Shanghai Night Skyline

Shanghai Night Skyline

This kind of shot architect/rendering company like to use as a CGI rendering to show the dual effects between the close up of the building and the skyline of the city. Supposedly showing how tenant can enjoy stunning view of the city from their own living room while the architect try to create the connection of his/her work to the urban context while still can show the hint of detail.

It is every effective as a marketing tool in the brochure. Interestingly, this kind of shots do not makes into magazine as a photograph as much as the CGI. Well, that’s partly to do with the fact that most photographers have not yet acquire the ability to levitate and hovering in mid-air outside the window to make the shot. But also, the light level between the inside and the outside is too great.

First, it probably easier than you think, find a room with adjacent balcony that can be over looked into. It’s again about location, location, location. Preferably this room should have a great back drop.


Second, more technical, you need to balance the light.

Of course, if you shoot this in mid day, the light level in the room is much much darker than the outside. The difference is probably about 10 stops between sun lit exterior surfaces and the shaded interior of the room. Your eyes can see both details but the camera would not be able to capture such a difference in dynamic range. I can probably use a few flashes to light the model up. But remember 4AA batteries powered flash would not be able to complete with nuclear fusion energy from the sun core. So you have to wait until the exterior light level drops to the level that gives your flash a chance to produce the light of equal brightness. Another benefit is all the buildings will start turning the lights on after sunset. It adds another layer your photo making it a lot more interesting than the day shot.

I find 10-30 minutes after the sun set is the best time to do this shot in my opinion. The light level is low enough but still have interesting color and definition on the clouds.Compare the photos above and below. Below is about 40 minutes to an hour after the sun has set. The sky is substantially darker and the clouds start to pick up some orange tint from sodium lamps on the streets. There is nothing wrong with it. It is perfect ok but not the look I’m after today. I feel the deep blue colour is more pleasing.




The light I use for this shot is just a single off-camera flash, adding a snoot to focus the beam onto the subject. It is again about balancing the level of flash and the natural light using aperture and shutter speed. I start with maximum shutter speed of 250 and drop it from there. There are already many people writing about balacing flash and natural light so I will not cover it here.

Lastly, you also need to balance the colour of lights. As mentioned, I was looking for nice pleasing blue colour on the sky. However for the interior, you probably want something warm to make it feel more like home. So an orange gel was added to the flash.