Photo: Street at night

Taken by: Alexey Samoylenko

Nikon D3, 12-24mm, 3secs at f/11, ISO 800

I rather like empty streets at night; they’re often colourful and look unusual. We’re used to seeing them full of cars, trucks and human life, but at night it’s all swept away and the scene takes on a completely different appearance. Sometimes, though, wide streets at night can lack a point of focus – something for us to latch onto that draws our attention. I try not to create images in which all elements have equal importance, as the viewer doesn’t know where to look first. Open, empty streets shot without careful composition can easily leave the viewer without direction.

What I like about Alexey’s image is that we have the (almost) empty street scene, but there’s the wonderful added interest of the man waiting for his kebab who we can see through the shop window. Suddenly we have a strong subject, and the rest of the frame, the street scene, becomes just backing vocals.

The problem with the street area of the shot, though, is that we don’t believe it really looked like that. Alexey is showing off the dynamic range of his Nikon D3, but in doing so has created a tonal range most humans won’t recognise. Whenever we’ve been out for a kebab late at night the shadows aren’t filled quite like that, and the dark parts of the street are actually dark. And if we opened the front door and saw a sky like that, we’d more than likely assume that a volcanic eruption must have happened in the next town and we weren’t hungry any more. Alexey’s moderating of the architectural contrast does not match his darkening of the dramatic sky, and they seem to have come from two different scenes.

I’ve reintroduced a bit of contrast, darkened the shadows and allowed the colours to shine through. I think that’s probably more like the way the place looked, and we can relate to it more readily. I can’t do much about the sky without the original file, but it’s a little less threatening and imposing now. There’s a good deal more road than we need for a run-up into the picture, so I’ve also cropped the scene to 16×9 widescreen to enhance the movie-like atmosphere.


After: The final edited image in widescreen format.

A nice scene, Alexey, and a great inclusion of the kebab-shop window, but keeping things realistic creates a more believable image.