Skyline photo at night

edited February 2017 Posted in » Nikon D5200 Forum
Hey! So the last couple of nights I have been trying to get a great shot of the San Diego skyline. I have not been successful at all. I have been using the "Low Light" tips. Not sure if that is the right setting for what I am trying to achieve. The photos look great on my screen, but when I get home the buildings, sailboats, etc are so blurry! I have the focus on Auto, but that changes all of my settings; I have also tried manual. Any recommendations
on how to be successful? I am very new at photography. I purchased the cheat cards, but didn't really see one for this type of situation. Thanks for your help in advance!



  • edited February 2017
    My apologies, I have been using a 18-270mm 1;3.5-6.3 lens. I bought the cheat card for the 18-300mm.
  • edited February 2017
    Hi @NICKH8771,
    Mooses cheat sheets for the 18-300mm will be close enough for the 18-270mm.
    Just a note on photographing skylines at night. I assume you are using a tripod, and if not, you should be. Professional photographers will often arrive at their chosen destination a while before sundown. That way they can do all their focusing while there is still light. Then they wait patiently for darkness. Makes sense when you think of it.
  • edited February 2017
    Hey @PBKED, yeah I have been using a tripod. Out of curiosity, what do you normally have your settings set too?
  • When you say you had the focus on "auto" and it changed all your settings, it suggests you may be confusing auto exposure with auto focus.

    I suggest you revisit the recommended settings, but while on the tripod make sure that the lens itself is set to "M" or that the camera's AF choice is "Manual" in the af menu. Then switch to Live View, and manually focus the view using that screen. You can zoom in to specific details using the [+] button, which will zoom only the viewfinder, not the image itself.

    As for what to focus on, it will depend some on how far away everything is, but you should probably decide what, in your final picture, would be most distracting if a little blurry. I am guessing that in the pictures you're speaking of, it would be a good idea to make the most prominent boat on the river sharp, and hope that depth of field keeps the skyline itself sharp. A little fuzziness there is likely to be less critical than a fuzzy sailboat, and depth of field is greater behind your focus point than in front of it.

    As @pbked suggests, it can help to set up before it's too dark, as focusing is easier. There's usually some point of light available, but when it's really dark even that can be hard to find. Most zoom lenses these days will focus slightly past infinity, making it unfortunately a poor idea just to turn the lens all the way to the stop and hope. But if your lens has an actual distance scale, it might be possible to focus before dark, check the distance on the scale, and set to it later.
  • edited March 2017
    Couple of tips on finding infinity. First, it's not, as Moose correctly indicated, all the way to the stop. He's right in saying it must be turned back a tad. Here's how I found my tad.

    In daylight, put the lens on Manual focus then pick an object a long way away. Turn the adjusting ring all the way to the stop (past the in focus point), then back off until the object is in sharp focus to your eye. Don't forget to make sure the diopter is adjusted to your vision before you do this however. Once you've focused, note the spot on the ring and where it matches up with the lens barrel and mark it, (gently). That's your infinity spot. To verify, put the lens back in Auto focus and point at the same target. The lens may hunt for awhile, but when it stops, indicating focus lock, it will be in the same place as when focused manually. Also note that zooming the lens in or out does not change the focus point per se, as long as you don't refocus either manually or automatically.

    Don't forget switch VR to off on the lens when the camera's on a tripod to prevent any blur that may occur as the VR motor attempts to stabilize.

    If you're looking for guidelines on initial settings check out the "Night Sky" post on the forum.

  • Hey @nickH8771, if you have some examples, could you post them to an online gallery and link to them? You can also send a couple to my email (support "at" and I can take a look at the settings you used to offer up some additional advice.

    With regards to the cheat cards, I recommend the "Landscape/Architecture" scenario. This will utilize a tripod, the self-timer and a higher aperture to ensure you get a sharp result throughout the scene.
  • One final note which may or may not apply in the case of a D5200. One of the ways of getting good focus without switching all the way to manual focus is to adopt back button focus. In this case, you use the back button of the camera to operate the AF, and once it's established to your taste, you let go of the button, and it does not refocus when the shot is made. You can focus on a given point, and then recompose, and with the self timer it will make the shot as you set it up.

    However, on the D3200, back button focus is disabled when the infrared remote is used. If you use the remote instead of the self timer, it will revert to shutter button focus, attempt to focus in the dark, and either change your setting or fail altogether. Back button focus also does not work correctly with Live View in AFF, though it is fine in AFS. The self timer will not work at all in Live View with AFF. It will start counting down but never shoot. Back button focus works 100 percent with viewfinder mode in all settings and self timer.

    Some of these undocumented quirks are not present in the D7100. Since the D5xxx family lies between the two, it's hard to know which it shares and which it does not.

    Manual focus will always work.
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