Tag Archives: night

Pic of the week – Friday 26 April 2019

Afghan Shop Keeper

Doing what’s necessary

One from the archive this week, taken on a filming trip to Afghanistan in December 2003 and a personal favourite.

This is in the capital city, Kabul. At the time of my visit it was strugling to find peace after years of conflict and was still in the early days of the UN forces presence. I remember the bombed-out buildings, bullet-holed walls everywhere and the total lack of any street lights.

I was impressed by the reslience of the Afghan people and this man typified it. I was told that he was a former wrestler and was famous in Afghanistan but had now lost his sight. In a country with no social security or welfare benefits you have to do what you can to simply survive. What this man had done was to create a room in his house and knock out an opening to the street. This was his shop and here he traded daily selling a variety of produce.

What I like about this image is the story it tells. Unless I had been told, I would have had no idea this man was blind. Here he was sitting in his home shop, enganing happily with a customer. There is an expression of welcome and engagement on his face and he appears relaxed and at peace with his lot. I like the scales sitting between him and his customers, speaking of balance, fairness and justice. It’s a symbol of hope for a nation plagued throughout its history by bloody conflict.

This was originally shot on film, Fuji 800 Pro if I remember correctly, and the resultant grain gives the image a certain mild grittiness which I think is appropriate.

It occurs to me now that this was almost 15 and a quarter years ago and I find myself wondering how this man’s story developed.


Advertisements

Pic of the week – Friday 19 April 2019

Cross sculpture - Ely Cathedral
Cross sculpture – Ely Cathedral

A promise

I admit it, I’ve not been all that diligent in recent times in posting on social media or writing a blog post. Life has been, and remains, busy.

What I’ve decided to do in order to rectify this omission is to post a “pic of the week” across all the social media I use and, on this blog, to make some comment on it. This is my promise to myself. The pictures might be something I’ve shot recently (even in that week) or something older from the archive. I feel this is probably something I can sustain as a minimum and maybe on occasion I will be inspired to post more. I’ve set myself a recurring ask reminder, so all being well…

And so we begin with this one, a sculpture on the wall at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I shot this a few weeks back and this one’s for Easter.

The sculpture simply hangs there in the cathedral with no comment, allowing people to interact with it as they will. And that’s how I’ll leave it here. Just engage in the conversation by looking at the photo and allowing it to communicate.

Giving it a go – supermoon

supermoon
supermoon

A short story of opportunism


This is the final supermoon of 2019 hovering over the neighbourhood and coinciding with the spring equinox. It’s the last of this year’s three back-to-back supermoons, the first occurring on Jan.21, and the second, which was the biggest and brightest, on Feb 19.

Fortunately we had clear skies so I simply had to grab the moment to get out and take the shot – barely an hour before writing this! I must admit it was opportunistic as I hadn’t been aware this supermoon was due. I had simply gone out to take some rubbish to the bin and was met by this glorious sight.

So, I headed straight back inside to get the camera, change the lens and do my best to get a decent shot. There was no time to faff around setting up a tripod, which is fine (and best) when you are planned and ready but this was sheer opportunism so how do you go about trying to ensure you get the shot? Well, here’s what I did.

The lens I had on the camera was a 55 – 200mm with no image stabilisation. I needed to work hand held but minimise blur from camera shake. I opted for manual mode, and selected an exposure time of 1/500 sec. The rough rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at least twice the value of the focal length of the lens. I was doubling it which more than compensated for the multiplier effect of my crop sensor of 1.6. I chose an aperture of f8 which is around the sweet spot of the lens and then put my ISO on auto. This would at least guarantee a decent exposure and I spot metered on the moon. The pay-off, of course, was going to be grain (or noise if you prefer, but I grew up with film so it’s grain for me!)

After taking a few shots to bracket exposures around my settings and to spread the shake risk a little I took the images into Lightroom. All of the processing of this shot was done in Lightroom. What I did was allow for lens correction and also chromatic abberation. Then I made some global (though slight) adjustments to the exposure and tweaked the white and black scales just a little. I also introduced a little contrast, then made local brush adjustments to the moon to bring out the detail and to the rooftops to prevent the blacks from clipping. I then set about sharpening using the mask to pick out only the edges and bringing the radius down to 0.5. I had to give it a fair bit of noise reduction on luminance with a heavy hand (nearly 100%) on the colour noise reduction.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with this shot which goes to show that you should never pass up an opportunity even if you’ve not planned and therefore think it won’t be the perfect shot. It’s always worth giving it a go.

Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

Focus folly

two men standing in a doorway at night

two men and a doorway

Here’s a curious one, which I’m calling a focus folly.

I was in St Andrews to get some photos of their St Andrews Day celebrations, but mainly the fireworks. Walking along the street my attention was taken by these two chaps standing in a doorway having a smoke. My line of sight was across the rooftop of a parked car and the way the light was falling on the raindrops intrigued me as a foreground. I had no time to set up a tripod so getting anything here was reliant on being quick and hand-held with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. This meant a high ISO of 10000 and the inevitable grain that would go with it. I quickly chose my composition and, using an aperture of f5.6 took two shots – one with the foreground droplets as the focal point and a second with the two men as the focal point. At this time I had no idea what I might end up doing with the shots, if anything.

Getting the shots on screen I really liked the way the foreground raindrops worked with the deep bokeh of the background. The trouble was, that this meant the two men were also out of focus and they really made sense as the subject of the photo. I did, however, have a second image in which they were in focus. At which point I was straight into Photoshop and working with layers and a mask to produce the end result we have here.

Why am I calling this a focus folly? Simply because this is a manufactured effect but I think it works with the foreground leading you directly to the main subject without all the other background distractions.

Now, after all of that, did I get any shots of the fireworks? I certainly did….

St Andrews fireworks-4988