Critique Need Some Pointers, Please - Taking Images at Night

LyndeeLoo

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I surely need tips and critique on how to improve photos that I take at night. I almost never shoot at night, but on a recent trip to Cincinnati last week, had the opportunity to do so. I shot this image, but I'm wondering what I could have done to get a smoother reflection in the water as well as what I could have done to improve the image overall. All suggestions are welcomed; thanks!

Tripod - Yes
VR Off? - Yes
Remote shutter - Yes
F/5.6
ISO = 200
Shutter speed: 1/3sec

Bridge.jpg
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This is really quite a nice image already. For smoother water you could have stopped down to f/11 and reduced to base ISO (is it 100 on the Z 5?), increasing your shutter to 2.5 seconds for an equivalent exposure, while allowing time for the water to smooth out more. You could go even longer with an ND filter, but with river movement, things might actually start to look worse.
 
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If the surface of the water is not SMOOTH, I have never figured out how to smoothen/sharpen water reflections.
If you increase the exposure time, you get less jagged edges in the reflection, but then you get a blurry edge to the reflection and it looks 'out of focus.' Pick your poison.

In my book, water reflection is simply timing. You have to be there when the surface of the water is SMOOTH.
Sometimes it is the time of the day, example, where I live the wind picks up in the afternoon, and would ripple the water. So I would generally NOT do a water reflection shoot in the afternoon.
Check the weather, and watch for LOW/NO wind.
Maybe the tide movement. So, right when the tide change from high to low or low to high, the tidal movement pauses.
Maybe time of year also.

But some places are simply NOT smooth, for various reasons, so it would be rare for it to be smooth.
 
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You did pretty good for your given environment.
As noted above, if you want smooth reflections you really need to have perfect conditions. Heck, you can have perfect conditions and a boat goes by which messes everything up.
You got pretty nice sunstars for 5.6. If you want those as part of your composition, you may want to stop down a little more.
A different sky would have helped as well.
Sometimes as photographers we have to work with what we are given.
Go back 50 times and they will all be different. Better, that is a judgement call and up to what you want your work to look like.
But they will all be different- guaranteed.
gary
 

LyndeeLoo

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This is really quite a nice image already. For smoother water you could have stopped down to f/11 and reduced to base ISO (is it 100 on the Z 5?), increasing your shutter to 2.5 seconds for an equivalent exposure, while allowing time for the water to smooth out more. You could go even longer with an ND filter, but with river movement, things might actually start to look worse.
If the surface of the water is not SMOOTH, I have never figured out how to smoothen/sharpen water reflections.
If you increase the exposure time, you get less jagged edges in the reflection, but then you get a blurry edge to the reflection and it looks 'out of focus.' Pick your poison.

In my book, water reflection is simply timing. You have to be there when the surface of the water is SMOOTH.
Sometimes it is the time of the day, example, where I live the wind picks up in the afternoon, and would ripple the water. So I would generally NOT do a water reflection shoot in the afternoon.
Check the weather, and watch for LOW/NO wind.
Maybe the tide movement. So, right when the tide change from high to low or low to high, the tidal movement pauses.
Maybe time of year also.

But some places are simply NOT smooth, for various reasons, so it would be rare for it to be smooth.
Andy mentioned possibly using an ND filter to reduce the shutter speed. An alternative is to use a polarizer filter. Most polarizer filters allow about 1.5 to 2 stops less light into the lens.

Personally, I like the reflections that you got. The rest of the image is also very nice.
You did pretty good for your given environment.
As noted above, if you want smooth reflections you really need to have perfect conditions. Heck, you can have perfect conditions and a boat goes by which messes everything up.
You got pretty nice sunstars for 5.6. If you want those as part of your composition, you may want to stop down a little more.
A different sky would have helped as well.
Sometimes as photographers we have to work with what we are given.
Go back 50 times and they will all be different. Better, that is a judgement call and up to what you want your work to look like.
But they will all be different- guaranteed.
gary
Thank you all so much for the replies; I really appreciate it!

I was thinking about this last night, and realized that the water was choppy when I took the photo. There was also a slight wind, so now I understand that the reflection would never have been smooth. Also, and this was a mistake on my part, I had a ND filter with me, but didn't use it because it was dark and I figured I didn't need it.

I'll be mindful about stopping down as well as the ISO. On the Z5, it does go down to 100.

I'll keep practicing as opportunities arise. In the meantime, I thank you for your encouragement! :)
 
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Thank you all so much for the replies; I really appreciate it!

I was thinking about this last night, and realized that the water was choppy when I took the photo. There was also a slight wind, so now I understand that the reflection would never have been smooth. Also, and this was a mistake on my part, I had a ND filter with me, but didn't use it because it was dark and I figured I didn't need it.

I'll be mindful about stopping down as well as the ISO. On the Z5, it does go down to 100.

I'll keep practicing as opportunities arise. In the meantime, I thank you for your encouragement! :)

Keep shooting.
You have no control over nature. It is what it is.
It is a research and numbers game, and just plain luck, to be there when the conditions are just right.

Gud Luk
 
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Just one more thought - probably obvious, but we haven’t specifically mentioned it:

Once you have your tripod set up and composed the scene, it’s worthwhile try several different exposure lengths. You can never be certain what shutter speed will be “just right” for a given set of conditions. This is not to bracket the exposure, but rather to vary the the way the water’s surface and the reflection are rendered.
 
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Just one more thought - probably obvious, but we haven’t specifically mentioned it:

Once you have your tripod set up and composed the scene, it’s worthwhile try several different exposure lengths. You can never be certain what shutter speed will be “just right” for a given set of conditions. This is not to bracket the exposure, but rather to vary the the way the water’s surface and the reflection are rendered.
I did the same, varying the f stop to get different exposure times. If you are set up on a sturdy tripod, then getting a sharp photo should not be an issue. With the water in the foreground, it may make for a more interesting photo.
 

LyndeeLoo

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Always use that ISO value unless there is a specific reason not to do so. As an example, when capturing this photo there was no reason not to use it.
I think the rippling multi-colored light reflections on the river look much more magical than perfectly still reflections would. Outstanding image!
Keep shooting.
You have no control over nature. It is what it is.
It is a research and numbers game, and just plain luck, to be there when the conditions are just right.

Gud Luk
I did the same, varying the f stop to get different exposure times. If you are set up on a sturdy tripod, then getting a sharp photo should not be an issue. With the water in the foreground, it may make for a more interesting photo.
Just one more thought - probably obvious, but we haven’t specifically mentioned it:

Once you have your tripod set up and composed the scene, it’s worthwhile try several different exposure lengths. You can never be certain what shutter speed will be “just right” for a given set of conditions. This is not to bracket the exposure, but rather to vary the the way the water’s surface and the reflection are rendered.
I will definitely keep that ISO in mind Mike - thanks!

Bill - I truly appreciate the compliment. It's a very rare thing for me to shoot at night, but the Cincinnati skyline was so beautiful that I had to do it!

Ac12 - thank you, and I truly believe you when you talk about the conditions.

Trying different exposure times is something I did not think of, Andy and jBird. Should have been obvious to me, but my newbie brain didn't even go there. I am going to be doing a repeat visit to Cincinnati this fall, and you can bet I'll remember!!
 
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I will definitely keep that ISO in mind Mike - thanks!

Bill - I truly appreciate the compliment. It's a very rare thing for me to shoot at night, but the Cincinnati skyline was so beautiful that I had to do it!

Ac12 - thank you, and I truly believe you when you talk about the conditions.

Trying different exposure times is something I did not think of, Andy and jBird. Should have been obvious to me, but my newbie brain didn't even go there. I am going to be doing a repeat visit to Cincinnati this fall, and you can bet I'll remember!!

I would plan and write down what you want to do. Especially if you have several/many different shots to do at different exposure settings. Make it like a checklist.
If your memory is anything like mine, it is easy to forget to do what I wanted to do, and it does not get shot.
 

LyndeeLoo

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I would plan and write down what you want to do. Especially if you have several/many different shots to do at different exposure settings. Make it like a checklist.
If your memory is anything like mine, it is easy to forget to do what I wanted to do, and it does not get shot.
Makes perfect sense. Thanks; I will definitely do this!!
 
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I usually take off my ND filter when it gets dark, because your shutter speed extends already at night. I agree with Andy's comments. All you need is a sturdy tripod,a low ISO value and a higher f value. You can even go to f/16 or f/22 to see what you get although the sweet point of a lens is usually f/11.
 

NCV

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I think you got the most important thing right, that is, the sky still has that nice blue colour before becoming a deep black, which tends to hide a lot of forms and details . It is a nice shot BTW with nothing to criticize.

I have found shooting at F16 with a super long shutter speed ( 30 seconds) at base ISO can "disappear" people who wander into the shot and in the case of this shot probably would of smoothed out the water.

I find that shooting with a tripod allows me to try lots of permutations to get the right shot.
 

LyndeeLoo

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I think you got the most important thing right, that is, the sky still has that nice blue colour before becoming a deep black, which tends to hide a lot of forms and details . It is a nice shot BTW with nothing to criticize.

I have found shooting at F16 with a super long shutter speed ( 30 seconds) at base ISO can "disappear" people who wander into the shot and in the case of this shot probably would of smoothed out the water.

I find that shooting with a tripod allows me to try lots of permutations to get the right shot.
Thank you so much, Nigel. The next time, I'm going to play around and adjust my aperture and shutter speed to see what kind of results I get.
 

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