The Auckland City Skyline at dusk.

Auckland City At Dusk. 6 shot HDR | 84mm | 0.4, 1.6, 4.0, 6.0, 15.0, 30.0 sec | f7.1 | ISO200

There may be a rule that states you can't be a photographer in Auckland without at least one image of the cities skyline at night so I though I'd better give one of my own a go. 

There are two good spots that I know of. One is almost under the harbour bridge right at the end of Northcote point, but I wasn't too keen on here as there is a lot of moored boats in the way, these look nice on day shots but I didn't like the idea of a bunch of boats in shot that had blurred a lot as they moved in the water while my shutter was open for a long time.

Auckland City from Northcote Point. 50mm | 1/400 sec | f8 | ISO100


The second spot, where I took the top image, is from near the ferry terminal at Devonport. The downside to this is the seemingly constant movement of large container ships, one of which trundled by just as conditions we nearly perfect.

Auckland City Skyline one and a half hours before sunset. 70mm | 1/80 sec | f8 | ISO200

The main image is a 6 shot HDR. Why 6 shots? Well, generally, the more exposure brackets you capture the more dynamic range you have to play with in post. On other night shot HDRs I've done I used 3 shots and then been forced to artificially extend the exposures in Lightroom to try and pull back extra detail in the highlights and shadows. This works to some degree but ultimately results in a lot of extra work at the computer afterwards, and who wants that! You can see an earlier example I did this way of the Tower Bridge in London on my old blog here. With this image I really wanted to get some detail in the bright highlights, particularly around the top of the Vero building, to do that I needed to get the shutter down to .4 of a second.

Devonport, where I took this image, was far enough away that I used my Canon 70-300mm f4-5.6L lens, probably the sharpest lens in my collection. I fitted a polariser on it to bring out a bit more interest in the sky and water. Using a polariser on these kind of shots also helps make the lit up buildings jump out from the sky in the background.

 Behind the Lens, waiting for the sun to set!

Behind the Lens, waiting for the sun to set!

  Goddamn container ship! 84  mm | 1.3 sec | f8 | ISO100

Goddamn container ship! 84mm | 1.3 sec | f8 | ISO100

I fired off one three bracketed salvo, with the bottom exposure at .4, then moved my exposure compensation up several stops to get 3 higher exposed shots. Because I was in AV mode my exposure times ended up a bit more random than if I'd done each exposure manually, but I've lost my camera remote so wanted to minimise the amount of times I had to touch the camera, hence using auto bracketing twice. Also a ferry charged across the frame in the middle of a 30 sec exposure so I had to do the second burst again...This meant that due to the swiftly changing light levels the auto bracketed shots have ended up rather unevenly spaced, luckily Photomatix (the software I used to combine the images) can deal with this.

 My 6 images straight out of camera.

My 6 images straight out of camera.

I combined the lot in Photomatix with a heavily altered average fusion preset, focusing on making sure I had as much dynamic range as possible instead of a good looking image, turns out the final image looked pretty good. After that I brought the image into photoshop and lightly tweaked its contrast and colours using a combination of NIK Efex Viveza, Color Efex Pro4 and levels. You can see before and after below, it's pretty subtle.

 Photomatix export and final edit comparison.

Photomatix export and final edit comparison.

Because I'd captured so much dynamic range originally I didn't have to do hours of masking, dodging and burning to protect my highlights and shadows from being destroyed like I often do, ultimately this made what could've been a very long difficult edit actually really quick and painless.

While I was there I also took a 5 shot HDR panorama, which you can see below. For this I took a series of 5 3 shot bracketed images. Combined each set of 3 in Photomatix, using the same settings for each, then merged the 5 final HDR images into the below panorama using Photoshops photo merge feature. If you look closely you can see that due to only having a limited dynamic range in the three shots the highlights are blown, meaning I've lost a lot of detail in the lights of the buildings. I could spend a bit more time on it and fix where Photoshop has not stitched too well but ultimately I don't think the composition is worth it.

Auckland City At Dusk Panorama. 5 image panorama made up of 3 shot HDR images 84mm | 2.5, 10, 30 sec | f8 | ISO200