City skylines provide excellent photo opportunities during evening twilight. If your hometown or the city you are visiting is located on a body of water, the colorful reflections that glimmer across the water add pizazz to your skyline photos.
Generally, from a technical standpoint here in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, an aperture of f/5.6 provides sufficient depth of field in skyline reflection images … the buildings are well defined and the reflection is crisp.
Good photography is part technique and part art. If you are new to shooting skyline reflections, I recommend you shoot the same scene at several different apertures. I shot the image above at f/5.6 and the image below at f/8. As you see, even a one stop change in aperture produces a noticeable difference in the appearance of the reflection. Decide how sharp or silky you want the reflection to appear and select your aperture accordingly. Keep the image that speaks best to your artistic tastes.
To repeat, the light and conditions remained constant while I shot these images near the Inner Harbor Marina. It was my choice of aperture that affected the appearance of the reflection. I prefer the sharper reflection created at f/5.6.
On another evening, I hoped to include the moon in my skyline images. Initially, the reflection had the crisp appearance I was looking for, but the moon looked too blah above the Legg Mason Building. Unexpectedly, a steady wind arose and caused the reflection to bend and curve. What to do? I knew a smaller aperture would blur the shape and definition of the reflection too much to suit my artistic preference. Thus, I kept my aperture set at f/5.6.
OK, you say, but what about the blah moon? In this situation, some photographers recommend you simply use post-processing software to remove the moon. Rather than try to fix an image afterwards with software, I prefer to capture the best image possible in camera. Thus, I simply waited another minute or so for other clouds to move in and enhance the appearance of the moon.
In summary, follow all the technical steps necessary to create a successful photo (hold the camera steady, chose the appropriate aperture, expose properly, etc.), but remember to take steps and make decisions to insure your images are artistically pleasing to you as well.
P.S. After this second shot, the wind continued to build strength, and mini-whitecaps soon developed. Although I knew the gorgeous evening twilight would last another 5-10 minutes, I chose to pack up and go home instead of fighting the non-productive conditions that had developed. Remember that a successful photo requires a good subject, good light, and good conditions. When any of these three elements is missing, the likelihood of creating a great image plummets. Go home and watch something good on TV (In a future article I may discuss the likelihood of that happening in this age of reality show dominance).