Night Photography: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Travel photography, for all that entails, is my favorite type of photography. There is nothing that beats the excitement of seeing a new place, new people, new sites that re-ignites my inspiration for photography.

Travel photography for Paris, known as the city of lights, would not be complete with some night shots. During our vacation to Paris in May 2014, I ventured out to take this night shot of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

A 5-second exposure without using a tripod!

Traveling without a tripod, I managed to take a 5-second long exposure. Read on to see how I managed to steady the camera and set my exposure to achieve the starbursts light effect without a starburst filter.

First, I placed my DSLR on the stone ledge of the bridge in the picture below to steady the camera for a long exposure. I got lucky. You can say that I found rock steady support. 😉

Behind the scenes shot showing where I placed my camera for the night shot of Notre Dame. Reverse angle as this was taken from the south bell tower (left bell tower as shown in the night shot) a few days prior to the night shot.

To capture the night shot, I set the f-stop to f/9 to get good depth of field and to get a star burst effect from the bright lights. The smaller f-stop will achieve the same starburst light effects as a dedicated starburst filter, but without the price or weight (for traveling) of a real filter.

Focus was on the gangway, taking advantage of the the lens’ hyperfocal distance which places the depth of field front the front of the barge all the way back to the cathedral. Most other lenses would require a setting of f/16 or smaller aperture to achieve the same depth of field, but the Nikon AF-S 14-24mm is a super-wide angle lens with deep depth of field already. Next, I traded off low ISO settings to minimize noise, while keeping a reasonable shutter speed because the barge restaurant would be blurred since it is floating (and bobbing up/down) on the River Seine. For this exposure, I set the ISO to 400 to achieve good color rendition and low noise, while keeping the shutter speed to a reasonable 5 seconds. You can see that even at 5 seconds, there was considerable motion blur which is particularly notable on the billboard and restaurant name on the side of the barge.

Alternative settings: Lowering the ISO to 200 (-1 stop) would have increased the shutter speed to 10 seconds (+1 stop), which is too long to keep the barge clear. Increasing to ISO to 800 (+1 stop) would have shorten the shutter speed to 2.5 seconds (-1 stop), but at the cost of color fidelity and slight noise level. Keeping the aperture at f/9 was enough to attain depth of field. Otherwise lenses would require a higher f-stop like f/16, which would have required either raising the ISO or increasing the shutter speed. Both of which are not desirable. This is an example of knowing your equipment and making the best use of it.

Just for kicks, sometimes I will crop the original image to other aspect angles to see what can be accomplished. I cropped the same night shot image with the just the Notre Dame Cathedral, without the barges. With the cathedral now as the subject, I carefully placed the cathedral using the rule of thirds.

Notre Dame Cathedral night shot cropped as panorama image

Equipment: Nikon D600 DSLR, Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G @ 24mm. Exposure 5 seconds @ f/9, iso 400.

[(Ô] HtL.

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