Zürich at night

Posted on November 22, 2013 with tags photography.

Last weekend I realised that one of the advantages of winter is that it gets dark quite early - so I took a short walk through Zürich at night to take a set of pictures.

I usually only shoot handheld at night, which has its limitations, and this time I took a tripod with me. It’s a very cheap tripod which I have for many years now and I don’t really use - and the test was to see if it’s actually usable for long exposures.

The results can be seen on my Smugmug gallery. Some of the pictures I really like, but that’s not the main point - I learned a lot in just an hour or so.

First, the tripod worked. Well, it’s cheap and plasticky, so “mirror delay 3” was absolutely needed, but with that the pictures got out reasonably sharp, even at 30s exposure. Second, I forgot my cable release at home, even though I explicitly wanted to take it, so “mirror delay 3” became my remote release.

Logistics aside, the most interesting thing was that in the dark, the enemy is light, and not darkness. In the city, the contrast between darkness and strong lights results in a large dynamic range requirement, and - to me - that was a surprising realisation. As an example, in this picture, I had to use f/22 to get the desired exposure time, as the light was too strong.

Another surprising realisation was that, if you’re shooting with 30s exposure time, a person passing in front of the camera (but not staying in the same place) will leave no trace. At shorter exposures, or when the person has a low transversal speed, then it will show, but otherwise, you don’t have to care too much ☺.

Something that I knew but it was not nice to be reminded of is how “broken” auto white balance is in presence of artificial lighting (basically low temperature). Add the fact that in a non-trivial scene you have multiple lights with different temperatures makes any night scene interesting - I had to manually fix white balance for the entire album, and I don’t think I got it right.

And finally - light pollution. The sky above Zürich was cloudy, and the clouds were glowing orange/reddish. I can’t wait to get somewhere a bit far from civilisation with a nice, dark sky…