Sunday, 24 November 2013

Painting With Light Landscapes

I've always loved this.  It's different on every outing and there's just no set way of going about it - it's predominently trial and error.  There are two ways of approaching it:

1. Take plenty of images from the tripod, each with different parts of the scene lit up in the way you want them. Blend after in Phtoshop.  Pros: You have more time in each image to get it right without worrying about the exposure being too short.  Cons: Some parts of your scene may overlap and this makes it hard to blend afterwards in Photoshop.  It works for some scenes and not others.

2. Aim to get the image perfect right out of the camera.  Pros: Almost no post processing.  Cons: You may never get the perfect shot and you won't realise until you get home.

      Nikon D90   35mm   f8  2mins 30 secs   ISO 200  and powerful torch.

What is most fascinating is what the eye doesn't see but the camera does.  The image above was taken in the pitch dark at midnight on Bookham Common with a torch.  The reason for the sky being a bizarre colour is because there is full cloud cover and clouds reflect the lights of nearby towns, presumably in this case Cobham, sending them into oranges and reds/pinks depending on the height of them and reflecting nicely in the pond.

You can use any kind of lighting that you have to hand, but in the case of this landscape I needed an exceptionally powerful torch.  As with the inverse square law, the further away the subject, the more lighting power is required, and part of the guesswork with these images is judging how much time to leave the torch on different parts of the scene in order to keep it evenly lit.  This is something you can only learn by experience.  This image is straight out of the camera.

1.  Use a tripod and some lights (torch, flashguns etc)

2.  Use the torch to prefocus the lens in auto focus, then switch the lens to manual focus to prevent it trying to refocus when you open the shutter.

3.  Set your aperture according to depth of field required.

4.  In Bulb mode shoot one or two (or as many as you need) without any light to gauge the ambient lighting. This will vary enormously depending on moonlight, cloud cover, nearby towns, any man made lighting in the scene.  Now you have your shutter exposure time.

5.  Use either a cable release or remote shutter release to prevent camera shake.  I use a Hahnel Giga T Pro II  as I can then set the exact length of time I want the shutter open and it will close automatically.  The trouble with remotes or cable releases is that you need to return to the camera to close the shutter, and that's not as easy as it sounds if you are out in the black of night and have moved somewhere else in order to light the scene.  It's suddenly quite hard to find your tripod at all - why are they nearly all black??!!   Obviously you can't use a torch to find it, or the camera will "see" you.

6.  Wear dark clothes and keep moving if in view of the camera and then it won't see you.

Nikon D90  35mm   f13  ISO 200     61 secs

This is one of my earlier experiments.  Not quite dark, I had very little time to run round and shine my torch from the top of each headstone.  Not expertly done either, but not a bad attempt.

7.  If at all possible choose the right weather - even a very slight breeze will cause the trees to move in the long exposures, so pick a still night or a static subject.

       Nikon D90  18mm   f11    124 secs  ISO 100   torch

With this length of exposure, the clouds move, often giving interesting images.

      Nikon D90   13mm   f8   59 secs    ISO 200    torch

       Nikon D90  18mm    f8   192 secs   ISO 200   Torch

      Nikon D90  18mm   f7.1   20secs  ISO 200    torch and flashgun

Normandy WW2 Gun emplacement on the cliffs - The moonlight in this one was very bright.  I used a combination of the torch and hand held flashgun (you can tell by the shadow of the gun barrel that there were two light sources)  as there was not enough time otherwise.

Other things to note:
Don't put any of your equiment down anywhere, you may not find it again.......or you may tread on it!
Preferably take a friend with you for safety and let someone know where you're going.

As you may have guessed, I usually pick the second of the two approaches trying to shoot the perfect image straight out of the camera.
Above all stay safe and have some fun with it!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Awesome Iceland!

This year's Catchlight trip went to Iceland and having received warnings about bleakness, weather phenomena, isolation risks etc, we went into heavy research  mode beforehand.  All I can say is that I recommend you don't go on one of those pre organised coach tours.  Yes, you'll see a few of Iceland's most accessible natural attractions, but only with around 30 other people for a limited time at each place.  We  realised that if we wanted to take a million photos, we needed to be at our own pace and timing and then hopefully we could also find some slightly different places to squeeze into our very short trip.  The main intention was to see the Northern Lights, but we already knew that one has to be lucky and the Aurora Forecast was not hopeful.

Arrival in Iceland in early February was the 100% bleak outlook we had expected....................
the view from the plane......not optimistic...........
Little did we know but it was the start of a winter storm.  By the time we picked up our hired 4x4 with spiked tyres, we had to dig it out of the car park.  Check it for dents/scratches?.....not a chance, it was blowing a horizontal blizzard and the car was invisible.

Well, we thought, we've been out in some pretty bad weather in the Alps before now, and we kind of know what we're doing...............we couldn't have been more wrong.  We had been warned that it might be tricky and had come prepared with blankets and food/water on board, never thinking that we might have a problem.
Our destination for the first night was the Hotel Ion in the middle of the national park miles from anywhere.  Already knowing that the main route was closed, we had route B planned and ready and the Sat Nav prepped.  The Sat Nav was absolutely no help at all for some reason and became very confused almost instantly.  We had a map, but once you're out in the pitch black, no other cars, horizontal heavy blizzard blinding your view any further than the front of the bonnet, it was impossible to even find a road sign, let alone read it.  It was all we could do just to stay on the road.  As the weather became seriously worse, we were at walking pace and starting to climb so the temperature was dropping further.  If either of us had thought of it, we really should  have taken a picture of our view from the car, which would have been a wall of horizontal white streaks immediately in front of the car in the headlights.  It was hard to believe it could be so bad. To be honest, although neither admitted it at the time, we were actually frightened and made the decision to turn back and find a place to stay in Reykjavik, the only problem was that we couldn't actually see if there was enough road to turn around in if we could see any part of the road at all at this point!  It occurred to us that we may be spending the night in the car and finally we said that we didin't care how much it cost, we needed to put on the gps on the iPhone and find out exactly what our situation was.  It was a while before we came across a small road coming in from the right and decided to take a chance and try to turn around.  Lucky we had waited to find a turning as we discovered two days later that the road we were on had a deep drop in the centre of the road with a tall wire fence in it, none of which we could see at the time.  We had actually been on the wrong road and, later on, having found the correct one, limped very slowly to the hotel only 5 hours late and slightly brain frazzled!

We woke to find the weather still snowing, and dressed in our ski gear ready for the Arctic, we set out on our planned itinerary.  Gulfoss and Geysir here we come.........we said bah! to the weather and were determined to see it as a challenge.  Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow as they say.

 On arrival at Gulfoss...............where's this huge icy waterfall then??
The answer was in a huge crack in the ground just over the horizon....

.............and just down the sheet icy road.......................and many of Iceland's roads look like this.........

....Geysir, and the sunshine starts to appear.......................
.....wait for the last coach load to be herded away reluctantly........they missed the best views.

The hot springs melt the snow and Geysir erupts roughly every 8 mins in varying degrees.
With the weather improving and also the condition of the roads, we headed back to the hotel for an early start in the dark the following day and a long drive.......
Around half-way there along the South coast at 10am dawn arrived and it promised
to be a beautiful day.
What we hadn't really expected although made a lot of sense was the quality of light - it was like the golden hour all day long as the sun stays low on the horizon.

As we turned off the main road and down a very small track of ice towards a lagoon, we weren't sure if we could acutally drive to this place and there was certainly no way to turn around.......there was a point where the lagoon water/ice was lapping over both sides of the track a bit like a tidal causeway, which had us worried.
Looking back from across the lagoon...........
Then we came to the end of the road, stepped out of the car and the scenery was awesome.....

I'm guessing that it's not always like this - the strong winds on the day following the storm had whipped up the sea and spray and it's hard to convey quite how deafening the sea was.

We left reluctantly as we had further to go, and headed back to the main road and around to the other side of the headland......and Vik.  Here we find a very small community huddled behind a volcanic beach.  The contrast of the snow against the black sand was unusual.
The dunes, the dead grasses and the black beach.................. 
.........and Gill nearly had an icy bath for the second time that day..........
.......and then heading back towards Reykjavik, the waterfalls.....these are easily accessible from the main road and therefore tend to have herds of tourists on coach tours so pick your moment.....
........and the only photograph of Team Catchlight standing precariously on the ice at the base of Skogafoss.
Then on down the road to Seljalandsfoss.  We didn't think that the sun would ever get onto this waterfall in February so we didn't wait around.  It's not nearly as impressive as the previous one, but still worth a look since we were passing.
On the road towards Reyjavik as the sun disappears......

With hindsight, having spent our final night in Reykjavik, we could have stayed somewhere a little more interesting and maybe crammed in another detour on the way to the airport, but not having been there before, we weren't to know this so we made the best of it and ventured out in the dark.

 The following morning and we're back to grey skies and icy winds so we headed to the Blue Lagoon, which may be touristy, but really shouldn't be missed, and it's on route to the airport.
In summary - three things:
1. We went to see the Northern Lights
2. We failed to see the Northern Lights
3. We were lucky with the weather and captured some great scenery.
Conclusion:  We need go again!  Iceland is huge and we only saw a very small percentage of it.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Tunnel Vision

Tunnels fascinate me. 
This one is the Mont Blanc Tunnel in the Alps. You need a steady hand and a long enough exposure to get the light trails.  Resting the camera on the dashboard of the car……………ISO 100,  f10, 5 seconds.  Ideally you need a tripod to do this properly with some hands on the steering wheel for foreground interest, but when you’re travelling with a full car load of stuff and people, no-one will accommodate your weird requirements and stopping is not an option.

The Jubillee Line on the London Underground.  Taken with my Canon G9 balanced on the rails……………….ISO 80,  f8, 1.3 seconds..........passers by still you're wierd.......

I'll add some more to this blog as and when................


Friday, 1 March 2013

Shoot Ski Races

With an action shot on snow, my one tip would be that you always need to overexpose from the meter reading. This will obviously vary depending on whether the subject has the sun in front or behind or from the side and is a bit of a guess.  Check your histogram after a couple of test shots on the forerunners before the action starts.

Camera settings:

Manual Mode.   I use a matrix metering (as the subject isn’t usually in view beforehand), low as I can ISO (which depends upon the weather), and a minimum shutter speed of 1/640 or higher depending on the speed of the subject.  Fairly wide aperture for shallow depth of field (as the backgrounds can often be unavoidably distracting) and pre-focus on the point at which your subject will enter the frame.  Not too wide for the aperture, or you may miss the focus – give yourself a chance, and as you improve catching the focus, you can widen the aperture.

And finally, shoot in jpeg fine/medium.  Raw would be best, but the time taken for the camera to process these files may mean that you miss the next racer, depending on how many continuous shots you took and the speed of the processor in your camera.

I set the camera to continuous spot focus and high speed continuous shooting (11 frames per second), but this is definitely no guarantee of capturing the perfect moment particularly when the subject is moving this fast.  Timing is everything and even with practice, it's easy to miss the moment. The camera can also only focus as fast as your lens can too, and therefore a great big zoom that’s slow to focus will never keep up with the number of frames per second.  Pre-focus on the gate to save you camera hunting time on the first shot and be ready - they come along pretty fast.  I generally use a Nikon D4 and Nikon 70 - 200mm 2.8 VR II for this – very fast and very quiet compared to my other standard lens of 28 – 300mm 3.5 which would never manage it for focus speed and is much noisier too (which doesn’t really matter for this particular sport but would make a difference for something quiet like tennis or golf).

If you have a camera that does only 4 or 5 frames per second, it is just as possible to get great shots, but the first one or two images will be the best possibilities and it just takes a little practice to get the timing right.  My Nikon D90 does just as good a job (with the same lens).

With ski racing, it’s often with the sun (if there is any) directly behind, which is the worst of all worlds.  This requires at least 3 or even 4 stops of overexposure from the metering.  There are some benefits, though, the main one being that any snow spray will also catch the sunlight for a great effect.  
The above image is a standard example of the unavoidable cluttered background over which I have little control since the race piste is mostly fenced off and spectators are likely to come along and stand in the way from time to time.  These can sometimes add something to the image, but not in this case.

Tips for Ski Race Shooting:
  • Position yourself on the piste for a race gate that is likely to produce some good angles from the skier.
  • Position yourself with safety in mind too.  If the skier makes an error, are they going to take you out?
  • Background considerations – nearly always, the best gates have tricky backgrounds – that’s just the way it often is but choose as best you can. Also, too far down the slope and some racers won’t get as far as you.
  • It’s likely to be a COLD job!  Unless the weather is unusually warm, wear all the gear you’ve got plus hand and toe warmers and if room in your rucksack take a flask of something hot.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Macro Attachments- Are they useful?

I had a spare hour and thought I'd give these things a try.
The Pros are: they're cheap and small
The Cons are: glass quality not great, not great build either.

I recently went to RHS Wisley to shoot the butterflies, but have no macro lens.  This is a problem since butterflies are rather small and tend to be just out of reach. For a half decent image, one needs to fill the screen.   I took along my Nikon D4 with 70 - 200mm f2.8 VRII attached thinking I'd get closer - wrong.  This lens is not really made for this and the closest focus distance wasn't nearly close enough even at 200mm, hence the macro attachments experiment.

So there I am with a normally superbly sharp lens and a pro camera body and I've stuck these very cheap bits of glass on the end in order to get closer..................needless to say I've seriously degraded my equipment, but not to the point of unacceptable, just a little too far from perfect for me.
Things are murkier, I had trouble with the condensation in the hothouse (which I would have done anyway), and these in no way replace a macro lens - just not enough detail.

Have look at my results and decide for yourself...............

110mm,  f9,  1/50,  ISO 6400,  yes 6400!!  High ISO required in order to bring up the shutter speed, which is still very low.  Depth of field is so shallow at any wider that nothing in particular would be in focus apart from one little flower.
200mm, f16, 1/25, ISO 6400.............
 200mm, f11, 1/80 ISO 6400  .........with the 4x glass attached.

 200mm, f9, 1/125, ISO 6400
110mm, f9, 1/50, ISO6400........... All hand held as I couldn't get the tripod near enough, so the VR was doing it's stuff.

Conclusion is that you'd be better off  using an every day lens with a closer focus distance or shelling out loads of money for a real macro lens.  The above images are way far from real "macro" in many ways but got me closer than I would have done.  I'll get Gill to put up some proper macro shots and you'll see what I mean.
These are fun to have a try with, but far from ideal.