot Of Baltimore Inner Harbor

Couple weeks ago, I shot the Baltimore Inner Harbor during blue hour and I was very happy with the result. If you have enjoyed doing landscape photography, you might also have realized that how fast natural light changes from the sunset to the blue hour to the darker hour. If you are not well prepared for the shot, it's very easy to miss the window for the proper light. Usually, when I plan to shoot for the blue hour, I complete the camera setup just before the sunset and then monitor the light very closely. Then after the sunset, I take few shots in 10-20 minutes interval until I get the result I am happy with. Last week after passing the blue hour, I stayed little bit longer and then captured the darker hour Inner Harbor as well. I think I took this photograph around 9:00 - 9:30 PM on the same day I shot the Harbor in a blue hour. You can see how much difference the changing light from the blue hour to the darker hour makes on the photograph. Even though these two photographs are not taken from the same spot, you can see the similar buildings on both photographs and the composition is also somewhat similar.

This shot was also taken in an Aperture Priority (A) mode with an aperture value of f/8 at 16mm focal length using ISO 200. The camera adjusted the shutter speed for me automatically.

Baltimore during darker hour (click the image to view full size)

Even though I love taking all kinds of photographs, landscapes and cityscapes are my favorites. This photograph was taken using Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 lens without using any filter attached to it. I welcome any comments or critics you may have. Happy shooting!