18 May 2011

Exercise: Outdoors at night

Not in chronological order but I had an opportunity to shoot a city at night when in Hong Kong and Sydney recently which was perfect for this exercise.  Looking for between 12 and 20 images, the requirement is to explore a variety of lighting effects and colour in artificial light.  A variety of techniques are suggested which include the use of a tripod and changing ISO settings.  I have included the basic camera settings to help explain why the images look as they do.

 Handheld 1/60, f4. ISO800
Just after sunset is a great time to do city light photography.  There is usually enough residual light to allow hand held photography, even if the ISO has to be cranked up a bit to compensate for the high minimum f stop settings that telephotos usually allow... f4 in the case of the lens I was using.  The buildings that aren't lit by artificial light still show up as there is still enough natural light to illuminate them.

Tripod, 5 sec, f11, ISO200
This cityscape of Sydney was shot at a similar time of the day as the Hong Kong image above but, needing the image clarity and sharpness of a landscape I couldn't afford to increase the ISO and hand hold the image.  The result is very pleasing when shown as a full size image.  The ambient light brings out the roof tops of the terrace houses in the Rocks below the bridge and the lights on the bridge and the fairground are bright and clear in the setting sun.

Handheld, 1/60, F5.6, ISO800
The same street as the first image but I included this because the subject is now a shiny Hong Kong taxi which adds a lot of reflected light to the image off the bonnet and windscreen.  The street signs to the left also add to this overall look of shiny and colourful reflections which this makes this an interesting image.

 Handheld, 1/60, f5, ISO800
The food stall here is brightly lit but shows very little colour cast which makes me wonder what type of bulbs they use.  The scene is great with friends getting some fast food on their way home from work.  The signs and colours are vibrant and the junk in the foreground adds to the rather grubby and down-at-heal look of the place.

 Handheld, 1/60, f6.3, ISO800
Another food stall with a few teenage girls but I liked the large incense pot that was sitting on the street which served as an interesting link between the modern and ancient.  To do this type of street photography under natural light I needed to ensure that the handheld images didn't suffer from gross camera shake so used Tv (Time Value) mode which is the aperture priority mode and set around 1/60 which is a good practical minimum.  This allows the camera to choose the aperture which isn't too much of a problem unless depth of field need to be addressed.  To ensure that the camera can choose an available aperture I set a suitable ISO... in this case 800.

Handheld, 1/60, f10, ISO800
Unlike some earlier images, this one works because it was taken well after the sun had set.  Here the only available light is coming from the very brightly lit building front and the neon sign.  Had the scruffy building behind been visible it would have detracted from the isolated blocks of colour that make this shot so attractive.

Handheld, 1/60, f5, ISO800
This fruit stall presented a bright and colourful subject with a prominent red fire hydrant in front. The colour cast from the light bulbs isn't a big factor and by dodging the lady walking on the left she comes better into the image.

Handheld, 1/60, f4, ISO800
 Metering for the inside of this shop took a moment as I had to select spot focus to centre on the two guys at the back of the shop and the exposure worked well.  The darker outside helps to emphasise the interior but interest is still ticked on the exterior by the scruffy man in his sweat shirt.

 Handheld, 1/40, f4, ISO800
 This old gentleman was sitting in front of this lovely gateway leading to a park when , probably, his daughter came to give him a meal.  Despite the bright spotlight in the background which gave the hard lighting to the gateway shining into the lens there was no flare and the camera coped admirably.  I liked the layout of the image but wished I had framed more of the surrounds and I would have like to have included more of the people's shadows which could have added a lot to the image.  The contrast between the bright lit foreground and very dark background is a nice way to highlight the main part of the image.

Handheld, 1/60, f5.6, ISO800, WB Tungsten
Shooting in a night market where the only illumination was tungsten light bulbs I changed the camera's White Balance to Tungsten to retain natural colours.  The colour in the image here is unaltered by post production work so it worked well.

 Tripod, 1/60, f4, ISO1250 + 20 sec, f22, ISO50
It will be obvious to experienced photographers that this is a combination of images.  In order to see the walking people the shutter speed must be fairly fast but to get the light streaks it must be very slow.  It leads me to some long exposures that I took to examine the technique.
Tripod, 30 sec, f18, ISO50
I hate tripods.  Despite this I have lots and since I forgot to pack one on this trip I now have yet one more (a light weight Carbon Fibre Manfrotto) that will make a good travel tripod.  Of course light weight tripods are a compromise between strength, stability and portability and there is no real replacement for a heavy, solid and meaty support.  The other thing I forgot was my cable release but that was easier to get over by using the 2 second timer option.  Since my tripod was a bit weedy, I minimised vibration by using the 5DII's live view option which helped me focus and kept the mirror up.
Tripod, 20 sec, f11, ISO50
This roundabout by Jardine House in Hong Kong would never have attracted me as a subject for a photograph but wanting some light trails I gave it a go.  The result was great and it becomes a fascinating stream of white into red light as the cars moved past.  The wonderful advantage of the tripod was giving me the freedom to select low ISO numbers and high aperture numbers which make for lovely image quality.

Tripod, 30 sec, f18, ISO50
The Bank of China tower makes a great subject having a 'wire building' look at night created by the edge illumination that it features.  The passing buses with their trailing lights adds to the impressive look of this shot.

  Tripod, 30 sec, f18, ISO50
Another view of the Bank of China building with reflections from Charter Gardens.

Tripod, 30 sec, f8, ISO100
Even though a ferry moves slowely when compared to cars, it can still leave a very pleasing light trail through the photograph.  In this image of the Sydney Harbour bridge I use the hand rail as a foreground interest point but had to light it by using the flash off-camera.

  Tripod, 30 sec, f36, ISO100
The traffic streaming over the Sydney Harbour bridge resembles the flow of water that passes below it.

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