This shot was taken the last few days of November 2011. The weather was unseasonably warm. During late Autumn it is not uncommon to have spectacular sunsets. Originally I arrived looking for an excellent sunset over Manhattan. But as a photographer, disappointment and patience are part of your game.
On this particular night, the sky turned a little bit more clear after that day’s “average” sunset. Although there was an upside to the great visibility and nonexistent winds. I couldn’t help but to pay attention to the long reflections on the East River. When it is windy, the waves and choppy water distort the reflection of light; but not this night, every single small light had a reflection that appeared to be a couple hundred meters long. The real gem that stood out that night was the 59th Street Bridge.
Equipped with a camera, tripod and warm weather to make shooting comfortable, I pointed the camera towards the bridge. The vertical format seemed to work well with framing a picture like this. Vertical kept the bridge as a main focal point in the photograph. Framing is a big part of what makes a photograph stand out. A good frame separates “photographs” from “snapshots”. Besides, I couldn’t ignore the reflections! And I had to capture them the way they were.
Tungsten against light pollution
At the same time I wanted to have a “big” sky. So I decided to cut the reflections off right as they faded into the water in order to give it that balance of city lights with a dark sky. I found that a 10 second exposure worked well with keeping the photograph sharp. Anything over 10 seconds made the lights glare and took away the sharpness of the scenery. During night shots of cities you’ll find yourself experimenting with exposure values and shutter speeds. I recommend keeping a low ISO, that will allow the light to gently expose the photo without overexposing the bright lights. Also setting your white balance to “Tungsten” will get rid of the yellowish light pollution.
Starless is born
Now if you live in a big city you’ll know that only the brightest stars come out at night. In this particular photograph I captured a few stars. Originally I was going to keep them in the photo, but I removed them with the spot removal tool in Lightroom. The reason being: it made the photo look “fake” as if I added them in, or as if my sensor and lens were dirty. Everyone knows that the New York City sky seriously lacks of stars. So the name “Starless” was born. After the removal, the shot looked clean.
Lastly, I tweaked the shot a little bit more by darkening the top part of the sky to create a nice transition effect starting from the citylights. As for the reflections, I remembered them colorful and faded evenly, so I adjusted the color saturation so they looked exactly that way. And this is how I did it.
EXIF Data: Canon Rebel Xsi, f/6.3, 10sec, ISO 200, 43mm.