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Cityscapes: Let the light do the heavy lifting—by Younes Bounhar

Our friend, photographer Younes Bounhar, is a member of the CanvasPop Pro Community. As an avid traveller, Younes is sharing his tips on how to capture the essence of your surroundings no matter where you are in the world.  

One of the most overrated elements in photography is often, well, light. It isn’t called photography (or “writing with light”) for nothing. Yet for some reason, many expect to simply show up to their location, click the shutter and get away with award-winning images.

In reality, light is the main ingredient for successful photography. While there is no hard and fast rule about what constitutes the “best light”, it is important to keep in mind that certain subjects are better suited to a specific type of light. In the case of cityscapes, it isn’t the golden hour, nor is it midday light. In my opinion, twilight (or blue hour)—which occurs anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes after sunset or before sunrise—is the perfect complement for urban and travel photography.

During the blue hour, the sky has a deep blue color that says “night”, yet it is bright enough that buildings are not swallowed by the surrounding darkness. In this light, you get well-defined edges that emphasize the shapes of buildings.

Secondly, this time of day makes exposure very easy to handle: at twilight, the brightness of the sky is roughly equivalent to that of street lamps. Therefore there are no contrast nightmares or tough exposures. A simple trick is to take a meter reading on the sky above you and voila!

Finally, from an aesthetic point of view, the effect is certainly very pleasing: the city lights aren’t yet the dominant source of light, thus avoiding you the deadly glare of sodium lights. Here I also like to use the “cloudy” white balance setting to enhance those yellows and really make them pop against the twilight blue in the sky.

Have you experimented with the “blue hour”? Post links to your photos in the comments section below.

Younes Bounhar eats, sleeps and breathes photography. His photos have been featured in several magazines in Canada and abroad including Canadian Geographic, PhotoLife, PhotoSolutions and Photography Monthly.