This is Part 2, of the article by Steve Schechter (AKA Spike @ Spikesphotos.com) “Capturing the Hong Kong Skyline”. Part 1 can be found here: “Capturing the Hong Kong Skyline” Part: 1
Capturing the Hong Kong Skyline: Part 2: Techniques
When your start setting up your shot, the first and foremost setting to change is the aperture setting on your lens. Sure, shooting with the aperture set to the widest opening, whether it’s F2.0 or F2.8 or whatever your lens offers, will give you a narrow depth of field, and shooting fully stopped down at F22 will give you a longer depth of field, when your subject is a mile or more away, depth of field is not a major consideration. What you should be concerned about is your lens’s “sweet spot”, the aperture opening that provides the most sharpness and detail. Shoot wide open and often you’ll lose detail around the edges of the frame; shoot fully stopped down and light diffraction can become an issue. For most lenses, the sweet spot comes in at F5.6 or F8. To test this, take shots at different settings and carefully examine the results or just read reviews of your lenses to see what results the reviewers noted.
You may be surprised to read that your next choice isn’t shutter speed, it’s ISO. You might think to shoot at a high ISO, something like ISO 6400, to have the shortest possible shutter speed. I think that while today’s cameras do an amazing job at high ISO, I prefer the lowest ISO possible. This minimizes noise, which can obscure detail, especially in the shadows. I shoot at ISO 200 with the Nikon D800.
Once you’ve set your aperture and ISO, you can let the camera choose the shutter speed, unless you want additional effects. If you’re shooting during the daytime, you might want a slower shutter speed to “smooth out” the clouds or the water. In this case you will probably want to have a Neutral Density filter with you to darken the scene and allow for longer exposures. This is not as much of a factor at night as the shutter speeds will be longer, so I just let the camera choose the shutter speed.
With the lens set at F8 and the ISO at 200, this usually results in exposures of 8 seconds or longer. That’s why you need the sturdy tripod and a shutter release. In addition, if your camera has a mirror lock-up mode, you’re going to want to use it. A DSLR has a mirror inside that reflects your image into the viewfinder. Each time you take a photo, a DSLR camera has to flip the mirror up and away from the sensor before taking the shot. This can introduce a small amount of vibration that could be visible in your final result. By using the mirror lock-up mode, the first time you press the shutter button, the mirror is flipped up but the image isn’t captured. Pause for a moment and then press the button again for a vibration-free result. This is unique to DSLRs and doesn’t apply to Mirrorless cameras such as the Sony NEX series, Fuji X-Pro1, or the Olympus Pen Series of cameras.
You also want to ensure that extraneous light doesn’t have a chance to get into your photo. This can happen via the optical viewfinder on DSLRs. Some cameras, like my Nikon D800, have a small lever that will close off the viewfinder from the rear. If your camera doesn’t have this feature, find something to cover the viewfinder – perhaps your hand, a piece of cloth, or gaffers tape. This step isn’t needed if you have an electronic viewfinder.
One final tip about focus. I’ve found that at night and over great distances, some times auto-focus simply doesn’t work. Of course the tiny focus assist lamp on the front of your camera is useless for something that’s miles away. So manual focus is the way to go. One nice feature of the D800 is that Nikon’s implementation of LiveView allows you to magnify the image you’re viewing on its 3 inch screen. This feature has come in handy more times than I can count. I hope you find this article helpful the next time you want to make landscape images or long exposure images.
Below you’ll find some tips and fun techniques for you to try. Please feel free to post your comments below.
Black & White images with bits of color:
This is a technique that I enjoy using for some of the harbor shots. I process the RAW images in Adobe Lightroom. I drop the Vibrance setting down to -100 and then I slowly drop the Saturation setting. This will take out all but the most vibrant colors – in the case of the photo above, that’s the huge neon advertising signs. I then go down to the individual color sliders and selectively bring back the saturation to make sure those signs really stand out.
Fun with zoom photos:
This is a technique that I’ve only just started to play with. Since I’m shooting such long exposures, I realized I had time to adjust the zoom during the exposure. It seems to work best when there is a well-defined object at the center of the frame and also seems to work better when I limit the zoom range – going from around 150-200mm rather than the entire 70-200mm range of the lens. The key here I think is to play around more, experiment, try different things and different variations on those things to find techniques and tools that work best for you, and keep things fun and interesting.
by Steve Schechter © 2012 http://spikesphotos.com
Part 1 can be found here: “Capturing the Hong Kong Skyline” Part: 1