This past March, I found myself in Las Vegas for WPPI. On Monday night, the Photofocus crew led a photo walk. It was a perfect opportunity to practice blurring the vehicle lights as they drove past us.
Setting Up the Shot
When I spot a vantage point that interests me, I tend to have trouble staying with the group. Such was the case that evening when I crossed an overpass bridge, and found a lovely location that allowed me a clear view of the traffic flowing along the street below me, surrounded by lit buildings. The angle and height seemed just right, and it was an added bonus that there was a foot-wide wide ledge for me to utilize. Being of the occasionally lazy sort, I had neglected to bring my tripod that evening, and figured I would use existing surfaces to stabilize my camera. The ledge was perfect.
Getting That Blurred Action
After snapping a few shots and glancing in my Canon 70D’s view finder, I knew I had the composition I wanted. Now, time to adjust my settings so that the traffic would be blurred. Whenever you’re out shooting in any type of cityscape at night, it’s almost impossible not to go for the blurred shot.
Below is my resulting photo after a few minutes of gently nudging it towards the blurred result I desired. My settings were 18mm / ISO 320 / F/16 / 4.0 sec.
Apparently I was so engrossed in getting this shot that I forgot about the rest of the group. My attention was absorbed for a good twenty minutes before I had the wherewithal to tear my eyes from the camera and realize my crew had moved on. They were about a block away on the crowded Las Vegas streets. Satisfied that I had got the shot I wanted that evening, I scooted along and joined back up with them.
Processing the Photo in Photomatix Pro
It wasn’t until days later that I had time to process the image. My usual workflow is to make basic corrections to the raw image in Lightroom, and then make additional stylistic adjustments in Photoshop. However, for this image, I decided I wanted a slight HDR effect.
It just so happened that I was testing the waters with the HDR software Photomatix Pro, so I figured this single image could be a fun experiment. Previously, I had written an article about using the software to merging three bracketed photos together (you can check it out here). Photomatix Pro is also able to work with a single image, so I figured this image could be fun to play with.
First I opened the image in Lightroom, and made some very basic adjustments to the Vibrance and Clarity from the Develop Module in order to make the photo pop a bit more.
Then, I took the photo to Photomatix pro via File > Plugin Extras > Export to Photomatix Pro.
It gave me this initial message, since I was only importing one photo:
Upon opening, the software made some initial adjustments to the photo.
It was okay. Not being able to leave well enough alone, I went in and made some of my own adjustments. I didn’t want the photo to be over-the-top HDR, but I did want those lights to pop.
Full disclosure: I really just did this by eye, depending on my personal taste. My main focus was adjusting the settings in the left panel. After switching the method to Details Enhancer, I lowered the Strength slider and also lowered the Tone Compression. I also decided to leave the Lighting Effects Mode box unchecked, and instead lower the Lighting Adjustments slider. I turned the Black Point all the way up, and the Gamma all the way down.
Here is the result:
Definitely more eye catching! I then exported the photo and was taken back to my Lightroom catalog. The entire process took me all of 20 minutes. My final step was to simply export the photo as a tiff.
Here is the final result:
I was quite pleased. Photomatix made it really easy, and did a good job with just the one photo.
Even if you’ve taken blurred night shots before, it’s always fun to do so in different cities. And adding additional style to your images in the processing stage can help set your shot apart from the hundreds (or even thousands!) of other shots that may have been taken in the exact same spot by other photographers.
So go forth and experiment!