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How to Photograph City Lights

Updated on March 17, 2015
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"Night photography refers to photographs taken outdoors between dusk and dawn. Night photographers generally have a choice between using artificial light and using a long exposure, exposing the scene for seconds, minutes, and even hours in order to give the film or digital sensor enough time to capture a usable image. With the progress of high-speed films, higher-sensitivity digital image sensors, wide-aperture lenses, and the ever-greater power of urban lights, night photography is increasingly possible using available light." Wikipedia

There is nothing more beautiful than capturing the beautiful lights of any city and each city,no matter on what continent it is, each usually has some beautiful displays of lights that have to be admired and this can really be done well at night.

Photographing them can make for one exciting project since in essence you are showing a side of the city that perhaps many visitors and even some locals may not have ever seen and much less taken the time to truly look at them, especially not how a photographer may see them.

Capturing these displays of lights really brings to life another side of a city that can really put into perspective how something looks when the Sun goes down.

One of the best things to do when in a new location is to get to experience the "light life" as its regular occupants see it. In a sense the lights give the city its identity and can set the overall mood.


Let's be clear about the concept, this is not a project featuring cityscapes, it is however a theme that focuses on capturing images of lights within a city to show what the city looks like at night using nothing more than its lights.

Yes you can include other elements like silhouettes of buildings, mountains and so on even river or other water scenes to complement the main point of focus which should be the display of lights.

This off course means that you will be practicing night photography so some specialized equipment will be required like a good sturdy tripod and a couple of lenses like a wide angle and a zoom.

The wide angle is to capture photos of a view that is too large or wide for a regular lens and the zoom is to capture those pictures that cannot be taken from close up like scenery featuring a skyline across a bay or lake or river.

Notice that I did not mention using a flash or any pother light source. Capture the lights like you see them. When presenting the lens towards a scene that is dark the lights will stand out and this is what you want to record.

You are doing night photography and this demands some other gear and adjustments besides the camera and a lens. You need a tripod for long exposures, a large aperture and a slower than normal shutter speed. Brush up on these last two techniques if unsure about your methods or if you have not done night photography in a while or ever.

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Try not to take just any picture of lights. Concentrate on views that can not only show a nice light display but that can also portray some of the architecture, even if this is in a silhouette form.

Keep in mind that many locations can really come alive during certain times of the year like during the holidays.

Many cities deck up their main streets and tourist attractions like the downtown area and many other location near big shopping districts.

This also means that many private institutions also like to showcase their places by installing light displays in and around their place of business. Try to include a bit of both; holiday with regular lights.

Including traffic and people in your shots is not a bad idea but do not make them the principal points of interest nor give them so much space within the image that they can take away from the lights themselves.

Your emphasis should be on images that showcase the lights within a city and at the same time give the viewer of such images a sense of what the city mood is and why the lights give the location this mood.

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© 2015 Luis E Gonzalez


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