A long exposure night in Chicago

March 15th, 2012 by John Batdorff

This past weekend’s warm weather made for some great night photography. I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly 15 years (on/off) and it’s a very rare evening that you can see the stars, given all the light pollution, but this past weekend was spectacular.

I decided to focus on taking a few long exposures to capture the energy and beauty of the city. The great thing about a long exposure is there’s very little that can go wrong once you have the setup nailed. The key of course is having a sturdy tripod, cable release, and lot of patience. There’s a lot of math that you can do to help achieve the right exposure, but I’m a simple kind of guy (that means math dumb) so I prefer to set my camera on B (bulb exposure), select a higher f-stop and start taking test shots. I usually start at around a minute and work my exposure time up or down depending on available light.

Chicago Lights



City of Lights

City of Lights (ISO 100, 268 secs, f/16, 20mm focal range on Canon 16-35) — This image took a significant amount of time to expose properly, tipping the scales at nearly 5 minutes. Now, I could have stopped the exposure at around 3 minutes, but I wanted an image that almost appeared overexposed, because it’s much easier to add black back into an image like this versus bumping up the lights (highlights). Later I finished this image off in Color Efex Pro 4 using several filters to bring my vision into focus. In terms of composition, I decided to leave the airplane lights in the image because I felt it added to the overall “big city” feel and energy.

Lake Shore Drive -Evening



Lake Shore Drive

Lake Shore Drive (ISO 100, 27secs, f/16- Zeiss 50mm) — The hardest part about this shot is getting to the right location.  I guess photography shares the realtor’s adage…”location, location, location.” I took this image from a pedestrian overpass that gave me a glimpse of the John Hancock building to help solidify it’s Chicago identity. You might think you need to take this shot over a very long period of time, but in the world of long exposure, this is a very quick shot coming in at 27 secs.  Whenever you have a lot of fast moving lights the longer the exposure the softer and blurrier the lights will appear. Once again, I later processed this image using Color Efex Pro 4 and a few my favorite filters.

It was a wonderful evening and I hope you enjoy the images.

p.s. Side note: we still have a few spots open for my Chicago Workshops, where I’ll be discussing how to create images just like these. Hope to see you there!

Check out the 2012 Batdorff Photography Workshops



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