Featured Image of the Week | 8/29/2017

For this week’s Featured Image of the Week I went back to Paris and found a long exposure shot that I really liked (and I haven’t shared this image anywhere online yet). I loved the composition of the shot – but I did have a big problem that needed to be solved. To find out more about this shot (and how to create images like this for yourself) be sure to read the entire article.

Paris at night

I know I talk a lot about how much I love how cities look at night but in Europe it was especially true. Paris is known as the “City of Lights” and once I saw it at night I completely understood why.

Most major capitals have some kind of central building, monument, landmark or icon that easily identifies it in photographs. Where I live in Washington, DC it’s the Washington Monument – plenty of other places work well to identify the US capital city, but the Washington Monument is so completely unique that there’s just no mistaking a picture with the massive obelisk in it. It looks great in the daytime, for sure, but it really looks amazing at night when it’s all lit up:

In Paris the unmistakable icon for the city is the incredible Eiffel Tower. Throughout most of the city it can be easily seen and when it’s lit up at night it feels like the entire city is trying to keep up with it. With the powerful beacons of light reaching out from the top of the tower it easily helps people like me to know exactly where I am in the city. It’s a sight so beautiful I could spend hours just marveling at it and the city it stands in.

The Carousel on Avenue des Nations Unies

Near the west end of the Pont d’Iéna (the Jena Bridge) is the beautiful Jardins Du Trocadéro (the Trocadero Gardens) where one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower can be enjoyed. It’s a gorgeous park filled with city life of all kinds. At the Southern edge of the park is a small (but beautiful) carousel that I thought would make for an interesting foreground subject with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background.

At night both the Eiffel Tower and the carousel glow from all the lights and because it’s a carousel it also adds a whole lot of movement that can make a long exposure shot look really cool. I also liked the beacon of light from the Eiffel Tower, but it presented an issue for capturing a super long exposure shot since too long of a shutter speed would leave a long streak of light instead of a focused beam of light. I wanted both the movement of the carousel along with the tight beam from the tower in the same shot so I had to get creative to make it happen.

Solving the Exposure Setting Dilemma

At the time I arrived at the carousel I had already taken a bunch of Eiffel Tower shots. Since I had previous “test” shots of the tower at night I had a bunch of different shots at various shutter speeds to let me see which exposure time I liked best. It turned out a 1 second shot (at f8 ISO 100) gave me the look I wanted with a nice focus of light from the top of the tower. But with the carousel I wasn’t thrilled with the one second exposure time. It looked cool, but I was hoping for even more motion blur than I was seeing. Here’s a look at my one second exposure shot:

After a few test shots I discovered I was happiest with a full four seconds of shutter speed to give me the look (for the carousel) I wanted. The only problem was the much wider stream of light from the Eiffel Tower beacons. Here’s a look at the same shot as last time, but with four second of shutter speed:

The two shots share a lot of elements but the carousel and beacon are completely different in each shot. The solution was to set my camera up on a tripod (to make sure there was zero movement between the two shots) so I could bring them into Lightroom for basic editing (exposure, geometry, etc.) and combine both of them in Photoshop. Here’s a look at the two shots open in a single Photoshop file:

The resulting image took the best from each picture and gave me a single shot that had everything I wanted. Here’s another look at the finished shot:

Note: I think it’s important to state that some people may not consider this to be a “legitimate” image because it combines two shots instead of being a single capture. The reality is this: sometimes you have a vision for a shot in your mind and it becomes necessary to figure out how to make it happen. It’s perfectly acceptable, for example, to use a flash to fill in a shot but the reality is: without using a flash the shot you want may not be possible. I’ve always believed we, as photographers, are in service of our artistic vision and we make choices like camera settings, which lens to use, to turn the flash on (or not) and even to digitally edit a shot with Photoshop. Ultimately the spinning carousel would never look like a blur of light when we’re there in person so the entire shot is my personal vision as I want it to be seen by everyone – and I stand by my artistic and photographic choices.

The Gear and my Settings

The primary camera for my Paris trip was my Sony a6000. I love the small size (especially when paired with my 16mm f2.8 lens) because it’s super light and it doesn’t call unnecessary attention to me like a great big professional camera would. If you ask me the A6000 camera is the ultimate travel camera!

To lock down my camera between shots (and to give me rock solid long exposure captures) I used my travel tripod along with a Neewer L-bracket designed for my Sony A6000. I love the compact size of a travel tripod and using the L-bracket allowed me to get a landscape orientation without flipping the camera to the side of the ball head.

For this shot I used my Sony 16mm f2.8 lens and an ultra-wide converter to get to a 12mm focal length. Unfortunately the ultra-wide converter I used isn’t available – but the outstanding Sony 10-18mm f4 OSS lens can get the same fiend of view (and a bit wider) without making the entire setup much bigger or heavier. I highly recommend the 10-18mm and will probably be writing up a review on it in the future.

Finally, the camera was triggered with my Sony wired remote. I always use the wired remote in these situations because the travel tripod may be sturdy, but physically pressing a button on the camera to take the shot could be just enough pressure to cause movement (which ends up blurring the final shot). If you don’t have a wired remote you can always use a timer mode – but that 3-10 second delay can make it difficult to get the timing right – and I wanted the beacon of light in a particular place so the 3-10 second delay would have made getting perfect timing extremely difficult.

For settings I set my camera to Manual mode and used ISO 100 and set the aperture to f8. I then set the shutter speed to 1 second for the Eiffel Tower portion of the shot for one capture and then changed the shutter speed to 4 seconds for the carousel portion of the shot for my second capture.

The images were then imported into Adobe Lightroom and combined in Adobe Photoshop using layers and a mask to achieve the finished look I wanted.

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