Photographing Cityscapes at Sunset

Karl and the team head to the top of Montparnasse Tower to take some stunning photographs of the city of Paris.

Karl talks you through this process and explains the essential kit needed for nighttime cityscapes. You’ll learn how getting your timing right is crucial to getting the perfect balance between city light and ambient light.

With the techniques covered in this photography class, you’ll be able to create eye-catching images and understand how to easily and effectively capture inspiring cityscape images.

In this travel photography class:

  • Travel photography: How to photograph cityscapes
  • How to photograph at night
  • Useful equipment for night photography
  • Long exposure photography tips
  • Photographing using high ISO

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hello Karl, question about DOF: I have gotten in the habit of shooting almost everything at f/16, unless I have a good reason not to. I have found that even with landscapes, this isn’t enough to get everything in focus, so I sometimes do focus stacks. Those don’t always work out due to moving leaves and blades of grass, but sometimes they do if the images have clearly separated regions. In your case, you don’t have a depth of field issue because you’re shooting down from a height, rather than straight across while standing in the environment.

    If you were in the environment, what would you do? Live with blur in part of the image? Or something else?

    Also, regarding exposure, you got fantastic results. I’ve never seen shots like that without postprocessing to even out the tones. Is that true of your images. The video isn’t clear on that point. I’ve done quite a lot of architectural shots lately with a high dynamic range. To get the exposure right, I take separate exposures for the bright, dark, and midtones, then blend them manually in Photoshop. I do not use the HDR tool, which seems really bad to me. If there is a way to use it that achieves acceptable results, I’d like to know what it is, because doing it manually can take half a day.

    1. Hi, this is a good point and the best class to answer that are these where I cover where I focus and what I consider acceptable:

      The bottom line is to decide what is the most import feature in your photograph – that certainly has to be sharp for sure the rest is a little flexible in my opinion. In answer to your second question I’m not a fan of HDR either, I think we’ve got one or two classes here at VE where I’ve used it but most of my work tries to get the exposure balance managed and within the dynamic range by using graduated ND filters, either the correct way up or upside down depending on what I’m shooting. Often this will be combined with straight ND filters and polarisers. There are occassions though where one extra shot for the highlights or shadows can be useful.

  2. Hi — just started working through this course and noticed the “Next class” and “Previous class” episodes are shown the wrong way round. For example, this page shows the course introduction as the next class, and the sunrise episode as the previous class.

  3. Is this spot open to the public? I’m wondering how to gain access to rooftops like this. Did you reach out to building owners? Would love insider tips on accessing these spots with camera and videography gear, tripods, etc.


    Hello Karl,

    The videos are fantastic and the photos are awesome. I always wanted to know how to achieve a photo taken at night. I have taken one of the Brooklyn bridge in NY but as I can see the ISO was just too high cause it produced a lot of grain. Now just curious, What IOS did you have your camera at to get that photo?

    1. Hi, thank you. As this was the older model 5dmk2 I wouldn’t have gone above 400ISO for a shot like this but on today’s cameras you can shoot to ISO1600 without too much noise problems. If you feel the noise may be too much then of course you can reduce your ISO and simply increase your exposure time (longer shutter speed) I just couldn’t do that on this occasion as I wanted to ‘freeze’ the beam of light from the Eifel tower but in all other instances it wouldn’t really matter as you will see in some of our other classes.

  5. Hey Karl, could you explain the part where you said you needed to boost the ISO in order to use a shutter speed of 1/8.. since aperture would not have mattered in this instance you could open it up and allow
    more light, but would it still be too dark and thus you bumped the ISO up?

    1. Hi Arya, yes of course for the night version of the shot my aperture was already at f2.8 which is the largest aperture available on that particular lens (16-35mm f2.8L) so it was not possible to open the aperture any larger so the only option was to increase the ISO to maintain the shutter speed of 1/8th sec that was necessary to record the light beam from the Eiffel Tower.

      1. Hi Karl,
        I am new to your online learning.
        I am quite impressed with effort to answer maximum queries by users.
        Incredible effort!
        Also I must say your quality of images are class apart. Even your website has a unique colour gradation which is quite soothing and I never noticed anything similar anywhere else.

        I have query too today regarding the photo of Paris.

        F2.8 is maximum aperture you could opened. F2.8 would have shallow depth of field too.

        Does depth of field matter here at all?

        Lets say this shot was of early morning just after sunrise with enough light then what would be your preferred f-stop?
        Thanks in advance.

        1. Hi Mathew, thank you for your comments. Ideally we would want to shoot at a smaller aperture if we wanted more depth of field or often the best optical quality of the lens is actaully around f8 in terms of resolution of the lens. However when it comes to depth of field in a shot like this if you are focused at infinity or almost infinity then there is no depth of field to worry about because everything you are photographing is already far away and in the focus zone. Here I used f2.8 knowing that but knowing that I could also get more light into the camera ensuring that I didn’t have to increase my ISO or lengthen the shutter speed both of which would have had a negative impact on this particular shot. Wide angle lenses also naturally have a greater depth of field that say using f2.8 on a telephoto lens as depth of field is also a manifestation of magnification, the more magnification the less depth of field, the less magnification (wide angle lens) then the greater the natural depth of field. In answer to your last part of the question if there was plenty of light then on a shot f8 or f11 simply to benefit from the optical ‘sweet spot’ of the lens.

  6. Fab shots – inspirational.

    I like that you include F-stop and shutter speed. Can you also include ISO, please, so us amateurs can get some sense of the balance you’ve had to strike.

    Thank you

    1. Hi John, sorry that’s usually on there. 95% of the time I’m shooting at the default ISO which in this case would be 100.

  7. Wow, I just looked up Paris pollution levels, based on your video and images— they are running at roughly 50,000 premature deaths per year now, due to just air pollution. They say it is the worst in decades, and have temporarily outlawed cars 20 years old or older, as they periodically have worse days than Berlin and Beijing (that really amazed me!). Like i said—I had no idea Paris had gotten so much worse. Such a beautiful city in many places, with so much going for it otherwise.
    Glad they and the EU are working on it, as it has reached what they are now calling Alert status, due to increase mortality risks, significant impact on tourism and quality of life.

  8. Hi Karl, on whichever browser I use, am also seeing each part to be only about 3min. Do you mean to say that the full session (with a collection of small videos) is about 20min?

    1. Hi Jonathon, the same thing i mentioned to Gkarnik, in this module some of the chapters are a bit shorter, if you check out some of our other chapters they are over an hour long, it just depends on how much we were able to film/ what the edit required, we are filming new landscape modules next week so there is plenty more coming ?

  9. Hello Karl, the second image at the end of the video shows an aperture of 2.8, could you explain that to me. Your depth of field would be small would it not. And when shooting landscapes are you setting the lens to infinity, or where would you place your focus on a shot such as this.


    1. Hi Gerry, on top of a skyscraper as in this case the distance to the nearest object was at the infinity focus point so there was no concern for depth of field. What there was a concern for was keeping the ISO low in the low light so on some shots where I need a short shutter speed for no car trails then the larger aperture was needed, where longer shutter speeds were used then of course the aperture could be closed down. In instances such as this the focus point is AF to the most significant part of the scene, then it is set to manual a test shot is taken and I zoom in on the preview image and pan around it to check the other areas. Cheers Karl.

    1. Hi Gkarnik, in this module some of the chapters are a bit shorter, if you check out some of our other chapters they are over an hour long, it just depends on how much we were able to film/ what the edit required, we are filming new landscape modules next week so there is plenty more coming ?

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