Christmas Lights at Temple Square. A Salt Lake City must see!
Every year, during the month of December in downtown Salt Lake City, visitors and locals alike delight in the luminary display at Temple Square. For many, this is a must see (and rightly so).
It also serves as the perfect location to work on urban shooting at dusk. It seems one of the most frequent questions I get is how to get those glowing cityscape images that just sing with life.
The answer really is a matter of timing more than anything else. The key is to be shooting at the time when the ambient (existing) light balances with the artificial light in your scene. Most commonly, this artificial light is displayed in building windows or street lights. At Temple Square, however, this is displayed in thousands upon thousand of Christmas lights.
Below are a couple of tips that will help you in your quest for that dusk/dawn city keeper.
1. Be prepared and ready once the magic moment arrives. This period of time when all the light balances goes very quickly. Shoot too early and the sky is pale an uninteresting. Shoot too late and the sky is black and…uninteresting. The indigo sky is what sets everything else off. It’s what gives the artificial lights their special glow as it contrasts heavily in color and tone.
2. Decide whether you’ll be shooting into or away from the horizon. This makes a huge difference in timing. The part of the sky opposite the setting sun horizon will hold much less light, and will go dark much sooner.
3. Take your tripod. These are often times very lengthy exposures given the fact that there is little in the way of ambient light. The image in this post is a 5 sec. exposure.
4. Bump up your ISO. Woah there! No need to send it through the roof, but I routinely bump it up to ISO 400 or so. This simply allows me to capture more images during this fleeting time, while sacrificing little in the way of image quality.
5. Don’t forget your Grad ND filters. They are particularly handy when shooting the western sky (where the sun has just set), as this will still be a good deal brighter than your foregrounds during all but the last moments of dusk. I used a 2-stop hard step Grad ND in this image.
6. Don’t forget composition! Colors and shapes and new times of day to shoot are all super cool, but it still doesn’t negate the need to put it all together in a manner that engages the viewer. I chose to create a frame of sorts around the main subject (Salt Lake Temple) in this image with the prolific Christmas lights on either side of the image area.
7. Use live view to check focus. Many times your camera will struggle to attain focus when there’s little light out. Take advantage of live view on your camera’s LCD screen and zoom in to check your focus and make sure you don’t end up with a soft image.
Hopefully, these tips will help you in your efforts to shoot dynamic cityscapes!