Photoshop Tricks for Neon Night Photography – Shanghai China Skyline, Oriental Pearl, Jin Mao Tower, World Financial Centre

Shanghai has one of the most spectacular nighttime skylines of any city in the world. It’s unmistakable for the Oriental Pearl Tower, World Financial Centre and Jin Mao Tower.

A few problems present themselves though:

  • Smog. The sky is thick with smog clouds which means the night sky never truly gets dark or any shade close to black. The luminence of the neon buildings reflect off the smog clouds making it look like daytime.
  • Lights everywhere. There are lights on just about every building and passing boat, lamp posts – you name it. All these lights create a lot of distraction in an image, especially if they are in the foreground.
  • Moving objects. There are a lot of boats moving along the Huangpu River at any given time. Most of these boats have coloured lights on them.

It’s not all bad news though. All of this can be fixed in Photoshop once you’ve taken the photos. Its best to use a remote shutter and also mirror lock up on your camera to avoid any bumps. A tripod is mandatory.

Here is the original image I took.

Shanghai City Skyline by Night - Pre Photoshop Editing. N. Hayter 2010

Shanghai City Skyline by Night - Pre Photoshop Editing. N. Hayter 2010

As you can see the sky is very light with light reflections off the smog clouds. There are 3 lamp posts and a metal staircase in the foreground which is very distracting. Because a relatively fast shutter speed was used, the boat with the blue lights going past hasn’t created a huge motion blur effect. I decide to leave this in the picture.

First job was to straighten the picture up. Obviously my tripod must have been on a bit of an angle or not fully extended. Pull yourself down a grid line to act as your horizon, then rotate the image. Next was to clone out the lamp posts and stair case. Then I went along and airbrushed out any unusual spots of light on the buildings. The final step was adjusting the gamma of the image down to make the sky darker. A little manual toggling of contrast and brightness and I was done. In all it took about 45 minutes of editing.

Shanghai City Skyline by Night - Post Photoshop Editing. N. Hayter 2010

Shanghai City Skyline by Night - Post Photoshop Editing. N. Hayter 2010

Using similar techniques I was able to take and clean up a few photos of the World Financial Centre (SWFC) and Jin Mao Tower.

World Financial Centre at Night Shanghai China. N.Hayter 2010

World Financial Centre at Night Shanghai China. N.Hayter 2010

Jin Mao Tower at Night Shanghai China. N.Hayter 2010

Jin Mao Tower at Night Shanghai China. N.Hayter 2010

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