Photographing cities at night can prove challenging for many photographers who struggle to get an accurate exposure. In this urban night photography tutorial we explain how to mix artificial and natural light for a more balanced shot.
When shooting city scenes at night, or more specifically at twilight, there are two sources of light; one from artificial sources such as street lamps and the other from residual natural light.
The problem is that if one is brighter than the other, the resulting picture will have some parts that are correctly exposed but other areas that are either very dark (under-exposed) or very bright (over-exposed) depending on how you have taken the meter reading.
The solution is to time the taking of your images so that the light levels from these different sources is the same, which will then produce an evenly exposed shot. Here’s how you do it…
How to photograph cities at night
01 Mix artificial and natural
When shooting down town at night, artificial light will play a major role in illuminating the scene, but don’t dismiss the importance of natural light, especially with regard to the sky. By making use of this residual light you can avoid black skies and produce a well-exposed shot with detail throughout.
02 Use spot metering
For a balanced shot, light levels from the sky and artificial light need to be roughly the same. This is easy to determine by taking a spot meter reading from both the sky (A) and an area of the scene that’s well lit by artificial light (B). If the sky is too bright, wait for it to get darker and take another reading.
03 Perfect timing
At the point when the sky is still slightly brighter (1-stop) start shooting using the spot metered settings for the artificially lit part of the scene. Continue to take pictures using these exposures. For about 10 minutes the scene will be evenly lit and two or three shots will be perfectly exposed.
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