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Night Shoot in Zurich

Today I want to tell you the story of a photo I took in Zürich, Switzerland a few weeks ago. Night shoots are super fun because there is so much you can do with them. After shooting a couple nice city-landscapes across the river I started playing around with a flash and created this image.

I love this shot because of the depth and interest that it has. The classic Zürich cityscape is shown off nicely in the background, but the story of a photographer working hard to create amazing imagery fills the foreground.


We were traveling pretty light, so my equipment list is minimal:


My shooting process went something like this:
  1. Set up approximate framing for the final shot
  2. Set aperture, shutter speed, and ISO so that the background [cityscape] looks good. This takes 2 or 3 shots.
  3. Connect the flash to the camera using the built in wireless sync
  4. Using the Canon 600EX-RT in manual mode, adjust the flash output until the exposure on the model looks good. [Do NOT change the aperture, shutter speed, or ISO!] This took 4 or 5 test shots.
  5. Fine tune position of model and framing up the composition.
  6. Use 2 second self timer to trigger the camera to avoid bumping it during the exposure.
  7. Viola!


Here you see my original, unedited image as well as a sketch diagram of the 3 key components in the image:

Here’s the editing steps I followed:

  1. Adjust white balance and exposure so that photographer looks good
  2. Add graduated filter to the cityscape to balance the color and exposure
  3. Add second graduated filter to the cityscape because I couldn’t make the first one strong enough [This is the first time I’ve ever had to do that!]
  4. Add round graduated filter to darken out the boat on the right
  5. Sharpen image and apply noise reduction
  6. Viola!

I hope this is interesting and/or helpful to you! Tossing a flash in your bag that can be triggered wirelessly can add a lot of fun options to a good night shoot.

Got a question? Leave me a comment below!




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PhotoEx:Austria & Switzerland Day 10

There’s not much to say about our final day of PhotoEx:Austria & Switzerland. We were up early and out the door for the airport. Getting there was a bit more hectic on the trains than we had planned, but we arrived with plenty of time to say goodbyes. I will miss the girls who joined us for this fantastic trip. I am hoping to have dropped them off in Zürich only to pick them up at another airport in Europe next summer!

The rest of the day was rainy. And I took a nap.


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PhotoEx:Austria & Switzerland | Day 9

Today was marked by one of the most incredible hikes I have ever taken. On a guide book recommendation we took the train up to Uetliberg. When we left our hostel it was misty with low hanging clouds. When we arrived at Uetliberg we found ourselves in a whole new world, high above the clouds and enjoying the grandeur of the distant alps.

The scenery just continued to get better. Islands of trees colored by the coming winter soon appeared amidst the tides of fog. Sunlight streamed through, casting long intricate shadows. This was our path!

We hiked nearly 7km along the ridge between Uetliberg and Felsenegg, shooting hundreds of photos of the brilliant colors and misty light. Photographers don’t hike very fast, and it took us hours to cover this distance. At the end a cable car awaited to bring us back down to Zürich below.

The afternoon was free time to get in those last minute purchases or enjoy a final hour at a waterfront café. We all met up for dinner at a quaint fondue restaurant – we are in Switzerland after all! The amount of cheese they brought out for 11 people was probably double what we actually ate, but we did save room for chocolate mousse and meringues for dessert. It was the perfect final dinner of the trip.

Tonight we just hung out, looking at pictures and telling stories, reluctant to say goodbye and go to bed, knowing that tomorrow we part ways. It has been a most excellent PhotoEx.


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PhotoEx:Austria & Switzerland | Day 8

Our first day in Zürich got off to a great start – this hostel has the best breakfast so far! Coffee, juice, cereal, toast, cheese, meat, and yogurt were all on the menu this morning. What wasn’t on the menu was the boat bus we were planning to take through the city. Apparently they don’t run in winter, but we didn’t find this out until after we had walked to and through a private harbor before being asked to leave. Fortunately, the trains run all year long, that just didn’t seem quite as cool.

The old city center of Zürich surprised us by being such a late starter. We started exploring around 10 and it felt VERY early. No one was about yet… Wandering empty streets is kind of a photographer’s dream though, so I didn’t mind too much. We eventually made our way to Grossmünster, the church where Huldrych Zwingli began the Swiss Reformation. It sat in stark austere contrast to the ornate Catholic cathedrals of Salzberg and Vienna. A moderate climb up the tower yielded some fantastic views over the city.

Next to Grossmünster Jamie discovered an enormous music store. They had everything from records of Adele to the complete works of Beethoven on CD to Gibson guitars and a shop where they made violins. Jamie sat down to play a cello and soon found herself talking to the man who made it! I think they both had a good appreciation for the others’ skill. The Steinway showroom was more my style as Eli played a piano worth almost as much as my house!

We had excellent intensions of dining at Café Sprüngli for lunch, but a glance at the menu prices had us merely purchase some chocolate instead. This, however, turned out to be some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had! It was just a little bit like wandering through Willy Wanka’s Chocolate Factory. There were so many kinds and flavors and shapes and colors and it was just all so very wonderful. Lunch instead was an assortment of cheeses, salami and bread from an Italian grocer as we sat in the sunshine by the river. Not a bad considering it cost the same as a small box of chocolates! Judson and I decided that Zürich was more expensive than Venice, making it the most expensive city we have ever visited.

Switzerland is also famous for watches, and we had a grand time shopping for a new watch for Eli. Up and down the narrow streets we went searching for just the right time piece. When it was finally purchased, the shop keeper even threw us a party with tea, coffee and tiramisu. Now that’s customer service!

For dinner we hit an Italian restaurant on the river front. I love an authentic margherita pizza followed by tiramisu and a cappuccino for dessert. Finish that off with a night shoot on the river in Zürich and you’ve got a great evening. Oh… and that’s exactly how we rounded out Day 8 of PhotoEx:Austria & Switzerland!


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PhotoEx:Austria & Switzerland | Day 7

This morning we were up early to catch our train from Salzberg to Zürich. What should have been a relaxed, easy morning of enjoying a coffee as someone “drove” me across fantastic scenery quickly turned sour. 2 minutes before our train was to depart I stood in the middle of a our car and encouraged people to have their passports handy, just in case. In the back of my mind I began to wonder… “Where is MY passport?” Suddenly with a shock of adrenaline I realized it was with Jocelyn’s and Lewis’ passports, lying in a drawer next to the bed I had left 2 hours earlier. With no time to retrieve it, I just sat down rather embarrassed. After a few minutes I called the hostel to arrange shipment to our next hostel in Zürich. Then I discovered that not only had I left our passports, but I also left 3 credit cards and my hostel membership card. Oops! I’m pretty grateful for the helpful girl who is shipping them to me tomorrow!

The best word to describe the train ride from Salzberg to Zürich is stunning. Many other words like amazing, gorgeous, and grand could be used as supplements, but stunning gives the complete package. I enjoy few travel experiences more than rolling across a beautiful country on a train, and today’s journey was one of the best I have ever taken. We saw it all – snow covered alps, rushing mountain-green rivers, forested hillsides, and quaint villages. The unexpected element that stood out today was just how many ski slopes there are in Austria. Every village has one! Or two…

Shooting out of train windows is a challenge… they aren’t clean, and getting one’s timing right is a challenge. Today I pretty much resorted to the shot-gun approach. I have 62 shots of telephone poles, trees, or other random objects from out my window today. I also have a few real gems, so I’m quite pleased!

My traveling troubles from the morning returned in Zürich as we tried to check in. “No, we don’t have anything for you,” the guy at the front desk of the hostel told us. No problem, I pulled my reservation out and handed him the paper. After looking it over and checking his computer he informed me, “Your reservation is for next year!” Ack! Who books hotels for the wrong year?!? “It is very unusual for us to have space on a weekend, but we have room for you.” Once again embarrassed, I told my patient team what was going on as we waited for him to set things right. 30 minutes later we were situated and relaxing.

Tonight’s dinner was the perfect combination of adventure and rest. We stayed at the hostel and had authentic Swiss fondue. Cheesy goodness dripped from our forks as we devoured three large pots of the bubbling goo. It was a delightfully warm finish to a traumatic and oft rainy day!


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