My Photography Journey – Night Photography Lessons Learned

Those of you who have followed my blog in the past may be wondering “where did she go”?  The answer is that like most who casually write a blog, day-to-day life demands simply get in the way.  Last year I set out on a quest to actually build my photography skills.  I bought my first DSLR when I started this blog because I needed “better” photos.  I started out with way too many out of focus shots, or shots that were under or over exposed.  Despite those early mistakes, I liked photography and decided that I should figure out what I was doing wrong and get on the right track.  I will also note that over the past seven blog-free months I had lots of photography post ideas that I will work to bring to fruition.

My inspiration for today’s post came from Leanne Cole in Australia who authors The Photographer’s Mentor.  I’ve been following Leanne on Instagram and her blog for over a year now.  What first drew me to Leanne was her Melbourne photos (I went there on vacation a few years ago) and her long exposures.  Long exposures and night photography were two of the things I wanted to learn in 2018.  Leanne just issued a photo challenge for images with clouds, hence the featured image in this post.

I selected this image for the challenge as it has lots of clouds.  I took this photo on a recent trip to Chicago for the Out of Chicago photography conference at Buckingham Fountain.  More on that event in a future post.  Suffice it to say I am still working to gain experience with night photography.

I will share the technical details behind this shot and three things that I learned.  This image was shot using a Nikon D7500 (I upgraded right before this trip) at ISO 100 and f 6.3 for 2 seconds.  It is important to note that the D7500 has a crop sensor with a crop factor of 1.5.  I used my tripod and a Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD set at 18mm.

Lesson 1 – Use the right lens for your intended shot

While the featured shot of the fountain works, what I really wanted was a shot of the fountain during the light show.  I had not been to that location before, so I did not realize the height the water fountain reaches when the show gets underway.  To get that shot, you really need a wide-angle lens, especially when you have a crop sensor.  This photo was shot one minute and 18 seconds later with identical settings.

Buckingham Fountain with unintended fountain crop

In order to achieve a composition that did not feel cramped from where I stood and avoid a bunch of people in the shot, I needed more angle.  Note how the top of the water extends beyond the frame.  The moral of the story here is that having the right tools to get the shot you really want is important.  I later rented a Tokina AT-X 11-20 F2.8 PRO DX lens which would have been a much more appropriate choice for the shot I wanted.  If you can’t buy what you need, companies like Lens Rentals are a good alternative.  The effective focal length difference between 27mm and 17mm is huge.  If you are interested in trying Lens Rentals, my referral link will get you $25 off on your first rental.   My experiences with them have always been positive.


Lesson 2 – Get your depth of field right

As I looked at my images on the camera’s touch screen I was really pleased.  When I got back to my hotel, however, and viewed them on a larger screen I was disappointed in the lack of focus on some of the buildings that were part of the skyline.  To fix that, I probably needed a smaller aperture — somewhere around f11 would likely be more appropriate.  Notice the building to the left with the rainbow lights (it was pride week) and you will see they are quite blurry.

Lesson 3 – Learn to use your digital darkroom tools

Every raw image file can use adjustments to look its best and to demonstrate your intent.  The night before, Scott Kelby was our guest speaker and he emphasized using your digital toolkit and to always sharpen.  To process my featured image I made some adjustments for exposure and minor cropping in Lightroom, then moved to DXO Color Efex 4 to apply a filter.  Then I returned to Lightroom for a final sharpening.  For comparison purposes, here is the file with basic Lightroom adjustments and sharpening only.


I hope that you found this post helpful.  By the way, if you have additional tips about this image or night photography, in general, to share I’d love to hear them.