Today’s Pancake Session is coming at you from the Mr. in our Marantz! :)
One of the ongoing personal projects I have at all our weddings is to do an architectural night shot of the venue. This can be a really cool way to bring the atmosphere of the whole event in to compliment the story of the day. And it’s also a great thing to be able to give the locations to help build awesome relationships with them.
Here’s how we do it!
Step 1: Choose your time. This is huge for a getting a really dramatic night shot. Because if you wait too long, you’ll just have a really flat, black sky. On a night with a clear sky I usually try and grab this shot about 45 minutes after sunset. The sky will be good and dark but the horizon will still have a little bit of ambient glow to it. If it’s a cloudy night, I’ll usually wait a little later and let the clouds pick up ambient light from the ground, like a street lamp behind the building seen in the second shot below.
Step 2: Grab your tripod, camera, wide angle lens, flash (I’ll explain later) and find a good spot to camp out for a few minutes. For the tripod I would recommend something strong and sturdy, but also with a quick release plate in case you have to grab your camera and run inside for something important….like “Living on a Prayer.” The ideal tripod would be something like the Gitzo GT-1541T Traveler, but if you’re working on a budget you can use something more economical like my ‘ole trusty tripod, the Manfrotto 190XPROB Pro Aluminum Tripod For the wide angle lens, I prefer the Carl Zeiss 25mm 2.8 on a full frame body. Or if you’re looking to get a true architectural shot, you’ll probably want something that can correct the vertical parallels like the Nikon 24mm.3.5 PC lens
Step 3: Because you’re using a tripod, your shutter speed and ISO become much less important to the stability of the image. No need to worry about camera shake unless the wind is blowing really hard or you happen to live somewhere on the San Andreas fault line. :-) I set my camera to Manual. I usually drop my ISO as low the camera can go for the least possible amount of noise, and bring my shutter speed to 30 seconds (or longer if have a cable release that can lock the shutter open) Then I just adjust my f stop until I have a good exposure (which is going to depend on a case by case basis on how much ambient light is around, but to give you an idea it’s usually around f11). I’ll admit, that a lot of it is just guess and check, but the beauty of having it on the tripod is that you’ll have pretty consistant results each time. Just remember that the light is changing really quickly at that point, so you’ll want to move fast so you don’t lose your sky. Once you have your base exposure set, now it’s time to play.
Step 4: Break out your flash and set it to manual. The amount of power you use will depend on your f stop, the distance from the flash to the building, and the output power of your flash. But just to give you an idea, with my Nikon SB-900 it’s usually around 1/16th power. Now here’s the fun part! Open the shutter and now you’ve got 30 second to run around and flash the building! (Um, please keep your clothes on!) Using the test button you can now fire off your flash at the building and use that to “paint with light” and highlight part or all of the building. For the picture of Salt Water Farm Vineyard below, I chose to use the flash to light up the underside of the arch at the top of the building with about 8 pops of the flash.You want to be careful not to flash in the direction of the camera or at someone who happens to be standing there unless you want them to register in the image. Also, you’ll want to keep moving unless you actually want to see yourself in the picture. (For example, in the first image below I intentionally signed it with my own silhouette at the base of the building. Can you find me? :-) One more thing, you’re also going to want to cover up the display of the flash with black gaff tape so it doesn’t register in the image, or you’ll have a green line running through your image.
As you can imagine, this can get to be really fun when you get a few friends with flashes to help. For more painting with light architectural photography, check out where I got my start, with the RIT BIG shot project
Salt Water Farm Vineyard Exposure info: ISO 100 30 seconds @ f16
The Branford House Mansion Exposure info ISO 200 30 seconds @ f11
Sugarbush Resort Warren, VT Exposure info ISO 100 15 seconds @ f16
** If you have any follow up questions on night shots, long exposures or painting with light (or any other questions for that matter!) feel free to leave them in the comment box