Portland at Night

I was helping my brother-in-law move some things out of his apartment in Portland, Oregon this last weekend.  I had about an hour to spare before loading things up, so I took a walk up the east shore of the Willamette River near OMSI.

I’ve learned over the last decade to listen to my wife.  She suggested I take my camera to Portland, and I told her several times I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have a chance to use it.  But she talked me into it and I’m glad I had it!

Portland, OR - 35mm, 3 sec @ f/11, ISO800

Portland, OR – 35mm, 3 sec @ f/11, ISO 800

What I did NOT have was my tripod. So I had to raise my ISO setting and brace my camera on the walkway or posts I found.  It’s always a balancing act and a compromise between the “trinity”: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO speed.  Fortunately, the EOS 6D is great for night time photos because the ISO can be fairly high without losing a lot of detail.  A smaller aperture in this first shot required me to hold my camera against the edge of a dock to steady it during the 3 second exposure. Half my shots were still blurry or soft and had to be tossed out.


Portland - 35mm, 1/15, f/2.8, ISO 3200

Portland – 35mm, 1/15, f/2.8, ISO 3200

For the above shot, I tried hand holding the camera without bracing it against anything. I used a higher ISO and wider aperture to get more light for the faster shutter speed.  Even with Image Stabilization, 1/15 of a second is stupid slow for hand held shots, so I pretended to be a sniper, breathing slowly out and squeezing the shutter very slowly.  Just trying to avoid any shake in my hands or body.  I did use a little noise reduction in Lightroom, but that’s a pretty nice looking shot for ISO 3200!


Portland - 35mm, 1/6, f/4.0, ISO 1600

Portland – 35mm, 1/6, f/4.0, ISO 1600

I did take some shots with my 17-40mm lens, but I found that the wider angle shots made the details too far away to truly appreciate, and 35mm allowed me to simplify my compositions enough to make them somewhat interesting. A strip of city lights across the middle of a frame just isn’t that appealing, but incorporating the bridges and getting a little closer helped a lot.


Portland - 20mm, 10 sec, f/11, ISO 800

Portland – 20mm, 10 sec, f/11, ISO 800

Here’s a shot I did use the EF 17-40 f/4L at 20mm because I wanted a little more sky and water. Interesting to notice the star pattern difference around the lights in this shot compared to the first shot with the EF 35mm f/2 IS.  Different optics and apertures… This is one of those shots I was bracing the camera against the edge of a dock and managed to keep it still for 10 seconds.

This is kind of a basic of photography, but it’s still interesting to note that over a 10 second exposure, the water closer to the camera is more blurred and it sharpens up the farther away you look. It’s all really moving about the same speed.  Which was pretty fast. I had my 7-year-old with me and told him to stay in the middle of the dock walkway. If he fell in, it would be a real trick to catch him and get him back to shore in the quick moving, frigid December water. Then we’d both have to deal with hypothermia.  Just gotta think ahead and try to prevent things like that.

I want to do more of this kind of photography in the future.  Preferably with a tripod, so I have more control over settings.  But it means getting out there on location just before the “blue hour” so the sky still has some color and isn’t completely black.  I’m very fortunate to have a patient wife who lets me take off on photo outings alone, or waits for me when I hold everybody up while I shoot something that grabbed my attention.