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June 3, 2014

Bright lights, big city: how to shoot Lumia cityscapes by night

You’ll doubtlessly remember Hieu T. Nguyen, a.k.a. David H. from the Vietnam post of our Around the World in 80 Lumias series.

The Imaging Ambassador for Nokia Vietnam uses his Lumia 1020 to take some of the most spectacular cityscape photos we’ve ever seen. And not just any cityscape photos, but ones taken from the very top of the world. How does he do it, we were wondering, until curiosity took over and we decided to ask him. If you have a Lumia in your pocket and aren’t scared of heights, here’s some priceless advice from the man himself. Take it away, David!

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Keep calm and take the photo

Most of us are now living in the big city. Amongst the concrete, the buildings and the towers there’s an opportunity to take stunning nighttime photos. A lot of people would panic when standing hundreds of feet up in the air, but for me, there’s no bigger thrill than watching and capturing the cityscape from above.


1. The setup

You’ll need a really steady and big tripod or a solid base. When shooting at hundreds of feet up in the air, you have to face strong winds. Your camera’s shutter will be open for several seconds, so make sure the phone doesn’t move during that time.

Did you know that just pushing the shutter button can produce enough shake to blur your night shots? By using the timer (shooter delay) function in Nokia Camera for long exposure shots, you can avoid this.

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2. Find a perfect spot

To take a photograph of a cityscape at nighttime, make sure that you have an interesting subject for the photo. Find a spot with plenty of lights and illuminated windows, and other interesting features.

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3. Light and timing

“The golden hour,” sometimes known as the magic hour, is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day. Before darkness falls, there’s still enough natural light to bring out details, and when the city lights come on they create some extra colour. The golden hours don’t last long, meaning you’ll need to be in position and set up before the sun sets.

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While you’re likely to have heard of the golden hours, the blue hour is also a fantastic time to photograph under dramatic low light conditions. The blue hour generally starts about 30-45 minutes after sunset. You can also play with the white balance or try shooting in RAW (DNG) format to pick up interesting tones and colours.

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4. Leave room for cropping

When you are framing the photo on the screen, make sure that there is some room around the edges of the photo to crop the final image.

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5 RAW (DNG file) and post processing

One of the most interesting features of Nokia Camera is the ability to capture photographs in RAW (DNG) format. I recommend you to shoot in RAW, so you can make fine adjustments to colours, temperature and exposure in post processing.

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“I want to help every Lumia photographer achieve the best results, so just follow my tips here, get some practice and start producing your own photos to be proud of!”, David says. First of all, we want to thank him for sharing his secrets with us…we’re all excitement and gratitude. If you’re still hungry for more inspiration, why not go marvel at David’s pics on Twitter and Instagram.

Secondly, we want the sun to set right now so we can test these tips out. Ain’t no building too high for us! What about you? Do you get shaky feet at the top of the world or are you ready to follow in David’s footsteps? Let us know in the comments below.