How to Photograph Cities at Night

In this article we talk about how to blend two different exposures to make amazing night city landscapes.

Bonjour fellow photographers and photography enthusiasts! I love taking city photos at night, but I have to ask: do you wear your sunglasses at night? Just kidding, a song from my childhood and since I am in the mood to talk about things related to the night, why not? For this article we are in Atlanta where I was attending the Photoshop World Convention and I obviously had to take some cool shots of the city!

I just learned a new trick that I wanted to try out so I found this park where you could see the skyline and the water, which is pretty nice.

As usual, if you want the RAW files for this tutorial and all my other free presets and goodies, just subscribe to my newsletter here. You can also follow along on my video tutorial for this lesson here.

So here is the first shot that I took:

And this is a shot that I took 20 minutes later:

You can see on this photo that the city lights are on and we were lucky because the buildings were located west so we had the more light on the building. Most of the time when you wait for the city lights to come on, the sky doesn’t have any details anymore.

So My trick on this situation is to get your camera set up on a tripod, and to start shooting 20 minutes before the city lights goes on which is usually around the beginning of the sunset. So you get two photos, one with a nice sky and one with a nice building and we can blend them together to get a very nice photo. I shot the photo at ¼ sec shutter speed, f/8 and ISO 200.

So I start to retouch the first photo with the nice sky.

Step 1. Adjust White Balance. This was a nice sunset for nighttime so in the Lightroom Basic panel, go ahead and choose shade to warm up the photo:

I add some magenta using the tint slider and put it at around+48 because I find that the photo was too blue:

Step 2. Adjust the Shadows. I open up the Shadows a little bit to discover more details hidden in the sky, to be honest I am editing this photo only for the sky, I don’t really care of the building for now. So set it to around +62.

Step 4. Lowering initial Clarity adjustments. I put Clarity at -33 which is really going to make the clouds fuzzier:

Step 5. Create Local Adjustment Brushes. So here is one of my secrets to make this photo go to the next level. I create a new Local Adjustment Brush and I set the Flow and Density at around 60, lower the Exposure to -0.77 and boost the Tint to +76. Then with the brush I add some yellow and magenta just to bring back the sun that was there:

Now I go ahead and do the same thing on the reflection in the water:

I add some Saturation to around +49:

Step 6: Apply some Noise Reduction. I shot this with the Sony A7r and it is such a good quality photo with barely any noise. So in the Lightroom Detail panel I just set the slider for Sharpening to around 90 and around 10 in the noise reduction:

Step 7. Apply these settings to the other photo. Now that I have a nice photo retouched I want to apply the same settings on the other photos and I can do that very simply because all the shot have the same exposure. So I select all the photos and press Sync> Check All> Synchronize:

Step 8. Adding initial Clarity adjustments to second photo. You’ll notice that the photos are really sharp and the Sony images from the A7R are spectacular. Great camera. Go ahead and change the Clarity which we had at minus in the first photo and now move it to +35 which is really going to define the edges and give more character to the photo.

Step 9. Adjust the Shadows. I open up the shadows to around +82 have more details in the darker parts of the photo:

Step 10. Stitch the photos together in Photoshop. I select all the photos, right click and choose Edit In> Open as Layer in Photoshop:

I like to put on top in the layer layout the one that I will keep more details from so that would be the night one because we are going to keep everything beside the sky:

I add an empty mask on the first layer:

I make sure that my brush is black on white and I brush over the sky to make the sky of the other photo appear. For this to work well, it is really important that you didn’t move at all when you were taking either of the photos so that when you put them on top of each other in Photoshop, they are perfectly aligned on top of each other:

(If you did move then you can go to Layer> Auto-Align Layer

And press Auto and Ok:

This is the before photo:

And this is the after photo:

I see so many night photos with boring skies and this one little trick of taking two photos one which is saving the beautiful sky with that sunset look in the clouds and then another which has the lights going on in the buildings and then combining them to create a much more dramatic, much better image that clients are going to love. Thanks so much to my friend Matt over at KelbyOne for introducing me to this trick!

So just remember this: Boring sky does not make for a dramatic photo.

I save this version and I go back to Lightroom for the double processing:

You see this was the first photo, sky looks good, but buildings are boring.

This is the night photo:

It is nice, but the sky is boring, and a boring sky cannot create drama.

Here is the blend of the two:

I love the sky and the buildings!

Step 11. Adding Final Contrast adjustment. Just to make the colors more interesting and amazing set the Contrast in the Lightroom Detail panel somewhere around +43

Step 12. Adjust the Shadow. Next do the same with the Shadows to have more details in the darker parts of the photo somewhere around +41

Here you go guys I hope that this is something that you will use because you can really get amazing shots with this technique. Please remember, that if you liked the article I always appreciate when you share it! And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter here to get all the RAW files and other free goodies! Thank you for your support and Au revoir!

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