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[Part 2] Nightscape Photography – Light Rays and Colours

Nightscape photography allows you to enjoy various styles of expression by changing the camera settings. In this article, I will introduce techniques on how to capture "light rays" by using aperture value, as well as ways to express "colour" with the use of white balance. (Reported by: Takuya Iwasaki)

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Stopping down the Aperture

Capturing "light rays" in a nightscape shot is an interesting technique, which is done by adjusting the aperture value. Light rays result when the aperture is stopped down. For light sources near you, such as a street lamp, stopping down the aperture by a certain extent helps to produce more intriguing works.

Camera Features to be Used

Aperture Value

Light rays from street lamps appear clearly when the aperture is stopped down.

Light Ray Technique: Using Aperture

How light rays appear in a photo depends on the number of aperture blades in the lens as well as the aperture value. If you want to create light rays, stop down the aperture as much as possible. The best result can be obtained between f/8 and f/11, although the effect changes with different lenses. Note that stopping down excessively produces too long a light ray, which may disrupt the composition. An almost fully open aperture, on the other hand, would result in a photo that lacks impact. Also, the effect would not be significant if the light source is located too far away. The shape of the light rays varies depending on the number of aperture blades, so it would be interesting to compare shots taken using different lenses.

EOS 5D Mark II/EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 47mm/ Manual exposure (15 sec., f/8)/ ISO 200/ WB: White fluorescent light

Light rays from the street lamps in both warm and cool colour tones add a nice touch to the photo.

Light Rays Created Using Different Number of Aperture Blades

Left: 8 Blades, Right: 9 Blades

Lenses come with either an even or odd number of aperture blades. For the even type, the number of light rays produced is the same as the number of aperture blades, whereas the number of light rays is double that of the aperture blades in the case of the odd type.

Light Rays Created at Different Aperture Values

Left: f/4, Right: f/11

At the maximum aperture of f/4, the light rays are short and round. In contrast, strong light rays are created when the aperture is stopped down to f/11.

Choosing the White Balance for Your Picture

In nightscape photography, with the absence of sunlight and the subject being illuminated by different types of light source, there is no correct white colour. In other words, you can enjoy expressing "colours" with the white balance you like. The [Daylight] and [White fluorescent light] options are the most commonly used, as they produce colours close to what we see. If you want to compare the effects using different white balance settings, set the image-recording quality to RAW before shooting. By doing so, you can alter the setting freely during RAW development.

Camera Function to be Used

White Balance

Generally, selecting a higher colour temperature setting changes the colour of the nightscape from a bluish to a reddish tone.

Colour Technique

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 47mm/ Manual exposure (3.2 sec., f/9)/ ISO 200/ WB: White fluorescent light

Here, I wanted to produce a shot of the geometric bridge, together with the bay in a cool tone. To enhance the blue hue, I set white balance to [White fluorescent light].

In nightscape photographys, there are no rules for using a specific white balance setting. White balance is a function intended for reproducing white colour correctly in the day or under the light in an indoor location. With the absence of sunlight at night, you can make use of white balance to determine the colour of the entire image by intentionally creating colour cast. The most commonly-used white balance settings in nightscape photography are [Daylight] and [White fluorescent light], as both of them reproduce nightscapes in colours that are close to what we see through our eyes. For higher-end cameras, you can manually adjust the colour temperature (measured in Kelvin). Lowering the Kelvin value enhances the blue tone, while raising the value gives a stronger red tone.

Colour cast at different white balance settings in nightscape photography

  1. 2,500K
  2. 2,800K
  3. 4,000K (White fluorescent light)
  4. 5,500K (Daylight)
  5. 10,000K

Colours at Different White Balance Settings

WB: Preset (2,800K)

When a colour temperature lower than that of the [White fluorescent light] setting is selected, the white LED light appears blue, and the entire image is reproduced in a cool blue tone.

WB: White Fluorescent Light

The blue hue is strong, while the pink colour of the tower is also vividly reproduced. Besides the cool tone, this shot also gives a somewhat artificial impression.

WB: Daylight

The entire image is reproduced in an orange hue. The details of the sky at twilight are also bright, giving the photo a warm impression.

Takuya Iwasaki

Born in 1980 in Osaka. After graduating from the Faculty of Economics, Hosei University, Iwasaki became a nightscape photographer in 2003. He works as a guide for All About (http://allabout.co.jp) as well as a lecturer for Tokyu Seminar BE's "Night Photography Course".

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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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