David Stewart Photography | A New York sunset comes up roses

A New York sunset comes up roses

March 25, 2014

This was my second outing from the perspective of creating a long exposure sunset image. Light conditions were very different from the Sunset Over New Jersey photograph I spoke about in this blog post. In that photograph there were clouds between me and the sun the whole way down, but conditions overall were not very cloudy, and they remained relatively predictable, particularly during the last half hour of sunset.

Not so this time. The entire sky had become overcast overnight, leaving even thick grey cloud that covered the skies completely. I had been watching the hourly weather report like a hawk, and it continuously gave a report of "Mostly Cloudy" from 6:15pm onward. Sunset was at 7:09pm, which didn't leave a whole lot of margin for error. If the report was wrong by an hour, it would be a wasted trip.

I headed downtown, scouted potential locations, and setup for the shot. Even then, fully setup, I did not know if anything of note was going to happen. And though it was in doubt, I knew one of two things was going to happen: either it was going to be a flat out bust with unremarkable grey skies, or something spectacular would be in the offing. I occasionally glimpsed the position of the sun as a pale silvery disk behind thin spots in the cloud, enough to judge that I had to move because it was arcing inward and would disappear behind the buildings. I had a rough idea of where the sun was coming down thanks to TPE (The Photographer's Ephemeris).


As it was, it was a very near thing.

Taken with my "carry everywhere" Panasonic Lumix LX7

As it was, it was a very close thing. The sun set in the corner of the left-most buildings, and did disappear behind the taller ones just before sundown. To be any more to the left would have required balancing myself and my tripod on some very shaky loose pilings that were rattling in the wind like old teeth, and while I did briefly consider a balancing act to get a better angle, I decided that risking a dunking was one thing, but tolerating that much movement during a long exposure shot was quite another.

Once I had my composition, intervalometer, etc. set, I started off by taking a 7 bracket series, separated by 1 stop each (-3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3). There are two ships in the South Street Seaport that I know from experience are prone to movement, so I wanted those sharp shots in the bag just in case. I also wanted proper exposures of the buildings, again, just in case I needed them later. I then took a measurement using the camera meter, looked up the 10 stop difference in shutter speed using the ND Filter Calculator app, and took an exposure.

Then I swore a little, stopped the exposure, and put the rubber seal on the viewfinder on the back of the camera to prevent light leak, and restarted the exposure.


Which got me this lovely fine art print of a pristine white... er... alright, it may have been a tad overexposed...

So I swore again, stopped the exposure, and screwed the 10 stop ND filter on to the front of the lens.

Yes, this is my established process for long exposure photography. I might swear on occasion, but I get it done. Eventually. Hence, Long Exposure photography. That's the definition isn't it?

All this time, the sky remained a leaden dull grey, except for a thin strip on the horizon where the cloud cover had grown so sparse it was in imminent danger of resembling a sky. The sun, over the course of a minute, slid out from behind the clouds, rapidly descended toward the buildings then was quickly obscured by them. This presented an interesting juggling exercise. The sun needed to be exposed at 1/5000th of a second. The buildings and some of the water read 1/15th of a second. The grey clouds 1/60th of a second. Trying to find a middle ground between all these exposures with such big differences between them (and me without a medium format camera) was an exercise in how to work out f-stops, knowing my camera and what it is capable of, and deciding where to compromise, then rolling the dice to see if my educated guesses were in the ballpark. At this point the sun was very much part of the picture and my exposures weren't looking too great. The sky was still grey you see. And bizarrely enough, no-one wants pictures of a flat featureless grey sky. I can't imagine why, it doesn't even have any of that pesky contrast or texture that would make for a great black and white.

I was starting to think the trip was going to be a bust when the sun dipped behind the buildings, and sunset officially happened. I kept turning around, looking at the sky around me, because something was starting to happen. I could see faint traces of blue through some of the thick grey overhead. The cloud cover started to thin in patches, all the cloud moving from the buildings toward me, but very slowly. I started checking my exposures. With the ND filter on, I was supposed to be at just under four minutes. I gave it five. While that exposure was running, delicate pinks blushed on the grey clouds above me. By the time the exposure was nearly done, that blush had spread and deepened, turning most of the sky pink. The light was reflected in the water to my left, but the sky was turning purple on the right, a mixture of pink and a deepening blue. I started an exposure, but did not set a specific time on it. I didn't want to restrict myself to that time because it would be my last long exposure shot and if conditions changed it could be way off. So I pressed in the shutter release button on my remote control (a Satechi MTR-A), and slid the lock switch forward. I kept using my light meter to take multiple readings of the sky, clouds, water, and buildings, averaging the exposure with my Sekonic 478 light meter, constantly trying to judge how much time was enough given the rapidly changing light. Somewhere during this time, I dropped my light meter and the battery cover went whizzing off into the East River. You're welcome mutant fish, enjoy your new toy.

After that exposure was done, I took off the ND filter and waited.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, a couple of other photographers showed up. One was using a Canon 6D with the Samyang/Rokinon 14mm lens (a lens I have owned, and sold, because while I loved the lens itself, I didn't love how much of a pain it is to get filters on it using a filter system that costs more than the lens does). Another fellow visiting from Italy setup next to me with a 7D and an EF-S 10-22mm, and we struck up a conversation, and exchanged websites.

Turns out he has some absolutely gorgeous images. You can check them out on his website at www.stefanotiozzo.com. I really like  House of Dreams and this Sunset in Norway shot. We discussed pro vs. passionate, and I forgot to mention a quote by Tony Corbell: Professional means you are proficient at something. I have come to identify with that meaning far more than the definition of a Pro being someone who makes money. I'm sure there are numerous photographers who identify as passionate amateurs who could wipe the floor with me, photographically speaking. One of them is a friend, Craig McKibbin, and I have to say I've really come to appreciate how picky he is.

So with pleasant conversation, the time quickly passed to what I had been waiting for: the beginning of the blue period. Because then I could, without moving the camera or tripod from its previous position, take an exposure with just one purpose: to capture correct exposure of the lights in the buildings as they became more visible.

Back home, I used only two of the exposures I had taken. The first was the last long exposure shot I had taken. I created a virtual copy in Lightroom, and brought the exposure on the buildings up (I wanted to retain the hint of color from the long exposure). I selected the original, that virtual copy, and the second exposure that had adequate exposure of the building lights, and sent them all to Photoshop as layers.

From there, it was largely just a question of selecting and masking out the various areas. I kept the buildings that I had lightened from the virtual copy, the skies and water from the original, and then painstakingly selected the building/city lights from the second exposure I took later.

The result? Judge for yourself.


New York Sunset RoseNew York Sunset Rose15 remaining, up to 24x36", metal showcase print, or metallic paper recommended.<br/><span class="small">*please note that, depending on your monitor, red lines may appear in the water. They will not appear in the final calibrated print.</span>

Color me blind, but I don't think that's a bust

As of the time of writing, fifteen copies of this print remain available for purchase (up to 24"x36" in the medium of purchaser's choice). Once fifteen copies have been purchased, this print will no longer be available for purchase. Ever. Metal showcase or metallic paper print is recommended to really bring out the color. Anyone wishing to purchase a metallic paper print here in the United States, please Contact me. I'll need to arrange it for you outside of using the Buy button here on the website (which appears when you click on a picture to view it on its native page). Metal Showcase prints are available on the Buy button.

Please note that, depending on the monitor you view this picture with, you may see bold red lines in the water (particularly around the area on the left). These are not present in the final calibrated print version.

January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December