I know, the title of this post sounds a lot like the lyrics of L.A. Woman by The Doors. Quite frankly, now that I said that, the song is running a perpetual loop inside my head. If my calculations are right, that song is probably now running the same loop inside your head. All I can say is, you’re welcome. Alright, enough of that. I know I said in my previous post, I was done with my Vegas shots. Well, I came across this shot, and it inspired me to write another post about photographing the “City At Night”. Sorry. Had to keep the song going for ya! So, here we go.
Photographing in an urban area at night is all about the lights, colors, lines, and angles. I included colors in with elements of the image, however, black and white can also work quite well depending on the mood and your artistic vision. The success of an image depends on how these variables interact with each other. If you break down almost any urban scene, what you will find is it’s made up almost entirely of lines, and geometric shapes, interacting with each other from multiple angles. How you arrange these lines and shapes in your image, will ultimately make or break the shot. Let’s take a look at each one and see how they affect your composition.
Lines have got to be one of the most important considerations you’ll make when composing a shot. Lines take you places. In our everyday lives, we follow lines all the time. When you drive your car, you follow the lines on the road. Go to a special event, you follow the lines in. Read this blog post. Yep, you guessed it, you follow the lines of text. When you look at a photograph, your eyes will naturally follow the lines within it. It’s critically important that any lines you use in your compositions lead your viewers eyes into the image, and not out of it. Remember, you want to keep them engaged with the image, and the way you do it is guide their eyes where you want them to go. Lines are the key.
You also need to pay attention to the buildings and structures in your image. Their size, shape, and the direction that they face will all play a key role in keeping your viewers interest in the image. Most often, you want to have the front side of a building facing into the image. Our natural instinct when looking at an image of a building, is to see what building it is. Once you find the sign identifying the structure, your eyes are going to drift in the direction that sign is facing. If it’s facing out of the image, you’ve lost your viewer. The size of the building plays a significant role too. If the building is too large to fit in your viewfinder, use it to frame one side of the image like what I did with the Bellagio in the image above. Use the shapes of the buildings to guide your viewers eyes into the image also. Again, in this shot, the rounded shape of the Bellagio sweeps towards the center of the image and flows right into the Cosmopolitan, which is also facing the center. The result. Your attention stays focused within the image.
Light is where things get a little bit tricky. Light is the essential ingredient for any photograph. With night scenes, sometimes you have an over abundance of light, such as in this image, or very little light depending on your location. Sometimes you have both in the same scene. It’s the latter where the problems arise. If you’re going to photograph an extremely contrasty scene at night, you’re going to need to shoot from a tripod, and take multiple exposures for the different brightness areas of the image. Later on during post processing, you can blend the different exposures together to get a balanced, properly exposed image. If you don’t have a tripod, use the histogram on your camera, and expose the scene as far to the right as you possibly can without blowing out your highlights. Both of these techniques require some advanced knowledge of exposure and post processing software, and are beyond the scope of this writing. Tutorials can easily be found with a simple Google search.
If you have some latitude with when you shoot, try and go out on a cloudy night. Clouds give you two advantages over shooting on a clear night. Number one, they give you some visual interest in an otherwise boring area of your image. Number two, the act as a gigantic soft light reflector, and fill in the shadowed areas of your image with a golden glow from the city lights reflecting off them. Shooting on a cloudy night can help you overcome the problem of extreme contrast we talked about earlier.
I know this sounds like a lot of information to remember, and it is. But nothing good ever comes easy. Get out there and start experimenting. Learn from your mistakes. If there’s one thing that you take with you from all of this, remember, lines take you places. Pay attention to your lines, and your portfolio will start filling up with great images from the “City At Night”. Thought you forgot about the song, didn’t ya!
Until next time, enjoy your photographic journey. If you haven’t signed up for my email list yet, be sure to do it before you leave this page. The sign up box is on the right side of this page, near the top.