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Sharp Shooter: How to Shoot the Night

Tech : Cameras By Photo by Chris Gampat

For our third installment, we step into the dark to shoot a starscape and nature in it’s most dramatic setting.

The night: it’s the time when some of us come alive and the world surrounds us in beautiful neon colors perfectly contrasted against a dark background. It delivers a sense of serenity and awe at the same time. In New York City, you’re often surrounded in tall, illuminated buildings and street lamps flooding the streets in different colored lights. To make the most of photographing cityscapes at night, a good idea is to often shoot wide to semi wide.

Special thanks to Canon for helping make this photography post series possible. Canon, Get Behind the Lens

Sharp Shooter Series

Part 1: Get a Grip on Your DSLR | Part 2: How to Capture Your City | How to Shoot the Night

Our Setup:

A. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM ($2,359), B. Canon 5D Mark III ($3,499), C. Canon 35mm f/1.4L USM ($1,479), D. Canon 580 II EX Flash ($499)

Canon 5D Mk III: its spectacular auto-focusing abilities combined with the quality of the images it can deliver at higher ISO settings is a dream to the photowalking city shooter. The camera’s viewfinder is also one of the best we’ve seen. Not only is it bright enough to conquer the dark night, but it is also detailed enough to let you manually focus a lens and clearly see what you’re focusing on. $3,499

Tip: Shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority (with Auto ISO settings).

Canon 35mm f1.4 L: This is the lens that many photojournalists, wedding photographers, and street photographers absolutely swear by. The 35mm focal length is versatile enough to not only shoot cityscapes, but also get close up enough to subjects at night and deliver a more intimate image. Tack on the fact that the fast f1.4 aperture will let you get some of the creamiest bokeh out there and you’ll seriously be in love. $1,479

Tip: What you see in real life is what you get with this lens.

Canon 14mm f2.8 L: 14mm is extremely wide and with this lens you’ll be able to capture a wider perspective than even what your eye can see. The F2.8 aperture will work well with the 5D Mk III’s ability to shoot dreamy photos at night to deliver some of the nicest cityscapes you’ll feast your eyes on. $2,359

Tip: The further away your subject is, the less distortion will appear in your image.

Canon 580 EX II: Canon’s 580 EX II is a popular option for many photographers. Combined with the 35mm f1.4 L, you’ll be able to use the creative abilities that a flash allows you to construct very professional looking photos. $499

Tip: Think of your 580 EX II Speedlite as a way to turn your surroundings into light panels. For example, if you’re photographing a person, putting a wall behind you and aiming the flash behind you and above will deliver some very natural looking light onto your subject.

Note: The following photos are raw and do not include any post-processing.

Big City, Bright Lights

One of the key factors to remember when photographing a city at night is the fact that there are lights all over the city and they comes in many, many different colors. While your Canon 5D Mk III’s auto white balance function can work very well, try setting it to Tungsten at times to give your images a more bluish tonality and you’ll also then be able to capture not only the colored lights, but also the ambient light from the sky and all.

For the absolute best results, shoot in RAW and if you don’t like the colors you get, tweak the temperture settings a bit.

The Only Way is Up

While lots of excellent viewpoints are available by simply just looking down the streets, consider heading to the rooftops. New York City has rooftop bars aplenty, and many people often head up to them not only for a drink, but also for the scenic view. Instagram won’t be able to capture anything as breathtaking as what a DSLR can.

Don’t feel like heading to a party-filled rooftop bar? Consider heading to the top of the Empire State Building or the top of Rockefeller Center (known as Top of the Rock.) From there, you’ll encounter sweeping views. If you look North and randomly see a giant unlit mass, then you’re capturing Central Park, at night.

This is where your 14mm f2.8 L will come in handy.

Capturing the Essence of the Melting Pot

One of the best absolute best ways to capture New York City is to document the thing that makes it what it is: the people that live here. NYC is on the list of nearly every street photographer and the reasons aren’t only our very loose laws on photographing in public. Bruce Gilden, the famed Magnum Photos street photographer, said that New York City is filled with characters. Indeed you will find street performers, subway musicians, the eclectically dressed, and much more here.

Additionally, keep in mind that people here are also generally friendly and if you ask for their portrait they won’t mind. Then again, some of the best photos are candids. As a tip: consider sticking to your 35mm f1.4 L and perhaps using your flash only to create light. When creating light, try to have an end product/vision in mind.

Combine all these tips and in the end, just follow your heart and think of the world in the rule of thirds, and you’ll come back with images that you can really be happy with.

Need more inspiration? Browse through and search for all New York City related photos. They’ll give you lots of ideas.

Sharp Shooter Series

Part 1: Get a Grip on Your DSLR | Part 2: How to Capture Your City | How to Shoot the Night