We were entertained by the members who went on the club run to the Lake District back in May, this week, and certainly, they got a lot of the same views, but they weren’t the same shots. This goes to show the worth of “working the angle” even when you are in wide open spaces populated only by hordes of tourists in large busses on narrow roads. Apparently, our Esteemed Chair indulged his passengers with novel language lessons when these pantechnicons and sundry other road users broke the unwritten etiquette of British roads. An enhanced learning experience all round then.
Now non-landscapers can have rather jaundiced views of those who revel in long walks to nowhere in particular and back carrying kit they end up not using and still not get the shot because the light was “wrong”, but that is to miss the point. Landscape as a discipline brings with it challenges and techniques, not all of them specific to this category of photography, broad as it is and possibly viewed as a subcategory of Nature. There are some car parks with very fine views, after all, and if we can’t actually see any tarmac in the picture …… we get the same view as the previous 100,000 motorists who preceded us. It is, however, our version of it and that, for most amateurs is what counts. It’s our version of Kilroy was here.
Picking not only the vista but having a focal point in it, making the picture about something, is a big step as opposed to ooh-pretty-point-shoot. “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment ” according to Ansel Adams. Planning is the key, not only to getting the photograph we want from what is in front of us but in creating further opportunities for us to take. Our aim is to make a picture of one thing in relation to its setting without letting the setting overpower the picture we are looking to frame. That can be done hours/days/weeks/months/years before we leave home, or on-site and in the moment. But taking a short time to really look makes a difference.
In that short time, what we are looking for is composition. There are as many “Rules” of composition as you want. Except rules is a bit misleading as a term. Think of them as tools. The Tools of Composition. Essentially these are ways of guiding the eye to the subject in ways that suggest meaning to the viewer. The question is how we use them together. Quality is better than quantity, you need to be deliberate and you need to be able to work fast and with the light. It is all about the light, regardless of what style of photography you are partaking in. OK photography means, roughly, painting with light, so it’s hardly a surprise.
The best light is at dawn and dusk as far as landscapers are concerned. Low angle soft light in the warm end of the spectrum coming from or moving towards the blues of twilight. The best shooting light is commonly held to be roughly half an hour either side of those two events. That leaves the rest of the day for other things – which probably explains the notion that landscaping is a solitary sort of pursuit. Certainly, it doesn’t necessarily easily fall in with the plans of others.
There are other costs to landscape as you get more into it. A good tripod for one, the reason being minimum ISO’s and small apertures tend to be the order of the day. Marry that with low light levels and we need to be accommodating exposures that are too long to hand hold without showing considerable signs of camera shake. Lenses tend towards a wide/super-wide and medium telephoto – and everything in between and either side depending upon the depth of your pockets and your penchant for collecting expensive pieces of kit. Then there are the filters. At least a circular polarizer. Then there are hard and soft graduated filters for equalising out the light in the sky to that falling on the ground. Investing in a quality set of filters is not cheap, but pays dividends in the quality and clarity of what you are getting. You are, after all, adding glass in front of glass and that will have an effect on quality. And don’t forget a waterproof, solid, comfortable bag to keep all that expensive kit in.
As usual, it isn’t about the kit. As Mike Browne has been known to opine, nobody says to Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey “You must have a really good oven” when enjoying their world-class cuisine. Good photography is the product of practice, knowledge, practice, planning, practice, willingness to learn, practice, a critical eye, practice, hard work and practice. There is also technique, practice, willingness to pushing our limits, practice, getting to know our cameras, lenses and other kit inside out, practice, and practice, but you get the general idea.
It was an entertaining evening, for sure, and we thank our fellow members for their time effort and willingness to share.
Our speaker this week was Richard Price talking on the very small and the infinite (at least the bit of it we can see) – Macro to Astro. As ever a hugely informative and accessible evening given to a packed hall.
When talking Macro (on a ratio of reproduction to actual size of the subject of 1:1 or greater) we will be including what is close up photography too as there is a technical difference but not, as far as next meetings practical is concerned, no difference worth the time.
These are both areas of photography that appear complicated but, whilst demanding, they can be easily accessed. And they are both absorbing aspects of photography and being both accessible and demanding they teach us a lot about our equipment and how light works with it. It also tells us a lot about our kit and can involve finding work arounds. For instance my manufacturers own 50mm lens will not work on anything but manual and with the depth of field preview button held down with my extension rings. My third party lenses work just fine. Took a while to work out how to get the nifty to work, but it was worth the effort. With a mirrorless camera like mine the DOF preview button is usually redundant -what you see in the view finder is exactly what you get as an image. Only it isn’t redundant at all and I am rather glad it’s there.
Of course, how near/far you want to go is a matter of budget but only really at the extremes. You can get some perfectly acceptable macro shots with a kit lens and a reversing ring (about £7 for a 52mm filter – size it’s written on the front of your lens, in the case of our 52mm example as Ø52). You can also use a coupling ring to reverse one and add another lens to it to make a longer focal length and a greater degree of magnification. In both case it might be advisable to take any UV filters you have off the end of the lens.
The next option Rich gave us was using screw in filters (lenses) of varying dioptres. These are available for around £15 (and upwards depending on filter size), but as with everything else you get what you pay for. Essentially these are like reading glasses for your lens, they are lenses that fit on the end of lenses. If you buy them for the largest filter size you have in your range of lenses you can buy a set of step down rings to fit them to your smaller filter sizes (usually for around £5).
Extension tubes, moving the lens away from the focal plane foreshortening its focusing capacity, use no intermediary glass at all, so there is no risk of flare or softening enhanced by putting more barriers between subject and sensor. By shortening that distance a degree of magnification results by getting closer to the subject. This is generally a more expensive route than the two previously discussed. this is because a certain amount of electronic communication has to be allowed for in the design of the tubes and this complicates the manufacturing process making it more expensive. It isn’t always effective either (see example given above) and work rounds result. However, the more you pay, generally, the more you get in terms of functionality and performance, though this is not an absolute guide.
Finally there is the most expensive option, the dedicated macro lens. Without a doubt this is the higher performer when it comes to producing quality of images in terms of sharpness and contrast, and without a doubt. But all that comes at a cost and even the cheapest all manual lenses cost several hundred pounds. Whichever route we go, macro/close up photography can be done anywhere and relatively easily and cheaply. One extra technique that might help is Focus Stacking. It can be done in Photoshop, as per the link, but failing that you might want to try CombineZP which is free and simple to use.
Now focus stacking as a technique makes a good link to the second half of our evening, Astro-photography. The reason being that photo stacking is an often used technique when taking photographs of the stars. It’s not an absolute requirement, though, and the basics are relatively straightforward. Rich recommended using StarStax, which is freeware, as you were wondering and developed with astro-photography in mind. But we get a little ahead of ourselves.
Dark areas in the UK are few and far between. Light pollution is a serious problem, not just for photographers but for wild life too, in our rather crowded island. Even in designated Dark Areas there are problems at the extremities where towns and villages emit a glow low on the horizon. So it takes some work.
The pollution part is best thought of as the light you would eliminate if you could. The night sky isn’t black, the horizon is always discernible. The sky itself is also quite bright. If we are trying to record as much detail as possible (known as Deep Sky astrophotography) we are going to be fighting the noise generated by the sensor of the camera, especially at higher ISO’s but even at the lowest setting because where there is a signal there will be noise. If we treat the sky as black either by exposing or reducing it to black in post production then the fainter details are going to get lost. The point is the sky isn’t really black, it’s closer to a dirty orange colour. Because of the light pollution and the reflective nature of Earth’s atmosphere.
We can get round this in post by adjusting levels, picking the darkest part of our image as a start point with the eye dropper and adjusting the levels. It’s a matter of trial and error really. As is white balance. Regardless, this will all be a matter of trial and mostly error at the beginning and that is actually part of the fun. Learning new techniques like this means we learn more about the competencies and capabilities of our equipment and allows us to do more things with it.
Our thanks again to Richard and good luck as he takes this and his other presentations on the road.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Macro and close up practical evening. Bring cameras tripods and that reversing ring you just ordered off Amazon.
Last meeting we were entertained by Kingswood Club Members Sue and Richard Winkworth and their tales of Myanmar (you may know it as Burma) in a presentation entitled “The Road to Mandalay” and yes after the song. Their trip was undertaken at a time when tourists were rare (it only opened up to Tourism in 2012 after 50 years of a military dictatorship) which presented both opportunities and challenges. 2016 the number of tourist arrivals was around 5 million, in a country of 54 million people. That’s roughly the size of Spain and Portugal combined. Last year Spain had 75 million visitors and Portugal 60 million, to give it some context.
The most striking thing to me was the quality of the light, which was very soft, making things look like the entire enterprise was shot on Kodachrome. The relative lack of industrialisation and the control of population around some of the shrines (limiting wood smoke from cooking and heating) made for lower levels of air pollution beyond the dust that is inevitably kicked up (even though those glorious sunsets are made from reflections of particles in the atmosphere).
The other thing that struck me from the map they showed us was the number of straight lines denoting boarders. Those boarders are entirely artificial, nature, after all abhors a straight line (William Kent circa 1685 – 1748). Well apart from crystals. Many of the pictures Sue and Richard took were in Shan Land, for instance, which boarders Laos and Thailand and the tribal boundaries are certainly different to the political ones. Now these might not be things that trouble the average tourist taking pictures, but a little local knowledge goes a long way.
Travel photography is big business, but it is a big business that is very, very, crowded these days. There was a distinction at one time between the professional and the amateur that could easily be defined by the fact that the professional took for and sold to the print media and when established made a regular income from commissions. Then the World Wide Web and traditional print industries got a pounding from which they are still diminishing. This coincided with the world opening up, air travel in particular became a lot cheaper and more opportunities arose. These days travel photographers make money from a wide variety of sources, indeed have to as revenue streams tend to be small and varied.
Most of us though are not in the business of travel photography. Yes we travel (and that can mean going to the next town or village) and yes we take photographs. Yes we combine the two. When we are photographing in our own region then the general way people behave when there is a camera is about is generally accepted and generally adhered to. Travel just the other side of the channel to France and the privacy laws, even in public places, are a lot more complicated.
So what amateurs and professionals alike do have in common is the attitude towards the subject. You can buy photographic workshops in exotic places by run by professional photographers (just because they are doesn’t mean they can) and the better ones do a lot to make sure that you come back with those iconic shots. That takes a lot of time, knowledge and investment and that is what you are paying, usually quite large amounts for. I have experience of one of these with French Photographic Holidays a couple of years back and it was enormous fun, the food was excellent and I learned a lot. A good experience. In France, it is relatively easy to take pictures of people and places, despite what I wrote above unless and until someone decides you have breached their privacy, which it is almost impossible not to.
Basically you are required to get someone’s permission before you take their picture. Then, if you want to publish it in any way you have to ask their permission for each specific usage. Any object that is created by or is the copyright of an artist, or designer, similarly requires permissions to be published in each specific context. Anyone who owns a property can assert rights of ownership of property and the photographer needs permission to publish. There is no “Freedom of panorama” as such, though that is coming under EU law, so it does not matter if you took that photograph from public or private property.
Then there is the situation in general. If someone objects you delete the image. It is not practical to get the permission of every architect of every building in shot permission. Generally people don’t and the architects don’t sue. But they could and you have to be mindful.
In Saudi Arabia you do not take pictures of women in the street. Full stop. Other pictures depend on where you are. Jeddah, for instance, is more easy going about these things than say Riyadh. In Dubai, which is much, much more western tourist oriented, along the picturesque creek there is a Naval base on the wall of which, in letter about six feet high, it says No Photography. Upsetting men with guns is never a good idea. You do not take photographs of the Naval base. The rest of the creek, fine.
These are examples of the conditions imposed. Then there are the conditions we as photographers impose. The attitude you give dictates the attitude you get back. A simple nod with the camera usually will tell you if your intended subject accepts having their photo taken. A smile and a thank you afterwards also helps. You will see trains of photographers in the more common tourist destinations on photographic tours and it is interesting, even when the scene has been deliberately set up with models, how many bother to say thank you, as if the fact that they have paid to be here yields entitlement.
You can draw up your own list of Do’s and Don’ts from yours and others experiences, both behavioural and technical. Personally I always learn how to say three things in the local language. The first is “Please”. The second is “Thank you”. The third is “I am not mad, I am British”. They all work.
It has long been held as true that we know more about space than we do about our oceans. Quite possibly true, though I don’t know how you measure it, what I do know is that club member Julie Kaye’s presentation on underwater photography went down, if you will forgive the unintentional pun, very well. Julie brought her equipment as well as prints of her results and took us through the mechanics, the necessities of adapting the human body and her camera equipment to the realms where no human is naturally equipped but for the very briefest of visits.
The equipment needs are not merely image critical, they are life supporting and diving is a dangerous sport if the basics are not attended to. The conditions under which you are shooting are a challenge too and this is one of the more difficult areas of photography to master. For those of us brought up on the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau the mysteries of the oceans were a childhood staple.
Possibly most associated by most as branch of travel photography, the underwater milieu goes back to the end of the Nineteenth Century, the first underwater camera and lighting rig was invented by another Frenchman, Louis Marie Auguste Boutan in 1893, when certainly photographs would have been taken but the oldest extant photo of a diver, a selfie by Boutan is dated to 1899 (and apparently damned near killed him through Nitrogen narcosis in the process). The gap is accounted for by Boutan’s work on a lighting solution, a highly explosive mix of oxygen in a barrel and magnesium powder to provide a flash held in a glass container triggered by an electrical current. Remember that film (read glass plate) speed was very low at these times with normal photographs being taken with what we would consider long exposures.
Prior to Boutan, the first person to take photographs whilst submerged, there had been underwater photographs but these had been obtained by using a camera in an almost-waterproof housing lowered on a tripod, was William Thompson, who took them in Dorset in 1856. Unfortunately the glass plates don’t seem to have survived.
Colour came along in 1926, National Geographic staff photographer Charles Martin and naturalist Dr William Longley taking a picture of a Hog Fish in the Gulf of New Mexico for that august journal. Following on in Boutan’s tradition they still executed the image with pounds of explosive magnesium flash powder. The difference was that they sensibly left it floating on the surface in a raft rather than build a submersible flash unit as Boutan had.
Cousteau remains the most famous pioneer though, operating from his famous boat the RV Calypso, which came to near sticky end in Singapore in 1997 but on which restoration work began last year (after a 20 year story worthy of a soap opera), he developed not only Scuba gear but the underwater camera as well. The Calypso, before coming in to Cousteau’s hands, was built as a Minesweeper for the Royal Navy and served as such from 1943 to 1949, then as a ferry in Malta for 4 months before being bought by Thomas Loel Guinness MP and leased by him to Cousteau for one French Franc a year on grounds of anonymity for Loel Guiness. There were, at the time, around a thousand Francs to the pound, so bit of a bargain. For those of us brought up on the TV show (1968-1976 and endless repeats) the Calypso was as much of the show as Cousteau.
Cousteau wasn’t just an explorer (naturalist, conservationist, etc etc), he was an inventor too. He conceived the idea, which was designed by Jean de Wouters, of an underwater camera which was called, wait for it, the Calypso. It came with an f3.5 35mm lens, with 45mm and 28mm optional lenses and a shutter speed of 1/30th to 1/1000th of a second shutter, which was redesigned to a 1/15th to 1/500th of a second range which was the one carried on to the Nikonos, licensed and built by Nikon, through three variants and which lasted in production until from 1963 to 2001. Basically it was killed off by digital but it is still to be found second hand.
Underwater photography is also a sport, not big here, admittedly, under the auspices of CMAS. The World Championships run thus: Basically at least four 90 minute dives (including decompression time) are undertaken and the first 100 images from the relevant memory card are downloaded and then the competitor selects which images go forward to (anonymous) judging. Then it gets complicated: ” During the last day of the competition, the jury will review all submitted images to rank these within the photographic categories described in the Specific Rules. An individual classification will also be compiled by allotting scores to the top ten images in each photographic category using a fibonacci sequence. The names of top ten competitors in the photographic categories and in the individual classification will be publicly announced.” Not so catchy, maybe.
There is a wider range of photographic equipment and accessories available to the modern diver, of course, specialist housing, lighting (non explosive), but all at a price and a half. It has to be precision engineered of course, able to withstand pressure greater than found at sea level and whereas it is popular with people on holiday (who can buy pouches and boxes for their cameras for shallow depths if their camera isn’t already waterproof) who go snorkelling, if you are serious and a scuba diver and a regular photographer, then the outlay garners the returns.
So a big club thank you to Julie for an interesting and unusual evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
NB: The AGM has been postponed for a couple of weeks, our next session is table top photography so bring cameras, tripods and something small to photograph.
ROC round 1 judged by Ralph Snook, a first tie judge for the club and thanks to him for his efforts. Results will be on the club web site http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/
So, for a change, the second of our ocassional contributions from club members, this time Rob Heslop on “It’s not the camera it’s what’s in front of it”.
Having just upgraded a perfectly good camera to the next model up, which is basically the same except for a few functions I’ll never use, for absolutely no reason other than the shop presenting my with a fantastic offer, got me thinking about camera kit our and do we really need half of it or could our photography improve if we invested elsewhere? It’s easy to get swept up with the latest must have gear, magazines are full of reviews with photos taken in exotic locations by professional photographer which somehow lead us to believe that if we buy that bit of kit we will be able to take that photo. Then there are the debates on the Internet about the subtle differences between kits that lead us to believe that anything but the latest pro lens is just not worth having. Even club members harmlessly chatting about their newest toy or a guest speaker explaining what kit they used lead us to subconsciously question is our own kit good enough. All this creates a mindset of I need an xyz if I’m to take photos that are any good and I know I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to falling for the marketing hype, but the “greats” never had half the kit we do, whilst that’s not to say they wouldn’t have used the technological aids if they had them, merely that they took mind blowing photos without half the equipment we have and it didn’t hold them back.
Which leads me to wandering is there a better way than fixating about the camera, perhaps if we want to take better photos we should instead invest more in what’s in front of the camera than the camera it’s self.
Over the years I’ve gone on various photographic ‘holidays’ around the UK and I use the term holiday in its loosest sense mind as who gets up at silly o’clock just to sit in a car in the pouring rain waiting for a sunrise that never comes before retreating to a cafe for breakfast. Then a couple of months back I took the next step and went international and for the price of a lens I headed over to that infamous photographic location; Iceland.
Having never been before and as this was primarily a photographic trip not your traditional holiday there was a great deal of planning in the local pub using the likes of Google maps and Flickr to pick places (and times) we wanted to shoot and subsequently places we would to stay in-order to get the conditions but foolishly we never planned places to eat, more on that later. The idea was simple; fly into Keflavik (the only international airport on the island) pick up a hire car and drive along Route 1 to the glacial lake, then make our way back taking photos on the way, simples .
Keflavik, is on the western tip of the island meaning we flew along the southern coastline which gives an amazing view of the glacial ice, the black sandy beaches and of course the ocean, all hinting at what’s to come. The plan touched down on what I can only describe as the surface of the moon or maybe it was Mars either way I’m pretty sure I could see the Apollo capsule in the distance.
On landing we picked up our car and I was relieved that the choice extended beyond the red one or the blue one, before proceeding on one of the most challenging drives ever; not because it of the navigation (there is only one road) not because of the road conditions (they were better than the UK) not because of the other drivers (both of the cars we past were polite and courteous drivers) but challenging as we had to force ourselves to drive past some of the greatest photographic opportunities we had ever seen; I had a feeling that it was going to be very hard to take a bad photo.
That evening we arrived at Jokulsarlon the glacial lake on the south of the island, the lake was stunning with icebergs breaking off the glacier slowly crashing into each other before drifting out to sea. They were a sight to behold and presented a wealth of photographic opportunities, well worth the drive. The plan was to wait for sunset, get some photos and head over to our accommodation for the night. There is however a catch we had forgot to make plans for dinner and found ourselves hurriedly eating cold sandwiches and lukewarm soup for dinner before the only cafe for two hours in any direction closed for the evening. We discovered that in the winter the population along the southern edge of the island is less than 100 people and if I’m honest I don’t think it’s much more in the summer, so it’s no surprise that food is limited. Still after a hurried dinner, closing on time seemed to take priority over feeding the dozen or so tourists that had also fallen foul to the lack of places to eat, we settled down to some serious photography but soon realised that whilst it got colder sunset wasn’t going to happen any time soon, to be honest I’ve no idea if it even happened as we were worn out and exhausted long before the sun was.
The next day was spent on the road to Vik about a two hour drive according to Google maps or an entire day’s drive if you include photos stops. The landscape was epic with and endless feel but somehow constantly changing offering a dearth of photo opportunities and it was all ours, every so often we’d see the odd car drive by but for most of the time we could lie down in the road if we wanted, oh and we did even if it was just to get the right camera angle. Vik however was a real treat for photographers with it’s black sand beaches and stone monoliths rising out of the ocean it’s hard to see how you could take a bad photo but I probably managed luckily I also managed to take a few keepers, rather than wax-lyrical about Vik I’ll simply recommend doing a quick search for images on Google, Flickr or similar, as like the old saying goes a picture speaks a thousand words and even that isn’t enough to sum up the photographic opportunities.
The final day was spent driving back to Reykjavik trying to remember everything that was saw on route a couple of days previous. This was our first insight to the touristy parts of Iceland; Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls, not to say these aren’t worth visiting from a photographic perspective, they are stunning but from mid morning on the crowds of day trippers on their coach tour excursions from the city started to build making photo opportunities more challenging, but they did at least mean food was more plentiful.
Then as quickly as we’d arrived it was all over and we were on the plane back to the UK. Sat in my seat my mind reflected back on the trip, the sites I’d seen, the photos I taken, and places I want to go back to, yet at no point did I find myself thinking if only I had that latest bit of kit. And that’s just it, despite what the adverts may imply having the kit on its own won’t magically lead to better photos and it won’t provide you with experiences or stories. So next time you find yourself starting to lust after that new piece of camera kit ask yourself would it be better to invest in your subject matter, it doesn’t need to be far flung and exotic, just give the subject of your photos the same attention as you give to the camera.
Thanks Rob, really interesting points and I am not at all jealous …
N E X T M E E T I N G
Week 10 – 3rd Nov 2016 19:30 – Practical “Reflex Reflects”. Creating images using various types of reflective surfaces and objects.
(Bring your cameras, tripods and lights/flashguns)
It must be Autumn because last meeting we did a light painting session courtesy of Myk Garton and guest light painter Tony Cullen – many thanks guys. Every time we do this there is something new and I will admit that it is one of my favourite things to do photographically. Attendance was high which proves its popularity with other club members too. This was the introductory evening and we will be doing some more advanced techniques on December 1st. Of course light painting isn’t necessarily seasonal, but the ever shortening days this side of the Winter Solstice means that available light is at a premium. The “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (that man Keats again) means a lot more than landscapers getting a lie in. The light, generally, has a quality of its own because of the relatively low angle of the sun to the horizon. Problem is there isn’t a lot of it.
So, provide our own. This is as close outdoors as we get to the degree of control of light in a studio. The big difference is we make benefit of the dark. The contrast levels are extreme, but that is a virtue not a vice. The canvas is light on dark but in a more high contrast way than we see in daylight, where we could argue that the opposite is true (wrong as everything we see is via reflected light, but since when did wrong prevent an argument?). Strobists use flash guns to recreate the flood of light which they can control the direction and beam, with a white balance of its own. When drawing on the black canvas, with torches, coloured lights or even fire, the colour balance doesn’t tend to be a big consideration, at least in the sense of it being something that needs correcting. Painting a scene in light as opposed to drawing a scene with light presents different technical challenges, but can be done with the same kit and a bit of patience. I say a bit, oftentimes a lot of patience.
In fact there are a number of different ways to think of light painting, and where we start, the way in which we are thinking of the images we want to capture, determines the outcome more than anything else. Yes this may come under the heading of “Well, duh” but any technique has strengths and weaknesses according to the situation. Selection is the key. The first decision is are we lighting the subject or creating an effect? Our desired look will determine the way we use the lights and the sort of lights we use. Again, we may say “Duh”, but it’s surprising how hard we can make the job by not prepping for a final outcome in the first place. We might be combining both, after all. What about spontaneity and experimentation, we say? Much better to have an idea to execute and vary than to just turn up having watched several hours of YouTube videos with a load of kit and a vague idea. We may be technically proficient but that is no good if we are subject deficient – the difference between a body with a camera and a photographer.
The point to start, where when who and how because that is going to dictate what we can and cannot do. Use a familiar or scout a location in the day light. Decide what the subjects are likely to be and what kit we are going to take with us. If unfamiliar with orbs, zoom bursts, camera rotations, double exposures and the like the answer is “Should have been at club”. That aside, the first thing is, if not in total darkness or very near, determine what the level of ambient light is. This determines the time we have to paint in. If it isn’t a factor then fine, open the shutter for as long as it will go or as long as needed, then set the camera pre-focused and to manual – this meeting was about familiarising people with their equipment in those modes in order to capture those sort of effects.
If we want a basic explanation of light painting it is that it is long exposure photography. In the dark. The meter is useless without some level of ambient light and the length of exposure is dependent upon what we want to paint in and what we are painting with, that is to say, in the practical sense, it is going to be the product of experimentation. The light gathering capabilities of the sensor are going to be tested, select the lowest ISO to help keep the noise to a minimum (remember boost the signal, boost the noise and that is what you do when we up the ISO). We are going to need a tripod and, a personal preference, a remote shutter release.
Light trails, using moving lights – the most popular seems to be vehicle trails which, let’s face it, aren’t too difficult to come by in a city of 400,000 people – are also simple to set up and to execute. 8 to 10 seconds, ISO 100, F8 on a well lit street, as a starting point towards getting a reasonably exposed photograph overall and, as long as the vehicles are moving even relatively slowly, then some interesting effects can be captured. Vary the angles, either by setting the camera up more obliquely to the traffic than at a right angle, or find a bend or a roundabout to get some swoosh into the picture. Zooming whilst the shutter is open also does interesting things to the trails often setting them off at angles we wouldn’t expect and rotating the camera through 90 degrees during the exposure, as long as we keep the axis constant, can do interesting things to lights in the background (as alluded to above).
I know that is a cliché but nonetheless I am going to repeat it. There are so many variations that we truly are only limited by the imagination and for once, it doesn’t have to be at any great expense. Yes we can spend an inordinate amount of money on these techniques but actually experimenting with the basics will yield some fine and interesting results. I, for one, am really looking forward to part two of our light painting sessions.
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.