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Learn how to make an abstract cityscape photo

We are continuing posting tutorials on our blog with the secrets about how 1x photos are made. This is the best way to be inspired for your own projects, take your photography to the next level and have more photos published on the front page! Learn how our very skilled 1x member Mel Brackstone's Cityscape was made below!

© Mel Brackstone.

I was tutoring a class of students in creative photography, so organised to meet them at a spot under the Story Bridge, looking towards the city. I wanted to show them how to use zoom and out of focus techniques, so we all placed our cameras onto our tripods and pointed them towards the lights of the apartment buildings across the river.

I was lucky to have positioned myself where there was one tall building with many lights next to a lower retail establishment with quite a few colours. I zoomed my 70-200mm lens in and set the aperture to f/11. Setting the Canon 5D on timed exposure, I then let it run for 30 seconds whilst I not only zoomed out, I also defocused.

Needless to say there were many different results, some were interesting and some were not. We spent a couple of hours trying different combinations of zoom blur and defocus and had an entertaining evening. I enjoy attempting random chaotic processes and my class of that evening agreed that it was refreshing to play with our cameras rather than just shoot the evening city buildings.

 The only processing that was needed was a little bit of cloning for a dust spot, and straightening the horizon. 

My message is to try to have fun with your photography. I enjoy the process of capturing unique images, it adds to the challenge. Viewer reaction varies from place to place and constantly surprises me.

As with all chaotic and random processes, the only thing I can suggest is trying many different combinations of zoom and defocus in situations that you think you'll achieve a result. My thoughts on this are that you need lights to shoot and dark skies for long exposures however, neutral density filters could possibly be used to good effect in daytime situations, if the subject was right. I haven't tried that, though.

It was a good opportunity for me to attempt to teach my style however, the majority of my classes were made up of people with compact cameras that didn't allow creative work. To that end I don't teach there any more.


I have taken photographs as therapy since 1986 when I suffered a severe brain injury and now constantly need to keep my brain working in an attempt to bring it back to health. After finally getting some sort of thinking ability back in the early 2000's, I bought a camera to try and shoot macros, I picked up a second hand compact Canon G2 and then in 2004 I bought a Canon 20D DSLR. I only shot on P mode at first until I bought a Lensbaby lens and that was the start of my long learning process of trying to understand apertures and shutter speeds. Because of my limited ability to focus on one thing for too long, I'm still a long way from being technically competent however; I have managed to learn a great deal about creativity. This is the reason why it is important for me to have fun with my photography and the images I create.


I just found this today - don't know how long ago it was written, but I enjoyed it very much. I did some of those creative zoom defocus exercises with Bryan Peterson. Some were keepers. I do love your creativity and your images Mel. Carry on :)
My full respects to a real fighter against the illness and weakness, you have done so well and thank you for sharing your story with us, it is indeed very inspiring! A big hug!
very intriguing, thanks for the insight, Mel! Love the piece, a certain magic to it :)