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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Must-try Tips for Capturing Dramatic Nightscapes

After getting used to photographing nightscapes, some of you might still be unsure of ways to produce more dramatic results. In the follow article, we will explain how this can be done by introducing techniques commonly employed by professional photographers. (Edited by: Digital Camera Magazine)

Capturing a beautiful and fantastical nightscape shot

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 180mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5, 4 sec., EV-0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: White fluorescent light

To bring out the dazzling lights in this birds-eye view of the city from the top of a mountain, I purposely shifted the focus during exposure to create a blurry effect. (Photo and text: Shigeki Kawakita)


Create a larger bokeh effect from the light source

 I started shooting with the image in focus, but turned the focusing ring halfway during exposure to create a blurry effect. Since a narrow aperture would result in a much smaller bokeh (if any at all), I selected the maximum aperture for a more noticeable effect. When turning the focusing ring, be careful not to apply too much force to avoid causing camera shake.


Choosing a slow shutter speed allows zooming during exposure

Compared to shooting with a narrower aperture, the time of exposure is shorter at the maximum aperture. Before you press the shutter button, check the exposure time and start turning the focusing ring when it is slightly past the halfway point. In the photo above, I turned the ring after about two seconds.

Tip: Capture the core area of the photo clearly while blurring the surrounding areas

A normal shot of the city lights appeared slightly lacking in impact. A little more creative effort was needed to express what I felt.

In order to capture the city lights, which are the main subject of the nightscape, I turned the focusing ring after about two seconds, which is the halfway point of the exposure time. By doing so, I was able to capture the lights in the first half of the exposure and create bokeh in the latter half. A larger bokeh effect will appear for lights that are brighter and larger.


Capturing a shot that evokes images of outer space

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF50mm f/1.2L USM/ FL: 50mm/ Manual exposure (f/1.2, 16 sec.)/ ISO 800/ WB: 3,000K

Lake Lac de Chésery, located in a mountainous area in France. The shot was taken in mid-September. I thought the place would be crowded with photo enthusiasts, but I was lucky to find myself alone at the spot. At about nine at night, the wind stopped and a clear reflection of the stars and mountains appeared in the water. (Photo and text: Yosuke Kashiwakura)


A WB setting that adds cool tones to the image

Some important considerations when photographing the stars include the level of contrast, white balance (WB) and saturation. In this example, I raised the contrast and set WB to 3,000K to produce cool colour tones. At the same time, I also lowered the saturation level considerably. The sky would be reproduced in warm tones if adjustments were not made, and the starry sky would turn out hazy due to the surrounding atmosphere. In reality, however, the outer space we know is dark and cold, and the stars are twinkling. By bearing this in mind while adjusting the camera settings, I was able to produce an image of both the stars and terrestrial landscape that had an ambience close to that of outer space.


Tip: The sky is reproduced in warm tones under the normal settings

If we took a picture without altering the settings, the sky would be reproduced in warm tones as illustrated in the example. I therefore lowered the colour temperature of WB to add cool tones to the image while making sure not to do so excessively. I lowered the saturation to a level that was somewhere between colour and monochrome, and adjusted the contrast such that black crush did not become too noticeable. These adjustments can also be done during the RAW development process.


Capturing a gorgeous shot of a spectacular night view

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 105mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/7.1, 30 sec., EV ±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: White fluorescent light

In this photo, I tried to create an image that suggested admiring a night view from a car while on a night drive. To avoid weakening the impact of the night lights, I turned off the strong headlights of the car while keeping the lights on inside the car, which were moderately bright. (Photo and text: Yuta Nakamura)


Tip: Make the bokeh circles of the nightscape the main subject

Establishing focus on the nightscape causes the city lights to appear small, thus weakening the impact of the spectacular night view.

I set focus on the car, which was about 20km away from the city lights in the background. Doing so blurred the background significantly, creating bokeh circles. Many tend to establish focus on the city lights when capturing a nightscape, but in order for bokeh circles to appear, we need to set the focus on a main subject away from the light source.


A focal length that creates perspective compression

I created bokeh circles of the night lights by setting focus on the car that was parked on the hill. Next, I set the focal length to 105mm to create a perspective compression effect that made the nightscape appear closer and larger, thereby bringing out the spectacular night view.


The point to focus to create bokeh circles

The city lights were located at about 20km away from the car, a distance that is good enough for creating background blur. With the aperture set to f/7.1 and the focus established on the car door, I was able to create a large bokeh effect on the background, with the light sources appearing as beautiful bokeh circles.



Shigeki Kawakita

Born in Kyoto in 1967. Graduated from the Photography Department in the Osaka University of Arts. Nightscape photographer. Active in Japan and overseas as a photographer for books and stock photos. Currently, he takes mainly nightscape shots of new famous places in cities. A member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society (JPS).


Yosuke Kashiwakura

Born in Yamagata Prefecture in 1978, Kashiwakura picked up photography on his own. He won an award in one of the two biggest landscape photo contests, and his works were exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States. Kashiwakura produces a wide range of works related to nature, including people residing in natural environments, landscapes and animals


Yuta Nakamura

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1988. Since 2010, he has been working as a nightscape photographer, not only shooting nightscape locations mainly in the Tokyo area but also throughout Japan. He runs the information site for nightscape spots “Nightscape FAN”.


Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.

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