night photography … the wrong(ish) way.

This photo required a lot more post-processing than I normally do on an image, mostly because I have this dreamy, idealized vision of what a snowy city night looks like and I really wanted to re-create that in this photo.  But, another reason I had to be extra particular with this picture is because *sigh* I don’t practice what I preach.

Every time I teach a photography course I explain how vital a tripod is:  how crazy you will make yourself trying to get tack-sharp photos in low light conditions without one, and how much better your image quality will be if you can leave your ISO nice and low instead of cranking it up to avoid camera shake.  I didn’t have a tripod with me this particular evening.  I’ll beg a bit of understanding because I was on my way home from work, and, while I love to carry my camera with me everywhere to catch that perfect moment it’s a lot harder to force myself to also carry a tripod.  Eventually I do plan on adding a gorilla-pod to my gear arsenal, and then I will no longer have excuses.  But, in the meantime, I am forced to do things the hard/stupid way.  Which means shooting 8 – 12 frames of every composition with the shutter on continuous, holding my breath and trying to balance against a tree-trunk … just praying that 1 frame will come out clear enough to use.  So believe me when I tell you:  tripods are a must for an enjoyable night photography experience.  (But, if you’re as stubborn and determined as I am, you can make it work … although it’s not nearly as efficient!)

One of the trickiest things about this photograph was matching the colour to my mind’s memory.  When I see a city on a winter’s night, particularly when it’s snowing, the sky seems almost purple to me.  Of course, when you photograph the scene, odds are, you’re going to get something more like this:

City lights are often an overwhelming oxide orange and completely kill any other colour that you might see in the scene.

A more “accurate” white balance leaves the photo looking like this:

We’ve got white snow, but none of the magical orangey-purple contrast that I imagine.

In order to combine the two images, I opened them both in Photoshop and then placed one image on top of the other.  I used the luminosity (brightness) of the image to mask out darker areas of the orange image so that the blue sky would show through.  After tweaking the saturation and curves, I have an image that more closely fits the night as I remember it.

My favourite part about this image is the background:  the ice on the tree across the street was reflecting the street lights and it created some magical bokeh when pulled out of focus.  Definitely waiting for the next snowy night to go on another photo walk … this time WITH my tripod.


2 responses

  1. I like the “accurate” WB shot. I know it isn’t how the scene appears under city street lights but the colour is very pleasant. I too tell people they need a tripod for the night time but often find myself out without one. Have you ever tried the beanbag technique?

    • Thanks for the advice. I do like the blue in the “accurately” balanced shot as well.
      I have heard of the beanbag technique, but I haven’t had a chance to try it- night photography has been a very sporadic interest ’til now. Looking forward to polishing my skills.

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