How to Turn On a City’s Lights in Your Photos Using Lightroom

Turning on the lights in your photos can change the whole atmosphere of your scene and let the glow come from the city itself. This is how you can turn on the lights in your photos using just one slider.

You might not always catch the perfect dusk photo with the city lights on, so this is a great tool to have as a photographer!

First of all, your photo needs to match a time of day where the lights would be on and noticeable. In bright daylight, you wouldn’t be able to see those lights turned on, obviously.

So this is a photo which was taken at the blue hour on the Place Vendome in Paris. It was captured right before the lights actually turned on, but had I waited for that, blue hour would have been gone.

Turn on city lights using lightroom

Let’s get to the technique: You need to be able to use your zoom in Lightroom, so make sure that to fit your zoom to 100% and 200%, and then with the space bar, you can move around on your photo.

Next, create a radial circle and boost the exposure fully and then create a small circle within the light — try to make a smaller circle for a more natural effect. Once you have lit up that first light, you can right-click on it and duplicate the radial circle.

If you have stacked lamps, you can make a bigger circle. This is the most time-consuming part as you will need to do this step for each lamp of the scene, making sure your circle fits nicely in your lamp.

Turn on city lights using lightroom

Once that is done, you can also add some yellow to add warmth to the lamps. The next, very important step is to create a new mask with a new radial circle and boost the exposure a little bit, but not as much as that first step, and then make a bigger circle around the lamp to recreate that glow coming from the light. You can right-click and duplicate that onto the other lamp:

Turn on city lights using lightroom

You now have two masks. If you select the first mask, you will see that using the exposure slider you will be to fully turn on and off the lights of the city and with the second mask, you will be able to make the light glow or be more subtle.

My last tip is to underexpose a little bit of the overall picture so that your city lights glow even more.

Turn on city lights using lightroom

About the author: Serge Ramelli is a landscape and fine art photographer who has published numerous books on the subject. His fine art photography has been sold in one of the largest gallery networks in the world. Ramelli hosts a YouTube Channel where he teaches photography and editing techniques which you can subscribe to here.