How This Shot Was Made – Mixing City Lights With Ambient

There is a brief window, just before sunrise and just after sunset where city lights and ambient light mix together to make colorful and interesting images.
In the case of this image, I wanted to shoot it after sunset when the huge Bentleyville Christmas display was completely lit up in front of the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.
I arrived right around sunset and waited for the park lights to turn on. I wanted them to turn on while there was still a little bit of ambient light left so I would still see some definition in the clouds. Luckily on this night, there was a near full moon directly overhead which added an awesome spotlight effect.

Just after sunset and you can see the light was pretty flat and boring. This is where you might pack it up and head home. But, sometimes it pays to wait.

5-10 minutes later and the color is getting a little better. The city lights are starting to come on and are adding some
interesting elements, but the overall scene is still fairly boring.

5 minutes more and the color is getting better and more city lights are coming on.

Another 5 minutes passes and everything is starting to jive, the city lights are looking great and mixing well
with the ambient light.

Another few minutes pass and everything is getting dialed in, the city lights are looking pretty awesome with the
glow of the remaining ambient light. You can still see some detail in the sky. Now  if only they would they would light
up the park before the last bit of ambient light is gone…

Then a couple minutes later, the park lights up, there is still a bit of ambient light allowing a faint view of the clouds
on the horizon and the 3/4 full moon shines down like a spotlight on the Aerial Lift Bridge Bridge and Lake Superior
adding a bit of drama to the scene.

If I had packed it up and went home just after sunset I would have missed the best light of the day. Something to
think about next time you are out shooting. Even if you aren’t anywhere near city lights, the afterglow can leave you
with some amazing light to shoot with. When you see other photographers packing it up after seeing a nice sunset,
stick around for another 30 minutes, you might be surprised at what you see.

A Tripod, Cable Release and a 70-200mm Lens were used to make this shot.
Tech details are embedded for all images.
The last image was captured with the following settings – F/11 – 13 seconds – ISO160

One Comment

  1. Jasia 01/12/2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Really nicely done, Shawn. Thanks for sharing so we can all learn. I appreciate you!

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