Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My First Night Cityscape Photographs

Melbourne on Sunday night. The buildings are really quiet and unlit. The over-lit yellow building is the Flinders Station. Click to enlarge (164 kB).

This is across the river from the Flinders Station. Click to enlarge (228 kB).

I still remember my first attempt at night time cityscape photography. It was in the December of 2000, one month after my SPM, when I was visiting an aunt in Brisbane. Aunt brought us for a tour along the Brisbane River on the City Cat, a high speed ferry service of catamarans prowling the river. Apart from being a tourist attraction of sorts, the City Cat is actually a proper public transport service that the locals use, even to get to work.

The boat blasted along the river surface at great speed. In the central business district, commercial buildings were lit like commercial buildings at night. I made my night cityscape attempt there, on a speed boat bumping on the river surface, using the family’s Pentax 35mm point-and-shoot camera with about 3x optical zoom. The photos were a blurry haze of white and yellow streaks over a black background. Bad.

Ok, so it’s a daft idea to shoot night scene photographs from a speed boat.

My second attempt was in Hong Kong, June of 2001. The Victoria Peak was a tourist trap of sorts, with a cable car running up to a huge tourist trap building at the top of the hill, complete with overpriced restaurants and pointless pseudo-designer boutiques. The view was actually quite breathtaking, if the cold wind did not already take it away. The lights of Hong Kong were spread some way below, with Tsim Sa Tsui across the causeway.

I was still using the Pentax 35mm point-and-shoot. Finding a suitable wall, I braced myself and the camera against it as best as I could, and hit the shutter. Damn, it was a very long exposure, the city being so far away and all. The photographs turned out rather fuzzy and unsatisfactory.

I so need a tripod!

My third attempt at night cityscape photography was on my second trip to Hong Kong, in December 2002. I pestered my mother till she agreed to pay for my tripod. Woo! And so I went tripod shopping along Nathan Road (I think). After some hunting and bargaining, I got the price down to HK$140 from some previously stratospheric price. I still don’t know if I had been fleeced; never been tripod shopping since then.

One night, I took a walk from the hotel over to the edge of Tsim Sa Tsui with my old friend the 35mm Pentax and my new tripod. Across the water was Hong Kong island with its magnificent lights. The shutter clicked, and the film drum whirred.

When we got the photos printed, I was over the moon about the photos. The lights were so sharply defined! Look at how proper and un-hazed the buildings appear. And look at the city’s reflection off the water! Granted, the composition was nothing special, but I finally captured a city’s lights. It was a remarkable moment.