In my recent expedition on Sunday evening, I deliberately avoided photographing the front elevations of famous buildings, but in doing so, I’ve got a series of more or less anonymous shots that leave me feeling underwhelmed. That’s a shame because I enjoyed the experience and I intend to repeat it but there are lessons to be learned for next time (see below).
- Be ready to pack everything away discretely so I can nip into a pub to use the toilet.
- Take an umbrella to hold over the camera.
- Shallow depth of field doesn’t look good in low-light images, so use a narrow aperture.
- Take the flash gun and long cable for off-camera fill-in lighting.
- Take a torch to experiment with light-painting.
- Take more time – don’t be in a hurry to get home (see point one).
- In the darker areas, keep the shutter open on Bulb setting, and try longer exposures.
- Experiment with photographing people.
Sunday evening is still a good time to take photographs in Cambridge after dark, but because the sun set so much earlier than on my last foray, there were a lot more people in the streets. That’s not a problem, but I found myself taking a lot of shots from a low viewpoint, with my tripod set as low as it goes, so I had to keep a look out for people coming round street corners and potentially tripping over me or the tripod. Still, it meant that I chatted briefly to a few people and, by sticking mainly to the streets, rather than the river, there was more available light on this expedition, so my longest exposure was 30 seconds compared to eight minutes last time. I tried a variety of apertures this time, to see how a short depth of field looks in low light photographs, and the wider apertures, of course, reduced the exposure times. The whole trip, taking about sixty shots, was over in three hours and that was mainly because I covered a lot of streets.
I managed to take all of the shots that I’d planned, but I suspect, without having seen the others yet, that the unplanned shots are more interesting. A session of downloading and processing in Lightroom beckons.
Continuing the theme of low-light photography, I cycled to the next village to take some shots of poppies at twilight.
I’ve imported my Cambridge After Dark photos to Lightroom and processed them as required, which wasn’t much, mainly slight adjustments to the exposure, and selected a few for publishing:
That was a fun expedition, and the start I’m sure of a new hobby.
Well, that was an unexpectedly stimulating and enjoyable evening taking photographs in Cambridge. I think I feel a new project emerging: Cambridge After Dark. I’ve not downloaded the images yet so it’s too early to evaluate this initial outing. But this was only ever going to be a trial run to learn from.
So, what did I learn?
- I enjoyed it so much that I already consider it a success.
- I already knew that automatic focus doesn’t work in the dark and it’s hard to focus manually in the dark, so I shot at f22 to maximise focal length. My first few shots on AV mode were probably too dark, so I switched to bulb setting on manual mode and kept increasing the exposure times, until my final shot was 10 minutes.
- I arrived in town almost exactly at sunset, so the sky was still pale. I like the contrast with dark buildings lit by artificial light.
- Soon after I arrived, I startled a heron when I crossed a narrow wooden bridge over a stream in Newnham. It flew towards the mill pond where I saw it lurking a few minutes later in the shadows by the weir. I’ll be ready for it next time.
- There’s a shot I want to get on my next expedition of a line of gargoyle head water spouts silhouetted against the sky in Trinity Street. I think I’ll need the 300mm lens.
- I’d intended to park in The Backs but the parking bays were full. It turned out there was an open air choral concert by the river in the grounds of Trinity College. I stumbled across it by accident, catching the final few minutes. The sounds were beautiful, especially in the disappearing light, a magical experience, made even better by its unexpectedness. You won’t discover experiences like that without getting out there.
- To prevent people from accidentally bumping my tripod while the shutter was open, I stood close beside it protectively.
- I should take a back pack next time, to carry extra items, such as a jersey taken off because I was warmer than expected. Refreshments would be a good idea.
- I enjoyed it so much that I’m finding it hard to sleep tonight. Unfortunately I’m at work tomorrow. I’d much prefer a lie-in followed by a session of downloading photographs for import into Lightroom. It would be better if I could rearrange my work schedule for next time.
And that’s all for now. What more will I learn when I’ve seen the photographs?
I had dinner with friends last night, who asked me if I’d done much photography recently. I had to say no, but I’ve been thinking about some low light photography in Cambridge one Sunday evening when it’s quiet. So, today being Sunday, I’ve been assembling and preparing my kit. Battery: checked, SD card: cleared and checked, remote shutter release cable: tested check. tripod mount: found and transferred from another camera. I’ll travel into town by car which means I can take a spare camera as back-up, so that means testing and assembling another set. Still, it’s exciting! I’ve not chosen a creative project to work on for a long time, so this is long overdue. Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!
So, it turns out that all those Sci-Fi films and their SFX were right after all! With a bit of manipulation, there’s an amazing ultra high-definition time-lapse video of Earth from the orbiting International Space Station, made from photographs taken by ESA astronaut Alex Gerst. Hat tip to Twisted Sifter. (So, if the SFX are right, does that mean that there are blue Na’vi on planet Pandora? Perhaps unobtainium exists too. Maybe all the stories we thought were just stories were really documentaries after all. Maybe there really is a Force with light and dark sides.)
At 22:19 tonight I was out in the back garden equipped with camera, tripod and shutter cable release, waiting for the first of four passes tonight by the International Space Station over the UK. The sky was almost completely clear of cloud apart from a few wisps, and there was no breeze so it was a perfect evening for long exposure shots of of the night sky. I didn’t see the station, however, because I was busy setting up the camera kit. It had been a last minute decision to try to capture the ISS. I’d just been reading Twitter feeds and saw a message from Virtual Astronomer retweeted by Prof Brian Cox, alerting the world to the bright passes tonight. It will be pass overhead several times again over the next few days but the weather forecast is bad, especially for Saturday.
Still, according to Meteor Watch, there will be many more passes over the UK during June, and it will return in August evenings during the Perseid Meteor shower, but perhaps my best chance of photographing it will be to wait for the second pass tonight at 23:55. I’d better go and make sure the kit is ready in time, because although I might be around to capture the third pass at 01:32, I definitely won’t be awake for the final pass at 03:08.
Update at 23:59. The pass was definitely “overhead” as described on Meteor Watch, so much so that my tripod head couldn’t cope. Ah well, it was still a splendid sight in a clear night sky.
The copy of Cinefex (Issue 85, April 2001) which I ordered recently from America has arrived. I bought it in the hope that its long article on ‘2001: A Space Odessey‘ would contain a thorough description of how Douglas Trumbull created the Star Gate sequences, since the limited amount I could find on the Internet wasn’t detailed enough. And now I know why.
The fascinating article discusses many aspects of the filming and describes some of the slitscan techniques at length (pp110-113), but it’s hard to grasp exactly how it was done. I suspect that I’ll have to watch the film and re-read the article repeatedly before I could work out to do something similar. Still, it prompted me to relook at the pioneering abstract animation by John Whitney, such as Catalog (1961) and Arabesque (1975), and following those links reintroduced me to Karl Sims, whose low-tech three-pendulum rotary harmonograph looks like a fruitful source for converting to Processing sketches.
Perhaps the appeal of these pioneers is that the special effects in films like ‘Inception‘ are beyond the scale of a small group of dedicated people working on a film like ‘2001’, so they feel inhuman, a degree of perfection beyond the ‘uncanny valley‘ of robotics.
The exhibition was much larger than I expected, and covered many types of undercover images, starting with innocuous informal shots taken surreptitiously on trams and in the street. Celebrities depend on publicity, but the shots of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor relaxing on a yacht made me feel surprisingly uncomfortable.
Countering this, the long slide-show of a photographer’s friends and family felt warm and relaxed, an intimate collection where faces became familiar. But that was a brief respite, for soon we were at what felt like the nadir of the exhibition – death. Victims of urban crime were followed by victims of genocide, executions and lynchings.
After these imagees, conceptual photography and photographs about espionage seemed insubstantial and tiresome. We needed a long break before we could attempt the drawing class, but that’s for another post.
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@VictoriaCoren Not sure that bluffing in a poker game includes tweeting your inadequacies
@THEAGENTAPSLEY Too extreme an adaptation, barely recogniseable as Macbeth, leaving the drama to the scenery rather than the actors
@Ukuhooley Have you chosen the dates for next year's Hooley? What plans do you have? Or do you need a rest first? Thanks for your hard work!