Friday, November 21, 2014

Capturing The Perfect Night-Time Cityscape With Nikon and SmugMug

One of the most important tips I received as a blogger early on in my blogging days was to include photos in every single blog post (thanks, Sophia!). But I have a confession to make: most of the photos featured on Angloyankophile were taken on my iPhone 5 and edited using filters either in Instagram or VSCOcam. But I'm sure you could tell already. One of my goals for this blog is to up my photography game, i.e. take photos with a "real" camera. I'll sometimes take John's Canon DSLR with me to blogger events, but to be honest with you ... I have no idea what I'm doing, and the photos turn out to be a bit of a blur. Frustrated, I'll usually throw gently place the professional camera aside and pick up my phone instead. As they say here in the UK, I have "all the gear and no idea" (works better with a British accent, trust me).

So, I felt like a total fraudster when I turned up at Nikon's and SmugMug's Night-Time Cityscape Workshop at the Nikon School on Margaret Street, run by Alastair Jolly of SmugMug and Neil Freeman of Nikon. While other bloggers listened attentively and asked really important questions about backing up photos on external hard drives (yes, I have one of those too ... but I never use it) and shutter speed, I sat in the corner furiously taking notes and trying to remember every word Alastair said about aperture and light.

For those of you who haven't heard of SmugMug before, it's an online service that offers beautiful, personalised galleries for your photos - think Flickr, but with additional features, much more security, and a space to display your handiwork in a personal but professional-looking website (my friend Alex has used it for years and loves it - then again, her photos are much better than mine!). The result is a gorgeous, bespoke website you can share that looks a whole lot slicker than whatever you've been using - trust me. My photos are all over the place: on my phone, on Google Drive, on that external hard drive ... I'm constantly tweeting and uploading photos onto Facebook, so I've made it a New Year's resolution to set myself up with a SmugMug account in order to kick my lazy photogenic photographic butt into action.

Have you ever tried taking photos at night? At best, you get some pretty lights - at others, well, they're all blurry. Alastair shared some fantastic tips during the workshop which were practically all a revelation to me.

For example, did you know about taking photos during the optimal "blue hour"? This is also known as twilight -  that perfect time just after the sun sets but before the sky goes completely dark, when there's just some blue left in the sky (though Alastair joked that in the UK, it's mostly just grey). This is a key period of time when capturing cityscapes because the lights on the facades of buildings and streetlamps turn on. A super useful tip when you're on vacation!

The result is something like the photo I took above, when we all trekked on to Regent Street to put Alastair's tips into action.

But the most important secret to taking a good, night-time photograph is ... a tripod. Because of the slow shutter speed and big aperture needed to get those magnificent lights in (did I get that right?), it's impossible to hold the camera with a steady enough hand - hence all the blurriness you usually get. If you've got a tripod, you can also capture some exciting light trails like this one below, which Alastair kindly helped me set up before I had a couple of tries myself:

Once you've got a tripod, you can set up the self-timer on your camera for that perfect shot. Neil gave us some fabulous tips on precisely where in London you can get a great shot, especially after it's been raining (hint: just outside the Mayor's office) and how to get that fantastic starburst effect on lights you see in photographs, like the headlights on the car and bus above (hint: set your aperture in aperture priority mode to F16).

And if you don't feel like sticking a tripod in your leather Anya Hindmarch tote (ahem, hint hint, birthday present, hint hint), then you can balance your camera on just about anything - including a dumpster with a half-eaten sandwich on top of it, as Alastair demonstrated. But seriously: tripods #ftw.

I left the workshop feeling inspired and totally excited about trying a little harder with my photos. I also met some lovely lifestyle and photography bloggers, including Paula of The LDN Diaries. Most of all, I loved learning about some camera basics that had previously been a mystery to me, as well as seeing some inspirational examples of photography websites that have been created using SmugMug. If you've got a growing photo collection, I'd definitely recommend taking a look at SmugMug and considering it as an option for displaying your photographs. After all, Instagram can only take you so far!

Special thanks to Nikon and SmugMug for hosting me at this amazing photography workshop.


  1. So great to meet you on Wednesday! Your photos look really good :) Nikon SLR and tripod definitely on my Xmas list too! x

    1. Hi Paula, likewise! So nice to put a face to a name, plus so nice to have a new blog to follow! Hope you get the Nikon that you want :) x

  2. These photos are beautiful! Looks like you really absorbed the information from that workshop. I need to get my hands on a "real" camera, too.

    1. Thanks, Gianni! Yes, it was fun - I'd love to have more time to play around with the camera settings, etc. Hopefully I'll have some free time to do this in the New Year along the river!


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