Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The evolution of a good night photograph (from the Sydney Harbour Bridge)

Hello everyone from beautiful Sydney, Australia!

I am here to teach a photo tour for the next week and a half, and we are going to be doing some out-of-this-world night photography. But in preparation for this, I wanted to share my first "real" night shot with you all, and tell you how I got the shot. (To clarify, I did take a night shot from my room and posted that on social media the other day. But that was a jet-lagged lazy shot from my hotel room. This is the real deal!)

While scouting for good photo spots for this week's photo tour, we were driving across the Harbour Bridge, from North Sydney back into the Central Business District, and I saw that there was a slight gap at the bottom of the fence along the entire span. I figured that this could yield a great wide night shot of the city.

So, my plan was set. I was going to walk onto the bridge and see if this shot was as good as I hoped. As you will read, most of what I planned did not happen, but I still got the shot I wanted. This blog post is all about how I got around the obstacles and obtained the shot.

Here is how it all went down...

Sunset here is really early right now, with the sun setting at 4:58pm. I left my hotel room at 4:15 so that I could walk up to the bridge and get into a good photo position. 

The first thing I noticed was that the gap in the fence was great, but there was a metal ledge right below the gap, rendering that almost useless for a wide shot.

The other thing I noticed was that, due to all the vehicles on the bridge, it was moving quite a bit. The movement would not allow for a long exposure, since it would shake the tripod and create blur in the final image.

Looking ahead, I saw the first pylon and figured that since it was the structural part of the bridge, firmly planted into the ground, that it would not move at all. And so I headed to that pylon.

As it turns out, I was correct. No movement at all, and here there was a gap under the fence without the ledge. Perfect, right? Well...not quite. The gap in the fence was too high for my tripod and I also noticed that the camera would have to be pushed forward on the cement wall to get the wide shot I wanted without getting the wall in the shot. So...the tripod would not help here.

I took the camera off the tripod and slipped the it under the gap in the fence and held onto it tightly. I really did not want to drop the Canon 5D Mark IV into the water below! 

I rested the camera on the ledge and noticed that it would need to be hanging OVER the edge of the ledge to get the best composition. I tried this and also determined that I needed something about 1/4 inch thick to rest on the right side of the camera to get my horizon straight. I found something in my camera bag that would work, and shimmed the camera to be straight. Each time I took a photo, I kept my hands right by the camera to make sure it would not blow over, but I was also careful not to touch the camera when the shutter was open.

This is my test shot, taken with the Canon 24-70mm lens. After looking at this shot, I determined that the Canon 16-35mm lens would be best for my shot.

You will notice that the sun was still setting at this point. This is why I went up to this location early. I wanted to find the best shooting location and work out all the details so that, when the best light was in front of me, I could get the shot I wanted.

I changed lenses and turned on live view of the camera to see what I was getting. And then I waited for the ambient light to drop and the city lights to come on.

Here is the a second test shot, now using the Canon 16-35mm III lens. As you can see, I had colors from the sunset, but the buildings were all dark. And so I waited even longer. The wind was howling around me and I was really cold in my shorts and a T-shirt. But there was no way I was going to leave this position and miss my shot. Not after all this!

At 5:20pm, the light was great and I started shooting once again. I used Live View on the back of the camera to check my composition and also to zoom in and check my focus. I did numerous exposures at different shutter speeds, watching the movement of the ferries to get trails of light in the harbor. I took this particular shot at 5:27pm. The shutter was open for 25 seconds (camera at ISO 100 and aperture at f/13).

Looking at the back of the camera, I knew I had the photo I was looking for! I took a couple more photos, just to be safe, and then headed back to the hotel to retouch my shot. Using Adobe Photoshop, I darkened the sky just a little bit, adjusted the exposure on the buildings, and also cropped some of the top and bottom out of the final image.

Voila - I got what I wanted!

It can't even tell you how much I love doing this. It took more than 90 minutes to get this shot, and it was so worth it. I stood there, high above this beautiful city and captured it in it's glory. Some people like buying souvenirs from their trips, I like coming home with photos like this.

And folks, this is just the beginning. Starting tomorrow, Vivid Sydney starts and you will see why I am here to teach this week! Those blog posts are coming soon. Stay tuned.

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Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.


Ron Simmons said...


Unknown said...

Great result

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