Friday, August 19, 2016

New York night time aerials - balancing the light

Photographing a city at night from a helicopter will often challenge a digital camera's ability to hold onto detail in both the shadows and highlights. With a city, like New York, the timing of the shoot is critical and generally should be done early in twilight time. In New York civil twilight lasts for about 30 minutes after the sun drops below the  horizon. When photographing the extreme bright city lights of Broadway, it is best to begin as soon as the sun goes down to maintain a light balance that contains detail in both the artificial lights and the sky.

Last night I had planned a 30 minute helicopter trip that would begin right after sunset -- the timing chosen to provide a good dynamic range at the beginning of the shoot, and drop down to harder contrast for drama at the end. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed by a critical 10-15 minutes and we ended up photographing the end of twilight into the actual night time. I knew from experience that the highlights were going to blow out under these circumstances so to protect myself I set my cameras -  I had two cameras with wide lenses -- to bracket the exposure. At first I set them for a 3-frame bracket, and as the twilight transitioned into night I changed that to a 5-frame bracket each one stop apart. This provided me with at least one exposure where the lights did not completely burn out and I could still pull out some detail in post-processing from the shadows.

For this photo and the one below I had to rely on one of the darker bracketed shots to maintain detail in the bright highlights. They were completely blown out in the "normal" exposure of the scene. 

Here is an example of where a bracketed exposure helped me balance out the dynamic range of the scene that included the extremely bright lights of Broadway signage.

The city looking south with Broadway lit up on the right. By the time I took this photo including the Broadway lights it was already night time. Detail in the brightest Broadway signs were impossible to balance with the ambient tone.

For anyone interested in doing a doors-off, exciting experience of helicopter check out FLYNYON. It is one of the most exciting ways to photograph New York, day or night. 

1 comment :

  1. Unlike most of your posts you neglected the details about what you shot this with. Cameras? Lenses? Exposure range? Would all be helpful. Thanks for sharing the nice photos.