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What are your methods for nightime city pictures?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 
I have been trying to get some nice pics of the city at night and get as close to a panoramic view as I can. I playe around with exposures but the lights seem to blend together too much. I read that using a stop of F/8 is prefered and doing it when there is still a little color left in the sky. I tried this tonight and ogt som so so shots. The sharpness was not great though. I shoot everything is RAW in hopes of fixing it later. I did keep ISO at 100 and I did not use F/8 since I was not aware of this little rule of thumb. It also seems to apply to sunset photos. With my lenses I am trying to find where they are sharpest knowing they are not great lenses to begin with.

I use long exp noise reduction as well but I do not think it helps a lot. I shot one at 8"sec exp at F/3.5 and got a decent pic in Tungsten. If I shoot in any other seting I get this orange/yellow glow which sucks. Histogram looked basically all in the extreme black and RGB was almost identicle for each color in the scale. No overpowered Red or Blues. I tried another exp to 13"sec and got a little too bright. Hist showed more shift to grey and white but not much. Also RGB showed more blue shift. I then did one more at 30"exp at F7.1 and it did not look much better.

At this point I almost convinced the issue is my camera, and it is faulty.lol
maybe I just need way better glass I dont know.

I am not posting the pics because I just do not feel it is worth it unless someone wants to see them for analysis reasons.

I just want to see what most do to get really nice sharp pics of city lights.
post #2 of 28
Pics really would help to see what you're talking about.

But given your descriptions, sounds like nothing is wrong with your camera, but rather it's your photographic technique.

First, noise reduction reduces sharpness. It's how it is.

Second, was focus accurate in the first place? I've found that AF is useless for nighttime cityscapes, and that Live View + 10x magnification + Manual Focus is the only way to go.

Third, you can easily change white balance in post processing. It quite literally is a single slider you change.

Fourth, Histogram sounds normal, especially if you've a very dark sky with only street/city lights.

To know for sure you'll need to post some pics up, but yea, given what you said I think it might be the photographic technique and not the equipment.
post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 
Not sure what is going on with the image in the third one. As soon as I export it out of lightroom as a jpg or tiff it has that weird look to it with the light areas in the sky. Also I did use the 5 and 10x magnify to try to get focus right.






post #4 of 28
The first one is too undetailed and low res for me to make out anything.

The second one, I'd label that as a missed focus since nothing seems to be in focus (foreground, trees, background). It could also be from camera movement but at this resolution I can't tell.

The third one, the artifact is from compression settings when you export.

Can you upload and link (not embed, in an effort to not kill peoples' bandwidth) original resolution versions of all three images?
post #5 of 28
Topgearfan, you should find more interesting and closer vantage points for your cityscapes. Fill the frame more (get closer), because all I'm seeing are dark skies, even darker ground, with a dab of very distant city lights. Getting the best vantage is paramount for a good photo, and often can be the bulk of the work in doing so.
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Brick Sh*thouse
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post #6 of 28
Thread Starter 
The problem is I can not get it any clearer than this. I tried to get it to focus better but It would not. I used manual focus and magnification. I am doing this with the 18-55mm which is not going to get any closer from where I live. Basically I am following all the advice that I have read and not a single picture comes out right day or night. This is why i think the camera is not functioning properly or the lens is bad. No matter what I get noise even at low ISO and fast shutter during the day. It looks clear in the camera screen but as soon as I get it larger on my PC it looks like crap.

Where should I post them so they will be in original format and larger? Does Flicker allow you to upload RAW and larger resolution? I can not do anything about the way the camera is working I guess. I have tried everything people say to try with no results. I use a nice tripod, noise reduction, lowest ISO and trying longer and shorter exposures. If it aint the camera then it is the lens not being able to focus properly or have any sharpness. I am wondering if the sunset photos I took damaged the sensor even with the filters I had on it.

Since I shot everything in RAW if I convert it to JPG it compresses it too much and gets rid of too much detail just like these. If I do Tiff it looks the same but I end up with 100mb photo. I think I may take the camera back at this point and try a Nikon 5100 out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by r31ncarnat3d View Post
The first one is too undetailed and low res for me to make out anything.

The second one, I'd label that as a missed focus since nothing seems to be in focus (foreground, trees, background). It could also be from camera movement but at this resolution I can't tell.

The third one, the artifact is from compression settings when you export.

Can you upload and link (not embed, in an effort to not kill peoples' bandwidth) original resolution versions of all three images?
post #7 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgearfan View Post
The problem is I can not get it any clearer than this. I tried to get it to focus better but It would not. I used manual focus and magnification. I am doing this with the 18-55mm which is not going to get any closer from where I live. Basically I am following all the advice that I have read and not a single picture comes out right day or night. This is why i think the camera is not functioning properly or the lens is bad. No matter what I get noise even at low ISO and fast shutter during the day. It looks clear in the camera screen but as soon as I get it larger on my PC it looks like crap.
I still have absolutely no idea how a flaw in the camera could lead to being unable to manually focus properly.

As for noise, it sounds like you're pixel peeping. When you blow a photo up to high magnification as you do on PC, you're always going to see noise. The thing is you're never going to publish or print out these photos at these high magnifications, so you're just freaking yourself out unnecessarily.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgearfan View Post
Where should I post them so they will be in original format and larger? Does Flicker allow you to upload RAW and larger resolution? I can not do anything about the way the camera is working I guess. I have tried everything people say to try with no results. I use a nice tripod, noise reduction, lowest ISO and trying longer and shorter exposures. If it aint the camera then it is the lens not being able to focus properly or have any sharpness. I am wondering if the sunset photos I took damaged the sensor even with the filters I had on it.
Export the JPG and upload onto a file hosting site like mediafire or sendspace.

Curious; what filters and tripod do you have? And it doesn't look like you've a damaged sensor from these photos.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgearfan View Post
Since I shot everything in RAW if I convert it to JPG it compresses it too much and gets rid of too much detail just like these. If I do Tiff it looks the same but I end up with 100mb photo. I think I may take the camera back at this point and try a Nikon 5100 out.
It's your post processing settings. I'm not sure what program you use, but with Lightroom I have the option to change the quality of exported JPGs. IIRC, the original setting was at 80, which gave me some artifacts on my exported JPGs, but since changing the setting to 100% quality, I haven't had an issue with any of my exports.

As for your camera, it's your own prerogative, but in all honesty the problems you've been having still sounds a lot like user error to me than the camera. I've heard of lenses back or front focusing before, but I've never heard of a lens and camera being unable to manually focus onto the subject properly.

EDIT: What were you focusing on in these photos? I know you wanted the whole scene in focus, but what specifically were you using at 10x magnification to judge proper focus?
Edited by r31ncarnat3d - 10/10/11 at 9:32am
post #8 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgearfan View Post
The problem is I can not get it any clearer than this. I tried to get it to focus better but It would not. I used manual focus and magnification. I am doing this with the 18-55mm which is not going to get any closer from where I live. Basically I am following all the advice that I have read and not a single picture comes out right day or night. This is why i think the camera is not functioning properly or the lens is bad. No matter what I get noise even at low ISO and fast shutter during the day. It looks clear in the camera screen but as soon as I get it larger on my PC it looks like crap.

Where should I post them so they will be in original format and larger? Does Flicker allow you to upload RAW and larger resolution? I can not do anything about the way the camera is working I guess. I have tried everything people say to try with no results. I use a nice tripod, noise reduction, lowest ISO and trying longer and shorter exposures. If it aint the camera then it is the lens not being able to focus properly or have any sharpness. I am wondering if the sunset photos I took damaged the sensor even with the filters I had on it.

Since I shot everything in RAW if I convert it to JPG it compresses it too much and gets rid of too much detail just like these. If I do Tiff it looks the same but I end up with 100mb photo. I think I may take the camera back at this point and try a Nikon 5100 out.
It can be frustrating when you're shots don't represent the way you viewed it in person. Just keep at it and you will figure out what issues are you holding you back. From our perspective, it's difficult to get a complete idea of what you may or may not be doing correctly, since we aren't actually there. So don't fret if you're following advice to a tee; it might be an issue that isn't obvious.

About the softness, it may not be a focus issue. You may very well be focusing just fine. Camera shake could be the culprit. I don't what tripod you use, but if it's a cheap one, or even a lower-end decent one, there could very likely be vibration and long shutter speeds will show those slight movements, giving a soft look. Mount your camera, switch to live view 10x, focus on an object, then observe through LV if there are vibrations. If your tripod has a hook on the bottom, try weighing it down with your bag. Aluminum and carbon fiber make great tripod materials, but they aren't so great absorbing vibration compared to wooden tripods.

If you have a flickr Pro account, you can upload any image size.

Before you sell off all your Canon gear, you might consider renting a Nikon first. I say this because I think you will find the same issues with the Nikon. in all seriousness, much of your issues are user error, to include things like excessive pixel peeping as reincarnated says.

Here's a rundown of what I would do for a long shutter speed night shot:

1. Mount the camera, ensuring that the tripod is very stable in its footing, all knobs and levers are tight, and the legs are weighed down if necessary.

2. Attach my remote cable release, which is a must for this sort of thing. If I don't have that, I just use the self-timer set to 2 seconds.

3. Activate mirror lock-up to further reduce vibration.

4. Make sure long exposure NR is activated.

5. Take bracketed shots.

6. Ensure rules of good composition are followed and take the shot.
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post #9 of 28
Do you have a UV filter on the lens? If so that could explain some of the softness.
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post #10 of 28
Thread Starter 
No filters were used in these pics. I did use LV 10x mag to focus in on the buildings in the distance. My trip is a Manfrotto 293. Not super heavy and not light. It is the ones made in Italy not China. It does not have a hook for weights though. I did not see any vibration in LV. As for the mirror lockup I have tried it and I am not sure it is doing what the mirror lock up in Nikons does exactly. When I enable it it seems to not allow the shutter to close because it never takes the shot. I hear a click then nothing happens, so I disabled it. Noise reduction for long shots was enabled as well.

The focus issue I am finding is a pain because the viewfinder is not allowing me to tell if it is really focused properly and LV at night is still hard to tell with the low light and glare of the lights. I read a few reviews from professionals saying that the T2i suffers in this area when focusing and using the viewfinder. I know it is a good camera but maybe not one that will allow me the quality I am looking for? Since none of my lenses have an Infinity setting I may need to get one that does. It seems every video I see they say to set it to infinity for best results.

Would it be better to increase ISO to 400 and allow a faster shutter to decrease a smoother look and get sharpness? I was watching a tutorial video and they said they crank ISO to 800 or even 1600 but I know the T2i does not do well above ISO 800 in low light. There are so many ways to do this it seems it really depends on the cameras sensor ability. SOme will not show much noise with higher ISO. Clearly a D3s will give a better shot at high ISO and low light than mine. I have seen night pics with a D3s at 12800 ISO with 3sec shutter look fantastic.
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