Category Archives: night shot

Landscape at Night

As we are nearing the end of week 2, I better get my skates on and spoil the world with another image *ahem*.

Killarney small

I have always been fascinated by night photography. Because it is difficult – and more a less a contradiction in terms. If photography is painting with light, then how do you paint if there is no light on your brush? Well, ok, there is *some* light available even in the darkest of nights. The moon, the stars and the little Prince, and, in our civilisation-pestered time, street lights etc.

Above picture was taken early last summer in Killarney. This is the Castlelough Castle which is situated in the grounds of the plush Lake Hotel. No doubt, thousands of hotel guests have taken pictures of the suitably dramatic medieval ruin, built in the 12th century. But maybe not quite so many did so at night. Or if they did, with rather grainy, shaky outcome.

Of course I did not have my tripod with me on this trip. I was travelling light – by train. No, space for a kilo and a half courtesy of Manfrotto. But who needs a tripod when there is infinite scope for shitty rigs? All you need is a bench – on the shore and suitably provided by the hotel. I had to balance the camera on lenscap and finger in order to get the horizon vaguely straight. Matters were complicated by an annoying outside light that kept going on and off, f*cking up my WB with interfering neon light (or whatever light it was). I spent at least 15 minutes manually releasing the shutter and avoiding to breathe while capturing this image. And time was of the essence as the atmospheric, misty mountains (…cold, to dungeons deep and caverns old… no chance wasted to refer back to the film du jour) were in and out of cloud coverage. Without the strong illumination of the castle the image would not have been possible (save myself freezing my butt off and holding the bloody shutter open for an hour and a half).

I like the ghostly fingers of the tree trunks.

Candlelight Photography

I love candlelight. It is the one thing I really love about the dark season when you can light candles at 5 pm and enjoy the warmth and coziness it spreads. Maybe there’s something primeval about it – instinctively reminding us of the cave days? In any case, I love it and I like photographing it, too, but that has its challenges. That you need to turn off the flash and use a tripod goes without saying – you need to avoid drowning out the lovely yellow glow while also shooting as slow as possible.
Opening the aperture as wide as possible is probably the way to go. A fast lens would be ideal – anyone got a nice f1.4 prime? No, I don’t either. 

So other tips and tricks are needed. Here’s the obvious one: have more than one candle in the shot. That’s what I did when I produced this Xmas pic years ago. To be honest, it was a bit of a fluke – I just shot and the outcome was better than I had thought. Not ideal, though, because some of the challenges of candlelight photography were not met: the image is blurry. The meta data tells me (early on-set Alzheimer – I can’t remember any of this. Thank Canon for meta data) that I shot this at aperture priority with a shutter spead of 1/3 of a second (hence the blurrrrrrrrr) and an aperture of f 4.5 (as wide as my  Canon 350d would allow me) at 200 ISO. This was in 2005 – just before I copped on to manually setting the camera. *blushes* 

Purely by chance I worked out a couple of other tricks that help when shooting candles or candle- lit scenes. On a mission to produce a self-portrait for college I deliberately made the whole project harder for myself by deciding to picture myself in candlelight. (Underlying reason being, of course, that candlelight is supposed to be kinder to women if my age… Well, kindness doesn’t help much when you are working with an ugly mug, but anyway…) It just wouldn’t work, if I didn’t want to crank up the ISO to sky-high 25 million. Mind you, the resulting grain would probably also have been quite kind to my crows feet… Anyhow, turning around in my location I eventually figured that I could get twice the amount of candlelight in if I posed with le candle in front of a mirror. Tada!

Likewise, tip number 2 happened on the same occasion when I realized that even bare (pale) skin reflected more light into the camera than my usual artsy-fartsy black attire. Off it came and yes, it eventually worked (after about 500 unusable mugshots…). I suspect, the clever use of a white tablecloth or a reflector somewhere near would have done the trick, too.

So there you are. With the festive season soon upon us, it is the right moment to experiment with candle-lit photography. But remember kids: Don’t play with fire!

Trailing

Wanna know what I have been up to in terms of sanity projects? Don’t answer (ah well, you never do, anyway, you great big mass of anonymous lurkers people out there… ;-)) I’ll tell you anyway. While I am completely immersed in LF photography at the moment – both my current college project is being shot on LF and my final project (due next summer) will be done in LF as well – I am trying to keep Marky Mark occupied too. And so it was great pleasure that I went on a little night-time shoot with my esteemed friend J___ the other night.
J___ was keen on some action photography but gladly went along with my suggestion. You see, I have been having this idea in my head since the beginning of the summer. I want to take pictures of the night sky, capturing the trails of the planes on camera. This has been inspired both by some of my friends’ experiments with star trail photography, and my friend A___ shooting car trails for college last semester. When I came up with my *wonderful* idea, I had not taken into account a number of things: In order to catch plane trails you need a) clear skies and b) darkness. Sounds kind of logical, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately I am living in Ireland, where clear skies are a thing of rarity. I’ll only say clouds, rain and more clouds. And b): trying to catch planes against the dark sky in May is hardly possible as it doesn’t get dark until half past 11. And that is when the local airport shuts down. Fail-fail, you could say.
Well, it is six months later and the sky is dark by 7 pm. The skies are not much clearer, but if you are reasonably spontaneous, getting a clear night is eventually viable. And so it was that J___ and I set off an evening last week to the airport. We arrived in total darkness at one of the plane-spotting car parks at the circumference of the airport. Much to my surprise there were loooooads of cars there. So many, that we couldn’t even park our cars next to each other, actually. Well, apparently there is more going on in those locations than simply plane spotting, or so I have been told, but that is a matter for a different blog…
Suffice to say that there were some rather fast take-offs once J___ and I started assembling our tripods and putting large cameras on them. And I am not talking about planes taking off, here. In any case, we spent about an hour photographing the incoming and outgoing planes. My usual nonchalance as regards preparation caught up with me. Neither had I brought the remote release, nor had I familiarised myself with the B setting on the camera. Bummer.
And so I simply shot at the slowest shutter speed I could get (30 secs) at the smallest aperture (f22) to get as much general focus into the shots as I could without being able to focus properly. Some of the shots came out *interesting*. None came out great – for a number of reasons: We were photographing from the other side of the road so we kept getting traffic going both ways through our frame. The lightspill from the airport was considerable. And since I couldn’t remote release, there was always a bit of camera shake when pressing the shutter release and there is some blur in the images. But sure, here is one, just to illustrate:
Right, so what you see here is the *lovely* airport fence obscured by passing traffic: red from the left and white from the right (kind of politically correct, somehow…). The lines at the top are the aircraft flying in. The landing lights are switched on, hence the thick white line. Above that are the starboard and port winglights (red and green), punctuated by flashing white lights (hence the dots) and another thin white line from the taillights. Interesting how wobbly that line is…
Now, this could be done better and give clearer, less fuzzy and sharper results, if I brought a proper tripod and my remote release. But even with that in place, this shoot just didn’t yield the results I had hoped for. The location is simply not right. The lightspill from the airport is just too much. The traffic is adding distraction to that. Plus, I do not really want to catch four plane trails in one, I just want one clean line against the sky. For that I need to find a location further away from the airport. But not too far away because I need the planes to fly a big circle or so – a straight line is just boring. A slightly raised vantage point would be ideal, with a clear view of the flightpath. 
Well, if you can think of a place somewhere, please let me know. I might try it again, there.

Taking the Opportunity

Are you spontaneous? I often feel that photography is about being spontaneous. Literally seizing the moment and taking pictures. Whether it is that clear sky that you have been waiting for for weeks in order to catch some plane trails, the “decisive moment” when everything comes together on a street shoot, or the rare event of the whole family having gone camping for the day and you are free to do whatever you want…
I had one of those spontaneous moments last week. Now, I never leave the house without Marky Mark, and I had imagined that I might take some pictures when meeting a friend for a drink on a boat. In the end I was too engrossed in chatting than to pull out the camera and shoot. But when we left the spontaneous moment presented itself.
Samuel Beckett Bridge
Samuel Beckett Bridge links the Northside of Dublin with the Southside across the river Liffey. It was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Its shape is supposed to be reminiscent of a harp lying on its side. Normally the bridge is choc-a-bloc with traffic, but this time it was closed to traffic. They were testing the bridge opening up, I think. So out came Marky Mark and away I shot. Of course I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I had to shoot at high ISO instead. Nonetheless – it was one of the more successful spontaneous sessions of recent times. And it has reinforced my belief that it is always necessary to carry the camera with you at all times.
CARPE DIEM!

Papparazza

570 pics is a rather modest booty. That’s all that I shot on my holidays. Holidays, you would think, are the ideal time to do nothing but photograph. And yes, I would like to do that, but unfortunately you cannot take a holiday from being a mother, a girlfriend, a fellow traveller, and thus my duties are never fully given up when on vacation. Well, that is my excuse for not coming back with more images. So far I have only imported my images from CF onto HD, have had a quick scan over them and identified the few interesting ones that I might post-process and show.
One of the things I have been keen on experimenting with was some star trail photography – some pretty cool examples of which I saw in some of my friends’ portfolios. You would have thought that a holiday in a chateau  au bout du monde (at the arse-end of nowhere) of the Languedoc would have been the perfect place for such. No light spill, clear skies, warm nights. Well, FAIL! France is pretty well-lit, the skies decided to cloud over day and night and it was a chilling 24 degrees there, most of the time.
The best I could come up with was one night when I finally set up my makeshift-tripod and pointed the camera up at the roof. The stars did not shine for me, but I caught the full moon in a gap between the clouds. You can see them drifting in my image – the exposure time was 99 seconds, a gut-feeling manually released shutter speed – you can even make out the moon moving a bit.
Feeling like a papparazza: the stars have eluded me again.

Dark and Light

“The blue and the dim and the dark cloths/Of night and light and the half light” have been fascinating me lately – as they would any photographer, not just poetry fans. (Well, good old Yeats was referencing the Celtic twilight here, not photography, methinks.) A natural nightowl – proud of it, actually (scientific research suggests that night-active people are more creative, smarter and humourous than morning people! There!) – I get itchy feet when holed up at night on my own. As luck would have it, I had a number of solitary evenings recently and was free to do what I want. Off I went with the camera, to catch the light at night.

I had no particular light in mind when I wandered off, no plan, I just walked aimlessly. It’s not that often that I am dawdling along at night. Usually I will be on my way to meeting someone at night, or heading home determinedly, keeping my eyes on the ground (In Dublin it’s sometimes better, not to catch anybody’s eye…). I was therefore amazed at the many interesting lights I came across on this random stroll.

“Light show” outside the NCH

All of this is possible thanks to the high ISO settings on marky Mark. Oh, and courtesy of my left biceps which has been growing and growing in recent time, because I have never been so active with the camera – on- and off-duty – ever. ISO 6400, f 9, though, and 1/30. I am developing a steady hand, again.

Not many pictures were taken that night, just a handful. But of them there were a few that are interesting enough for me to have become hooked on this urban exploration of light at night. Another excursion is planned for tonight, to whet my appetite for photography which is currently on the wane thanks to the pressure of my college deadlines. Do I have time for extracurricular activities? Frankly and emphatically, no! But do I need them? Boy, yes, I do, or I’ll go insane over visual diarrhoea diary, post-producing product shots and assembling uninspiring layout templates.

So, that’s my song of the wandering Aengus Sonja.

I will arise and go now and go to seek out light,
A small camera i will take there, of glass and metal made;
Nine film rolls will I take there, a project for students bright;
And be alone to see the darkness fade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
dropping from the veils of morning to where the camera rests;
there midnight’s all a glimmer with light approaching low
and morning full of tack sunsets’ best.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the call from my camera with clicks and zooms galore;
while I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Thanks, WB! (Check the original “Lake Isle of Inishfree”, recited by the master himself, here. My little reference to Irish Easter Rising celebrations 😉 )

Let’s wing it!

Night photography is a special challenge: In order to get clear skies you need to find a spot without light spills from big city illuminations. As there is so little light, your exposure times will be extra long and you need a proper tripod to keep your camera still. And if you are as mad as me and my friend-in-photography A___ and attempt night photography in winter, you will also need some thermal underwear!!!

No kidding, people. We nearly froze our arses digits off on this little shoot that we undertook a couple of nights ago. First it took us a while driving out of Dublin to get to a spot where the night sky wasn’t bright orange. 15 minutes of hairpin bending on small country lanes, and we found a dark motorway bridge from which we could attempt our experiments with car trail photography.

Did I mention that I am a believer in the “Let’s wing it”-school of photography? That night was another example. Well, my function on the shoot was as assistant and company, so there was no pressure on me to get any particularly presentable results. Nonetheless, in hindsight, I could’ve thought about the shoot a bit more and prepared myself properly. As it was, I went along and only had my camera with me – no tripod, remote shutter release or any other indispensable accessory to night photography. I was thoroughly impressed with my companion who was properly kitted out and therefore got some pretty good results.

Well, as I was there, I decided to try catch some car trails, too. And it is amazing what a steady hand and a bridge railing can do for you. The above image, ISO 1600 of course (grain, grain, grain), large aperture (f 4.0) and long exposure (1,3 secs), was shot balancing marky Mark from the railings, pointing it at the motorway below me. I love how the ghostly headlights just appear out of nowhere and light up the road ahead. Aiming just for one passing car, I was able to create the impression of an invisible car that is shining its headlights. The white lines are the trails of the headlights, of course.

We messed around on the bridge for about an hour and a half. Focussing the camera was the hardest part. Much of the (good) results owe to fluke and luck. And manipulating the camera in the dark was a bit messy, too. It’s all very well that there is a display on the camera that you can use for setting the settings, but finding the interfaces for remotes etc is mere guesswork. So lesson of the day night: Get the camera out in a dark room at home and try some manual setting, familiarising yourself where the various little buttons are. Could come in handy if you try a night shoot.

Alternatively bring a torch. *doh*

First Outing

I took marky Mark on his first proper outing yesterday. And what a beautiful day it was for a photo excursion – a sunny winter day with clear, bright sunshine. I wandered more or less aimlessly around town, dropping into Trinity college on the way, then through Temple Bar where the annual Trad Fest was on and finally ended up in Dublin Castle together with my Friend in Photography, A___. Lots of photo-worthy vistas along the way, so what to show you today???

No doubt about it, there is a voyeur in any photographer. I admit to it – I love hiding behind my camera while of course looking at other people or things through the lens. Just as much as I like the fleeting peek through illuminated windows when walking home in the evening.

Strolling home after my afternoon’s shooting excursion, I walked straight onto the above scene. The painter was so perfectly silhouetted against the window, I simply had to pull out the camera – by then safely stored and wrapped in bag – and capture this. The window frames against the brickwork gives a nice contrast, as does the warm light of the inside against the bare branches of the Virginia Creeper outside.

Thanks to 21 million Pixels, I can now crop to my heart’s content – and have done that in this image. I could possibly also have played around with the ISO a bit more, now that I know how to extend the ISO range (thanks, S___).

Anyway, from my point of view a promising start with marky Mark.

Here’s to 2011

Nothing quiet on New Year’s Eve. No, not if you are celebrating in Germany – like I have done this year. I am usually no particular patriot. In fact I am quite happy NOT to be living in my country of birth anymore. But when it comes to New Year’s Eve, I must say there is no better way of throwing out the old year and welcoming the new than how the Germans do it.
What you see above is only a tiny glimpse of what goes on in your average German small town between midnight and 1 am on New Year’s Day. Fireworks are a big tradition – and one that makes the year-end celebrations an exciting and beautiful occasion. We watched this year’s big display from the roof of the house. It was a mild night with temperatures around the freezing point. Unfortunately it was not a quite clear sky but there was a bit of mist. As our neighbours were sending off their fireworks, the mist turned into a full blown smog and for a few minutes it was impossible to see anything at all – rocket smoke drifted in a big cloud along our road.

Catching fireworks on film lightsensor is notoriously difficult. Various reasons. “Slowhand Luke” certainly has no chance, catching the bursting fireworks. Between spotting the rockets going up in the sky and the starbursts exploding, there is hardly any time for focussing or manually setting aperture and speed. I kind of went the easy route by setting my ISO on the highest possible speed and then keeping the aperture as small as possible to catch everything in focus. Calmhand Sonja *ggg* however was able to shoot at 1/30 sec and catch a little bit of movement while not completely blurring out everything. And I just continuously shot and shot and shot without ever once lifting my finger off the shutter release – to make sure I did catch anything shiny exploding at all… (I wish I could include a soundfile from the little video clip my son took of the fireworks display – it’s completely marred by my *clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick* across the audio track…)

Anyhow – HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU! I hope to keep this blog going in 2011 and continue to hear from you, too.

Lots of love and all the best,

Sonja!

Mooning ;-)

Ever tried mooning? Excuse me for lowering the tone in this respectable little blog… No, what I mean by mooning is not “exposing one’s buttocks” to an audience, but the process of shooting some nice images of the moon. Earth’s little satellite is a worth-while photo object – and yet it is not that easy to take a picture of the moon, even on a clear night with a full moon.

Well, in a way I am exposing myself to you today – by sharing some thoughts about a recent photo experience that went sliiiiightly wrong, but from which I have learned a good bit.

Take this image, for instance. It was taken not long ago, full moon, still night. When I stepped outside and saw the silver moonlight reflected on the calm sea, I knew it could translate nicely into an image. And I knew enough about photography to grab my tripod as this would need a long exposure to get captured on film the light sensor. I was quite chuffed with my resulting, above image – from what I could see on the little display of my DSLR. But what I saw on screen when I transferred the image to my archive, did not thrill me quite as much.

Ok, I did say that I was not going to turn this into a monoblogue of photospeak, but I have to back pedal a bit in order to explain what went on here. Gee, I hate picking my own image apart – why I am doing this?? In order to get as much light into the camera as possible while keeping the shutter speed as fast as possible, the image was shot with an aperture of f4.5. This still required a shutter speed of 15 bloody seconds – much too long for Miss Hand-Held here.

Right, as I said, I was clever enough to shoot this with the camera mounted on my flimsy plastic tripod. And yet, if you look closely at the coloured lights on the left, there was some camera shake. It took me a while to figure out how that happened, while on the tripod. Conclusion: Releasing the shutter by pressing the little button resulted in movement which was translated into the image. It’s quite possible that even the mechanical opening and shutting of the aperture added to the slight shake and blurred the details *doh*. The rickety tripod could also have added to the effect.

And here is another thing that makes shooting the moon difficult (pointed out and explained to me by fellow photographer Graham – thanks, man!): The Earth’s rotation and the moon’s own movement in the sky can be noticeable in your image if you expose for anything longer than 20 seconds. Yeah, that’s astronomy in motion practice!

Have I succeeded in putting you off “mooning”? That was not my intention – but rather to pontificate again about the usefulness of knowing how photography works and why it is beneficial to understand the mechanics and interrelation of aperture and shutter speed. It’s not that difficult, really – even for girls…

See ya soon – off to enjoy Christmas now!