1. take advantage of "warm" weather in December
Photographers are also part-time meteorologists. They can tell you how cold it will be tomorrow at sunrise, how much rain/snow we should be expecting, and how good the fog will be for a photo-walk. I have been doing most of my photo-walks on Saturday mornings, just before sunrise, and lately, it has been pretty cold! For this shot, though, I was enjoying the unusually-mild December weather. It was cloudy, which created a more moody sky, but it was also warm, which means doing longer exposures, in this case 20sec., was not so punishing.
2. Use smaller APERTURE
When I first started getting into photography, I shot everything with the lens wide open. This means using my 35mm prime lens at f1.8. This is very good at isolating subject(s), but for something like a city or landscape, it tends to produce very soft images, with narrow depth of field. For the longest time, I did not know why my landscape photos are out focus; only a tree in a field, for example, would be sharp. For this particular photo, I decreased the size of the aperture to f/18. In doing so, less light was allowed in, but I was also able to sharply capture the features of the buildings. Reducing the size of the aperture means that you would have to compensate for the loss of light by decreasing the shutter speed (in this case 20sec.) to let more light in or by increasing the ISO value. I chose the former, as I am not a big fan of the noise produced by higher ISO value, but there are certain cases where this is unavoidable.
3. Close light sources sometimes suck!
Lights create bright and colourful images. City lights in particular can create a sense of movement, a busier-mood, that is often difficult to produce in natural landscapes with nature light sources. But lights can also be problematic. Light sources close to the camera, especially when doing long exposures, can create unwanted glare, disruptive or distracting colours, or create massive, unwanted starbursts effect. I initially shot this image down by the canal, closer to the buildings. My shots were not bad, but the streetlights dominated my images. The long exposure created starbursts that are annoying to look at. The lights were too bright, and therefore too distracting, leading the viewers' gaze away from the intended subject of the photo. This was shot in the balcony of the National Art Centre where the streetlights were far away!
4. Bring a shutter remote
If you can avoid it, do not touch your camera when doing long-exposure photography; not to hold your camera still or to even press the shutter button. Just like producing silky, but sharp waterfall shots, long exposure photography produces sharp images when the camera is absolutely stationary. Unless it is the intended effect, you do not want to spend 20 seconds or more in December weather on a single shot only to have it come out blurry. For this shot, I used my shutter remote with a 2 second delay. You do not need an expensive one either! you can pick one up from Amazon for less than $10.00.
5. Utilize reflections.
I was so focused on the technical aspects of my shots during this photo-walk that I completely ignored the things that make long-exposures of cityscapes great: reflections. Reflections can be challenging to use in night photography because you are at the mercy of often-limited, man-made light sources. However, when used well, it can produce stunning images. Check out this stunning image of the Laurier Bridge by Roland Bast, for example. From this shot, I learned that I need to creatively used reflections. I could have incorporated the reflections of the buildings in the canal, for instance. This would have created a far more interesting photo than the one above.