How to Photograph City Light

In this article we talk about how to shoot city lights.

Bonjour! Or Bonsoir! Mesdames et Messieurs, today I am going to give you tips and tricks on how to shoot city lights at night to really make your photos amazing! I hope you are ready to be inspired!

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.

I shot this photo in Paris 10 minutes after the city lights were on and I shot this at f/16 to get the starburst effect from the city light. You start to get this effect from f/13.

I shot this for the highlights because I want the city lights to not be overexposed and I also wanted the light strokes from the cars.

So first let me show you the retouch I have done on this photo to really give this Paris by night look:

Step 1. Adjust the Highlights and Shadow. First thing I did was I brought the highlights to -100 and the shadows to +100 as usual, if you have too much noise when you open up the shadow well you probably have a too underexposed photo or an older camera so I advise you to really shot for the highlights. (If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.)

Step 2. Exposure adjustments. I want to boost the Exposure +0,90 to make the overall photo brighter.

Step 3. Clarity adjustments. I put clarity at +32 which is really going to define the edges and give more character to the photo:

Step 4. Adjust White Balance. I am going to adjust the Temp to 4567 to not have the buildings too Yellow and the Tint to +30:

Step 5. Apply some Noise Reduction. Go to the Lightroom Detail section and adjust noise reduction by bringing the luminance to 10 and then in Sharpening amount adjust it up to 90 and to make the sky not too sharp I set the Masking at +48:

Step 6. Contrast adjustment. Just to make the colors more interesting I set the contrast at +10.

Step 7. Enable Profile Corrections. Go to the Lightroom Lens Corrections panel and choose Enable Profile Corrections. It is a simple thing that can remove distortion caused by the spherical nature of the lens glass, and then I Remove the chromatic aberration. And I choose the Auto Upright function. It is a simple thing that makes a big difference and it will adjust your photo so that your vertical lines are vertical and your horizontal lines get on the horizontal line:

Step 8. Cropping. I crop the photo so we can see a lot of sky and not a lot of road:

Step 9. Remove Spots. There is a lot of dust on my sensor and so I remove them with the spot tool:

Now because there are no clouds in the sky I am going to cheat and add some clouds but don’t tell anybody!

I select the photo and the photo of the clouds and right click, select edit in > open as layer in Photoshop:

We are now in Photoshop and so I am going to start by selecting the sky with my quick selection tool:

I make a big brush and go on the sky from the left to the right and it selects the sky:

I select refine edge > smart radius and put the radius at 2,9 so it will detect every little edges:

Then I click on the photo of the sky and I turn on the mask:

In the layers section you can see that the photo of the sky is attached to the other photo so I click in between on the little chain to separate it so I can move around the sky:

I press command T so I can make it bigger and fill the space:

The sky is way to bright compare to the rest of the city so to fix this I go to filter > camera raw filter:

You can retouch only the layer now; I add some Blue -15, lower the Exposure -0,50 and add some Clarity +22:

Then I lower the Opacity to 77%:

I go to layer and select flatten the layer so it makes only one layer:

And duplicate it.

I go to filter > topaz labs > topaz star effects

I want to create a Paris by night effect with nice star city lights. There are a lot of presets you can choose and their intensity:

I choose the candlelight II and you have a brush you can use individually to intensify or lower the intensity of each star:

On the right there is an option called threshold and that the cursor that will intensify the stars.

Back to Lightroom to double process the photo!

Step 10. Vibrance adjustments. I want to add some vibrance +38 to make it pop more.

Step 11. Contrast adjustment. Just to make the colors more interesting I boost the contrast +21 it gives more ambiance:

Step 12. Graduated Filters to close the photo. To close the photo I use a graduated filter on the top and lower the exposure to -0,54 and then on the bottom at -0,84 it is really going to center the subject and make it more interesting:

You can do a HDR look in opening the shadows and bringing down the highlights and adding a lot of Clarity but I am going to do a natural look.

Step 13. Adjust the Highlights and Shadow. so I set the Highlights at -50 and the shadows at +52. I add some Clarity +26 and the final touch I set the Temp at -12 and the Tint at +6 maybe lower the overall exposure a little bit at -0,05:

Here is the before:

And this after:

Here you go guys I hope that you liked those tips and that you will use them to take amazing photos of city lights! If by any chance you enjoyed this article don’t hesitate to share it with the world!

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