Photo Recipe: Shooting Cityscapes at Dusk

BEHIND THE SCENES: We’re set up on a floating dock across the river from downtown Portland, Oregon, on a good sturdy tripod, and I have a cable release to minimize any camera movement that would happen when I press the shutter button. Since we’re shooting at dusk (and after dusk—more on that in a moment), we need to be on a tripod because our exposure will be fairly long (well, certainly longer than we could hand-hold).

CAMERA SETTINGS: I’m using a 16–35mm f/2.8 super-wide-angle zoom lens, zoomed all the way out at 16mm. I chose an f-stop that would put everything pretty much in focus (f/8), and my shutter speed was 1/10 of a second (much slower than I could hand-hold). To even get to 1/10 of a second, I had to raise my ISO to 1600, so there wasn’t much light out there at all.


THOUGHT PROCESS: What you’re seeing above is part camera technique, part patience, and part Photoshop. It’s actually two photographs: The first is taken right after the sun goes down, so you get that nice sunset sky (well, there were hardly any clouds in the sky here, so it’s not an incredibly dramatic sky like I was hoping for). The problem is that right after sunset, it’s still not really dark outside (especially in Portland, where it stays light for quite a while), and so the lights of the city aren’t on yet. So, you’re going to need to take a second photo about 20 to 30 minutes later—way after sunset. It’s pretty dark in the sky now, but by that time, the lights in the city are mostly on and that’s what you need for the second image—the city lights (it doesn’t matter what the sky looks like for this second shot. This second shot is literally only to capture the city lights). You can’t move your tri­pod or the camera at all—not even a inch—between the “just after sunset” shot and when you take the “city lights” shot. Once you have both, then you’re going to take the “just after sunset” photo and add the city lights from the second photo to it in Photoshop (this is a very common technique, and the only way you get that beautiful sky [which we don’t really have here] mixed with beautiful city lights before they would actually be turned on).

POST-PROCESSING: You’re going to open both images in Photoshop, copy-and-paste the “city lights” shot onto the “just after sunset” shot, add a black layer mask, and paint in white over the buildings and bridge, and the city lights appear. Here’s the final image again, since it’s cropped above.


To try out more of Scott’s awesome Photo Recipes, check out The Digital Photography Book, Part 5: Photo Recipes from #KelbyOneBooks.