Category Archives: Cityscape

Lausanne, Switzerland and the balance of light

If you are looking to photograph cityscapes with vibrant colours, you should wait for the night to fall. But when I say ‘night’, I really mean wait for ‘the blue hour’. That time of day is after the sun disappears and before the sky turns black. The best time for photography during the blue hour can depend on the season and your geographical location, and definitely doesn’t last an hour.

At this time of day, the fading light from the setting sun roughly matches in intensity the man-made city lights. And the sky turns a deep shade of blue, regardless of the weather. The photograph of the Chateau d’Ouchy (Ouchy Castle), a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland illustrates this.

Ouchy Castle Hotel in Lausanne Switzerland, night photograph with the Castle illuminated in red.

Le Chateau d’Ouchy (Ouchy Castle) in Lausanne, Switzerland after sunset and before the sky turned black. IN winter, this hotel is illuminated in red, which provides a nice colour contrast with the blue sky.

Earlier in the day, the ambient light coming from the sun dominates and the sky is too bright relative to the buildings. You either get an overexposed, washed out sky, or underexposed, dark buildings.

And after the blue hour, the artificial city lights dominate as the sky turns black. The scene is usually too contrasty for a digital camera to handle well. Although it is possible to use several exposures blended together in software to achieve good results. It is a personal choice, but I tend to prefer a deep blue sky over a completely black one. The photograph of the Lausanne Cathedral is an example where multiple exposures were used to achieve the final result. The scene was too contrasty because the sky is very dark shade of blue and the street and building lights much, much too bright relatively speaking. It was a bit after the optimal time for photography, but it still works in my opinion.

Cathedral, Lausanne Switzerland, photographed at night in the winter

The cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland photographed during a winter night.

Interestingly enough, balancing two quantities to get something striking also happens in physics. In the quantum realm, particles behave like waves, and thus have a wavelength. In liquid helium 4He, when the average wavelength of the helium atoms becomes comparable in magnitude to the average distance between the helium atoms, the system undergoes a transition to a superfluid state, a totally new state of matter.


Leith, Edinburgh Reflections

“Bad light happens to good people” – Doug Gordon

Ideally, one would only shoot outdoors when the light is good, which is typically one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset until one hour after sunset on a clear day. At this time of year in Scotland, the light can be good all day long, because the sun, when it is not blocked by clouds, stays lows on the horizon. Shooting in good light is not always possible because of time and or budget constraints. As a working photographer, one must learn to cope with less than ideal light.

Reflections are a way to add interest to the photograph in the absence of good light. Part of the attraction of shooting reflections is that the reflecting surface acts as an artistic filter. It can shift the colours or distort the subject to the point of creating an abstraction. And if you look carefully, in an urban setting reflections are everywhere: cars, windows, etc.

Reflection of apartment building in the Water of Leith, Edinburgh

Reflection of an apartment building in the Water of Leith river.

In Edinburgh, the Water of Leith offers abundant opportunities to capture interesting reflections. The river goes through both natural and urban settings, for a wide variety of reflected subjects.

Reflection of pedestrians and colourful building in the Water of Leith river, Edinburgh

Reflection of pedestrians walking bu a colourful building on the other side of the Water of Leith river.


Vancouver, B.C. – Goodbye

Every trip must come to an end, and in this last post I’m going to share with you a few more travel photos I took during my two week holiday in the beautiful city of Vancouver, B.C.

A great time to shoot any kind of cityscape is after sunset, but before the sky turns totally black.  The skyscrapers of North American cities look particularly good at this time of day. The photograph of downtown Vancouver below was taken from a location close to the Auto Mall in North Vancouver.

Downtown Vancouver after sunset, seen from North Vancouver.

Downtown Vancouver after sunset, seen from North Vancouver.

The classic sightseeing location in Vancouver is called Cypress View Point. You get a wonderful view of the whole city of Vancouver and one of its landmarks, Lion’s Gate Bridge. It was a bit hazy that day, so the buildings in the distance are not as clear as they could be. One of the advantages of being a resident is you can shoot when the conditions are optimum. As a tourist, you have to take what nature gives you while you are there.

Vancouver at night, from Cypress View Point.

Vancouver by night, from Cypress View Point.

I like to learn new techniques all the time, and the best way to experiment with them is when you are taking pictures for yourself. So I tried doing a few panoramas, a couple of which are shown below. I took many pictures (9 for the first and 11 for the second panorama) and stitched them together in Photoshop.

Vancouver panorama, taken around sunset time from the shore of North Vancouver

Vancouver panorama, taken around sunset time from the shore of North Vancouver (click on image for bigger photo).

Vancouver by night panorama, taken from Cypress View Point

Vancouver by night panorama, taken from Cypress View Point (click on image for a bigger photo)

Also, I’m not really used to taking pictures of moving subjects, so it was nice to practice with the seaplanes taking off from Vancouver harbour. I managed to get a few good ones, like the photograph below.

Seaplane taking of from Vancouver harbour.

Seaplane taking off from Vancouver harbour.