Photoessay: Prague nightscapes

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Not your typical postcard

Today’s photoessay is a series off nightscapes from Prague. I’ve always found night photography requires a bit of an ‘inertial hump’ to get over – especially if you’re out hauling the tripod for some long exposures; there’s an optimum window just after dusk when the sky is a dark blue and not totally black, balancing off with the ambient illumination of the buildings. It means you have to carefully plan your locations and/or route in order to be at the right place at the right time; on top of that, I find the actual shooting window is pretty small – perhaps two hours at best unless you’re living at extreme latitudes in summer.

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The world under the bridge

The upshot of this is that whilst the absolute number of images produced tends to be low, productivity tends to be high: you’re shooting less because you’re forced to work slower, but because you’re forced to work slower, you’re thinking more. (And that is one of the reasons a tripod is such a critical piece of equipment.) As with every photographic discipline, it takes a lot of practice to get to the point where one is fairly confident of the outcome; practice and repetition help, but only up to a point especially where there simply may not be that many opportunities. It’s also not that easy to visualise what a 1, 5, 10 minute exposure might look like. I suspect a lot of people never try because they don’t have the patience. But that would be a shame, since the results can be very satisfying indeed…MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, 24mm and 45mm PCEs, Zeiss Otus 1.4/85, and the Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar. Postprocessing using Photoshop Workflow II, of course.

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Dancing House I

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From the Old Town side

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Channeling O’Keefe

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Dancing house II

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Not much has changed

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Dancing house III (time is a continuum)

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Roots

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Motion in the rain

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Master at work… Wonderful!

  2. I wonder about those textures in the sky? What is it? Is it done by downsizing the image…?

    • Some of it is jpeg compression – it’s especially noticeable on smooth tonal transitions, and operates in 8x8px blocks.

      • And how would you avoid this?

        • For web size? No choice unless you can afford to burn bandwidth with TIFFs. For full size, it’s not a problem because file sizes are not an issue…

        • You can try something like BPG that has a way to decode in javascript and offers far quality for file size. Check links under the “Demo” here, which incidentally run in your existing browser: http://bellard.org/bpg/

          It’s a proprietary file format and the javascript decoder won’t help search engines index such images, but it’s possible to export from a lossless format into BPG, and use that for web serving.

          • I should’ve said “non-standard” rather than “proprietary”. The software is open source; it’s written by the same person who made FFmpeg, Qemu, and for those who are old enough to remember, LZEXE.

  3. Beautiful work, Ming! “Motion in the rain” must have been a fun shot. Thanks for the continued inspiration.

  4. Samuel Jessop says:

    I really love the first one of this series, and a good reminder that the ‘rules’ of photography are there to be broken. The more obvious subject is in the background, almost hidden from view. The lamp is in the centre. Very effective.

  5. Nicolas Douez says:

    Technically spotless. Yet you may have missed the very particular night spirit of that city. What did you want to capture and show ? What’s the link between “Motion in the rain” and the rest of the series ?
    I’m not too sure.
    BTW, there are no apartments in the Dancing House. Offices everywhere, and a restaurant at the top.

    • There is no link because there was never intended to be. Walk around on a rainy night early in the week and the ‘particular night spirit’ is very different to a clear Saturday. There is isolation, there is cold detachment, and that was the intention.

  6. Ming,

    Motion in the Rain is spectacular! Well done! How did you get the controlled motion? Were you manually moving it or did you have your ballhead “loose”?

  7. “Roots” is spectacular. Great light.

  8. Beautiful. I love the photo of Charles Bridge.

  9. Craig Weinlein says:

    OUTSTANDING!! Some of the finest night shots I have ever seen.

    Well done Ming.

  10. Jorge Balarin says:

    Superb set of photos.

  11. Ah the (cold) memories! Totally worth the effort 🙂

  12. Alex Carnes says:

    They’re fantastic. Nothing more to add!

  13. Lucy march says:

    Gorgeous set, Ming! Sometimes it takes darkness to really see the light.

  14. A city with an interesting mix of old and new. What is the dancing building’s ‘day job’? Had to ask!

  15. Great shots, lovely mix of old and new architecture. Thanks for sharing

  16. Stunning work Ming. *Motion in the rain* is perhaps my favorite among these crackers, but any of them is a study. It is photographs like these that underlines how my laziness not carrying a tripod every now and then, robs me off a creative opportunity I think I would be very happy to see the results of.
    I could wish that my 810 in LV would show me the image building up like it does on my EM1. Yeah, and still I would need to bring out that tripod no matter the camera in use, damn 🙂

    • Thanks Gerner – that one was shot with Ian from the top of the freezing Vyshrad hill in the rain. Apparently some people on FB really take exception to my titles though…

  17. Wonderful images Ming. Thanks for sharing!

  18. It amazes me that you can go to Prague and never duplicate your past ideas and somehow find your way to something so new, surprising and exciting. You’re still improving all the time, Ming! Great set!

  19. Mike Stewart says:

    Yet another useful article, thanks for sharing Ming. Love the images here!

    Do you ever use a ND filter at night to force longer shutter speeds for effect beyond simply stopping down? i.e. longer / more dramatic light tracers from car lights, street lamps, etc. I ask as you mention 1, 5, even 10 minute exposure times. In my limited night photography experiments thusfar (all of it shooting urban areas), I rarely have exposure times approaching 30 seconds. I don’t stop down beyond f8 to avoid diffraction.

    TIA and cheers 🙂

    • Yes I do – for the precise reason you mention. Sometimes you need >30s, or you want to maintain a certain optimal aperture and ISO but have that shutter speed. I have a B+W 10 stop and 1-5 stop Vario.

      • I find that with my camera I am also limited to a 30 second exposure, unless I use an intervalometer or bulb. Do you ever stack your ND’s to get the effect you want to achieve in your photos? Great work, by the way.

        • Thanks. If it’s very bright, yes. Rarely though as I have ISO 32 on the D810.

          • how do you find iso32 vs 64?
            i’ve been shooting everything at 64, assuming that yields the best files, and letting other variables sort of fall in place around that, sort of as a formalist experiment, also restricting focal length.
            REALLY like that last shot. very striking effect.
            keep on.

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