Change of venue to a walk around the docks in pleasant company, always interesting thing to photograph going on as it is now a social centre for the city. It being evening and ending after dark rather suggested that we take a look at night photography, both with and without a tripod.
On the face of it, night photography is defined by two of the absolute essentials of photography. Firstly contrast, you have to go and find it. It will either be very low, which can make things muddy and ill defined or very high, which can call into question shadow and or highlight detail, losing it mainly. Then there is the whole light thing, rather the relative lack of it and the effect that has on the exposure triangle, camera shake and sensor noise.
Situation is also key. This post is going to look at the urban setting as that is where we were, which sets a very different array of questions than say, photographing the milky way in the Brecon Beacons. Urban settings have more immediate and multiple hazards, multiple opportunities too. That is not to say that you should go prancing around the countryside with anything but due care, it is a far more dangerous place than townies think.
Whereas there is a joy in wondering around looking for photo-opportunities you are far more likely to find them if you know what you are looking for (planned serendipity). Let’s start with the golden hour. The Golden Hour isn’t exactly an hour, it is short hand for, in photographic terms, a quality of light that is a function of the relationship between the angle of the sun to the earth. During that time the colour temperature of the light is around 3500 Kelvin because of the greater depth of the atmosphere it has to travel through.
Now you say, being on the ball, that makes the light bluer than the standard daylight of around 5500 Kelvin and you would be right. That soft quality of light that makes for good portraits as well as land, urban and seascapes (we will ignore sun rise for the purposes of this piece but the golden hour is that which starts around dawn) is a product of the low angle of the sun to the horizon which scatters the blue wavelengths relative to the red/yellow wavelengths which, psychologically, look warmer to us. Think instant no cost tanning. That low angle means long shadows too that are also softer than you will experience later in the day.
The time it is available is limited so there is a time pressure (though no excuse for bad technique, of course). It’s all in the preparation (a point worth repeating). Cloud cover will need to be monitored and factored in too. Knowing when today’s golden hours are, or tomorrows etc, depends upon your planning window, is fairly easy to calculate. I feel almost obliged to mention The Photographers Ephemeris at this point. It also worth persisting throughout the hour because of the speed the light changes is so rapid. ISO’s are likely to be higher and/or apertures wider and the White Balance, which will try to correct to daylight if left on auto, should be set to cloudy to preserve the warmth in the light.
Not that the setting of the sun should stop you, the urban landscape presents a myriad of possibilities, some of these we have spent some time on club outings photographing. The first thing to remember is a piece of advice from Scott Kelby and that is the last thing you do is put the camera on the tripod. Make up your mind what you are photographing, “Working the scene” to determine the most productive angles. Then fix the static element around that rather than restricting yourself the other way round. Handheld is also an option, depending on vibration reduction/how steady your hand/availability of something solid to brace yourself against or set the camera. Another tip I have found very useful is, when holding everything steady as you can, is to shoot a sequence using the motor drive that is built into virtually every camera these days. Five will get you one steady shot more often than not, though there are, of course, limits to what you can achieve. Wide angle are a lot easier to get results with this way than telephoto lenses which, with exceptions, need a tripod.
The lights in the urban environment are both static and mobile. The very wide and the very narrow are both good for picking image subjects. Cityscape panoramas provide, usually, both static and mobile elements. Shop windows, street lights vehicle light trails. Getting high up, windows, multi storey car parks with a view, bridges and alike offer vantage points. Shop windows make for a great free soft box for street portraits. Neon light always sticks out and often uses reds and yellows which are particularly striking and blues can be arresting set on a dark background. Reflections in windows or water are worth paying attention too. The light sources in the scene really are the first thing you should weigh up These are, light trails aside, entirely static. Waiting for something or someone to come along and add interest to it is really quite logical.
Exposure is always going to be tricky at night as we discussed above, because of the high dynamic range that you will be dealing with. This is one situation where it really does make more sense to shoot in RAW than in JPEG (or, if you want your cake and eat it, both) unless your camera is using a version of HDR with a high ISO and a black frame to reduce the noise, which will be a built in function and therefore not one where you have the data format option, necessarily. Noise reduction in camera will slow down the write to card times by approximately the same length of time as the exposure so if you are going longer than a second or so and/or shooting sequences with long exposures it probably makes sense to turn it off and do your noise reduction in post.
Flash has it’s uses, but not if you are trying to be discrete. Nonetheless, meter for the highlights, shoot camera RAW, accept that post production is almost inevitable in these things. Dark images are not necessarily a bad thing, you are shooting at night after all, but the mood after dark is always different. The mood of some people is also rather different so make sure you play it safe. The tripod is a good idea, of course, especially if you are looking at longer exposures, when it becomes an essential, either because of the generally low light levels or because you want to include some blur in your subjects – also useful if you are putting in some zoom blur too – or you are looking to put some light trails in, as discussed above. And we haven’t even broached the subject of light painting.
All in all a great way to extend your photographic day and pretty much what e shall be doing at WSM this Thursday, with the added incentive of it being bike night. See you there.
An away day this week, some architectural photography, and though we have a lot of it right here in the city we also have a UNESCO World Heritage site just thirteen and a half miles away centre to centre and so it was to Bath that we retired in order to avail ourselves of some fine Georgian architecture. Actually I have been informed that Bristol has more Georgian buildings than Bath, but Bath is more concentrated and less broken up by interventions of later developers. I haven’t counted and there is a reason that Bath is better known as a tourist destination than Bristol. Bristol has a more working feel to it, Bath, at least in the centre, connects to a different era, a different world and in a costume drama smack down Jane Austen takes Wallace AND Gromit every time.
Architecture creeps into our photographs a lot of the time as back drop. Incorporating interesting features of it can be both a challenge and very rewarding. Also, of course, it is a subject all of its own. The challenge with our standard kit, compacts and bridge cameras is how to get it all in when it is the point of our image and accommodate it when it is a backdrop. The two can be interchangeable as a solution for one can be a photo opportunity in another. We interact with the built environment as we do with the natural one – of course the one is imposed on top of, in and through the other – but it still, photographically, about light and dark, texture and pattern. The devil, as is the subject, is in the detail.
Perspective is the first thing that strikes most of us about the photographs we take on standard kit, rather its distortion especially when we are trying to get the whole thing in. The focal plane tilts. The building tilts, the verticals converge, when we move the camera in the vertical plane. The effect is known as the Keystone Effect. It can, of course be deliberately employed, but for most of us most of the time it’s an effect that distorts the image perspective. It is not just a problem in camera, if you don’t square up a screen and projector you will get the same effect. The name is taken from architecture, the shape of the stone at the top of an arch which is, in the wonderful world of Euclidean Geometry, trapezoid, or “a convex quadrilateral with at least one pair of parallel sides”, though to us mere mortals either the top or the bottom is wider than the opposite giving the image a tilt. Hence the expensive corrective known as a Tilt Correction Lens, more often a Tilt Shift Lens, aka Perspective Control lens and the less expensive post production methods for the rest of us.
Perspective shifts are a function of “Getting it all in”. OK a product of physics, but physics don’t form. compose and capture. “Getting it all in” is a logical progression from “I want a photograph of that”. Perfectly natural progression, but is it the best way to capture what we are after? This want raises a fundamental question we have already introduced, why do we need to get it all in? It’s a useful question for any photograph we take, not one that should stop us taking photographs all together but one that might help us take better photographs. Well arguments on God or the Devil being detail oriented aside (may I offer God in the detail and the Devil in the lack of details).
Light, dark, texture, pattern. How does the light fall, how is it contrasted by the shadows and dark tones? How are the surface details reflected, where do the lines and spaces, colours take our eyes in the frame? All questions of composition, more of which in the 14th July meeting where we have a speaker who is dedicating the evening to that very question. Essentially what draws the eye and provokes the emotions? What shouts “Look at me?” and what gives it soul? Where is, and what is, the meaning?
Yeah but we are talking about getting the whole thing in and buildings are big things. Well there are ways of doing that, certainly a panorama might get a wide shot in but the perspective thing with tall verticals is still a problem. You can use the Thirds squares in your view finder (assuming it has them) to line up details left and right and the use software to stitch them together if panorama isn’t a feature of your camera. Use a longer focal length, somewhere round 50mm is a good start. If there is enough space around your subject this might be a solution, with the some post production voodoo, but it’s not necessarily the point. Because it is technically feasible doesn’t mean it is desirable. What I am saying here is another view point, a detail, a group of details (patterns) all speak of the subject. It still is documentary but it also open to artistic interpretation. David Hockney chose photo-collage for his Brooklyn Bridge piece (which fetched £44,500 at auction, by the way) and has used the technique with other subjects too. There are other ways of dealing with big.
Of course another antidote to big is far away. Simply move back or get a wider lens. The wider you go the more likely that verticals will start to bow, of course, but this can be fixed in post as mentioned above, or with the application of large amounts of currency at your local photo-emporium. Or you can use diptych or triptych frames – for which post production is definitely needed – but you will have to plan it and you will need a fairly strong idea of how the finished article will look before you start pressing the shutter button. In these forms you use connected details to make a bigger statement.
So the whole point is, with so many opportunities on our door step, go out and use these opportunities to explore our urban environment. Apply your imagination and press the sutter.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Social and Prize Giving. Black Castle, Brislington 19:30 hrs. PLEASE NOTE THERE WILL BE NO EVENT AT THE SCHOOL.