Photographing Moscow by Night

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L lens @ 24mm. Exposure Composite 1 to 8 sec f8 ISO 100.

The vibrant colors of major Moscow landmarks near Red Square at night.

Moscow is a large and busy city. I visited in late summer and benefitted from long days and balmy nights. This photo was made on such a night, just outside the walls of the Kremlin (i.e., the back right of the frame) and only a few minutes walk from Red Square and the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Travel Photography is a Hard Slog

I was nearing the end of an intensive six week trip and would have preferred accommodation that was both better and closer to the major attractions. My hotel was not terribly well organized so, rather than hiring a car and driver, I either walked or took the subway to most places I wanted to visit.

I actually found it quite easy to engage with many younger locals, but was given the “don’t darken my doorstep” routine by numerous shopkeepers, including a pharmacy where I was desperately seeking relief for bed bug sores. It might be simplistic but, in Russia, most folks were educated on one side or the other of Perestroika and Glasnost. Naturally I prefer Russian's with a warmer, more open approach to those from the West. And I'm fortunate indeed to have met plenty of those good folk too.

Why I Do What I Do

It’s simply a myth to think that travel photography is an exotic lifestyle. It’s an extremely hard slog and you rarely have the time or opportunity to experience much of what most folks are able to enjoy on holiday. But what you do have is the opportunity to immerse yourself in what you love most.

In my case that’s the pursuit of beauty and the in some of the most exotic and exciting locals. Travel and photography, married together, allows me to live life at a higher intensity and at a deeper level than I’m otherwise able to do in my normal, everyday life.

Life is an Adventure   

Perhaps it’s the recovering Catholic in me, but I absolutely subscribe to the notion that our most positive experiences are often derived through adversity. A former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was condemned for what was actually a very reasonable statement, “Life Wasn’t Meant to be Easy”.

Buy the way, it's your last chance to sign up for my Night Photography in the City of Melbourne Photography workshop this Wednesday, March 26. You can check out all the details HERE.

Call it HDR if You Want

This image is a composite, combining four separate exposures, ranging from one-second up to eight-seconds in length. Those four individual exposures are combined into a new composite image in a software application like Photomatix Pro, Nik HDR Effex Pro 2 or through a feature in recent versions of Photoshop called HDR Pro.

It’s a fact that scenes that contain significant differences in the brightness between important shadow and highlight areas cannot be recorded onto a single exposure. This has always been one of the greatest limitations of photography and one of the most difficult concepts for folks to wrap their heads around. Back in the day it was easier to blame old yellow (i.e., Kodak), even when you were using Fuji or Agfa film, right? 

Tone Mapping

Under such conditions the differences between the shadows and highlights are beyond what the camera’s sensor can record in a single exposure. The technique where multiply images, each made at varying exposures (e.g., levels of brightness) are combined into a new composite image is referred to as Tone Mapping. The result is the re-mapping of the high dynamic range (i.e., high contrast) scene into a single frame. The next step is to process that image in a way that produces a desirable result.

High Dynamic Range (i.e., HDR) photography is simply the latest way to manage high contrast scenes in a way that allows us to produce results potentially closer to the way we remembered the original scene. And then there are those folks who use the software to produce results that are, well, somewhat more removed from reality. But that’s okay, it’s a photograph of a sunset, it’s not actually a sunset. 

Everyone’s a Critic

So, go for it and have fun. By all means, knock yourself out. Call it art if you like. But whether it’s good art or not is another thing and, despite modern opinions on the subject, such things are not determined by personal preference. Remember Jim, “The Needs of the Many, Outweigh the Needs of the Few.” 

Remembering Old Yellow

Speaking of my time at Kodak I once had a flatmate, and a very good friend at that time, who went back to her home country of New Zealand where she undertook the famous Milford Trek. I was working at Kodak at the time so I provided her with free film and personally processed and printed the photos for her. The so called one hour processing took all of my lunch breaks for an entire week. 

I reprinted those films, again and again, in an attempt to produce acceptable results. I really did the absolute best job I could. And it was no ordinary lab that I was working in. It was the Kodak Photo Technology Centre where, I can assure you, processing machines and the chemicals they contained were maintained in absolutely tip top condition.

Unfortunately the photos were rubbish and I was severely admonished on the results I presented to my formally mild mannered and outwardly reasonable flatmate. The problem, however, wasn’t that they were amongst the worst photos I’d ever seen, but that my dear friend was not prepared to take responsibility for them. Clearly she was ahead of her time, as this trait seems to be well and truly present in today’s society.

From her point of view she had a pretty good camera and she’d travelled all the way to New Zealand. It was therefore obvious that I was, somehow, responsible for such horrible results. As I often say you can give a man a one hundred dollar hammer, but that don’t make him no good builder. Actually, that’s probably the first time I’ve said it in those words. But I like it.  

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru