CREATE ARTISTIC EXPOSURES –  Use exposure wisely to capture the energetic atmosphere of a city

There is a great deal of movement in urban locations. From traffic speeding through busy road intersections, to commuters flowing along pavements during the morning rush hour, cities are full of energy. It is therefore vital that we consider how this will appear in our images and take control of exposure, to ensure the dynamism of our subject shows through. Ultra-short shutter speeds won’t often find a place in an architectural and cityscape photographer’s arsenal, since the frozen movement these generate produces unnaturally static compositions. Long exposures can be used for a multitude of purposes. They can be employed to soften skies for contrast against sharp structural detail, and to produce a soft light quality that creates a painterly style. This balances the distribution of detail throughout the frame.

Exposures of several minutes will also help to minimise distracting elements by removing people and traffic, providing they are not stationary for extended periods. Semi-slow shutter speeds, in the region of two to three seconds, are best for occasions where you want motion to be visible. Try this in places where people, vehicles and clouds are widely spaced, to give them room to move through the frame and remain discrete. Use 30-second exposures and above to capture traffic trails or to apply a silky look to skies, for a neutral backdrop to closer-cropped studies.

The main exposure challenge you will face in a city is the extreme range of contrast.

The dynamic range of current cameras is excellent, but is not wide enough to maintain detail in the brightest highlights and deepest shadows. Moreover, it is mostly impossible to use an graduated neutral density filter, without artificially darkening the tops of foreground buildings.

Software blending options are the best choice in these cases, as full control over localised exposure problems is possible. However, it is then important to consider the method of blending, to avoid the halo effects and noise exaggeration that is synonymous with conventional HDR processing. Intelligent exposure choice can ensure the effective application of creative technique and fundamental tonal management.


Alter your style for each time of day and embrace lighting characteristics

One of the great qualities of urban environments is that the densely populated scenes very easily take on new appearances as the light changes, either reflecting or absorbing colour and tone from the sky. In modern cities, the predominance of glass results in light ‘bouncing’ between buildings, altering its softness and hue. It is possible to shoot the same scene at sunrise, midday and sunset and produce an almost entirely unique atmosphere. Meanwhile, after dark, a city can adopt an otherworldly style as the artificial light from within buildings produces vibrant contrast against the low-light surroundings.

However, each lighting condition presents its own set of exposure challenges, requiring the photographer to recognise where problems may arise and adapt their composition and settings to compensate.

At dawn the biggest advantage is the frequent lack of traffic and people – this is generally when city streets are at their quietest. There is also good colour contrast, with plenty of cool and warm colours present in the sky to blend with or stand out from the artificial street and interior lights. Unfortunately you may also find many building lights are not on in these early hours, presenting backlighting challenges, resulting in loss of shadow detail. A potential solution is to use the reflective properties of modern building materials. The strong lighting can introduce exposure and over-polarisation difficulties, while the top-down light often makes it difficult to pick out texture. Consider using deep contrast to produce punchy monochrome images and use the extended Low ISO setting on your camera to maximise “We can shoot with the rising sun behind us to pick out surface detail and reflections” to use this to our advantage and intentionally underexpose foreground detail to generate silhouette shapes, highlighting the outline of iconic skylines. Alternatively we can shoot with the rising sun behind us to pick out surface detail and reflections.

At midday we experience good contrast, deep blue skies and excellent opportunities shadow detail, while being mindful of highlight loss.

When it comes to shooting at night, the black sky can create a bottom-heavy composition, with little to ‘weigh’ down the top area. Try to compose out as much negative space as possible and wait for the clouds to pick up the colours of the city lights, for better balance in the frame.


Use the many post-processing tools available for imaginative, unique styles

Due to the highly graphic properties of many architectural images, these subjects lend themselves to a broad spectrum of experimental processing techniques. Whether this involves introducing unnatural colour casts and split toning, or removing colour completely for black and white photographs, it helps to be aware of the options available to you and when each will work best.

The use of post-processing software is subject to ongoing scrutiny and is potentially controversial, especially where it involves makingchangestowell-known

These surround modifications to exposure, colour and sharpness, to improve the overall image quality and impact. While there may be some degree of variance, the professional photographers’ processing workflow usually follows a recognisable schedule.

Starting with RAW processing software, the highlight and shadow control tools in these applications are used to balance the tonal range of the image, to produce a file essential retouching (such as removal of dust spots or, if necessary, removal of telephone cables and other distracting elements) it is most effective to move into Photoshop, or an equivalent application. Once here, work on effects and stylising can begin. Deciding on your approach early on will minimise the need to back-track or save multiple versions of your image, which can be necessary if late-stage editing introduces blown highlights or image scenes. In urban photography we have to be extra vigilant that we do not compromise the integrity of our shots to the extent that they are unusable. This is especially applicable when the end goal is to publish files on a commercial basis. It is essential that we balance creativity with truthfulness. The key corrections that are likely to be applied regularly to architectural shots should be free from these constraints.

with good amounts of information in the brightest and darkest areas. Colour is most frequently balanced at this stage too, due to the freedom of white balance choice that the RAW format provides. Lens aberrations and perspective distortions are also best corrected here, being applied non-destructively.

For “In urban photography we have tobevigilanttonotcompromise the integrity of our shots” noise for example. Two main editing routes are to focus on colour, contrast and tone or to placemoreemphasisondetail and texture. While this choice may be influenced by the lighting conditions present at the time of shooting, aligning or contrasting your editing approach will give differing ‘looks’.

Black and white processing tends to suit scenes that already contain a good degree of contrast, and while this can accentuate texture, it is equally effective where deep tones are deemed more desirable than absolute detail. Forward thinking will maximise success.

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