I caught some great pictures of Albert Bridge across the River Thames at dusk a few months ago, but have only just got around to processing them all. Albert Bridge is one of the best lit of all the Thames bridges and looks exceptional at night. Strangely, it is an unusual hybrid, having been built as a very early form of mixed suspension and cable-stayed bridge in 1873, but was then strengthened with the addition of a more conventional suspension bridge catenary in 1887, before being further strengthened with the addition of an unsightly middle-span pier in 1973, which was only meant to be a temporary solution – anyway, the pier is still there over 40 years later!
I arrived about an hour before sunset and took a sequence of long exposures all the way through to about an hour after sunset. I was really trying to capture the moving river boats on the water, to add a bit more of an event to the images, but there weren’t that many craft on the water this high up the river. Anyway, the best exposure was for about 15-20 seconds. At ISO 64 and f/16, this meant that at the beginning of the shoot, I needed about 5 stops of my ND filters, whereas by the time it was dark, I didn’t need any filter at all. My favourite image, which is the first one shown below, was taken about half an hour after sunset itself, with a fabulous red glow in the sky. The second one below was then taken almost an hour after sunset, with a lovely mixture of the remnants of the natural dark blue light in the sky together with the drama of the lights on the bridge itself.
Virtually all I had to do in Lightroom was to shift the white balance from about 8,000K for the first few images gradually through to about 4,000K for the last few. I also darkened the highlights and lightened the shadows to pull out the massive dynamic range of my Nikon D810. The net result were some very festive looking pictures, which are very appropriate at this time of year!
You can see a bigger collection of other Albert Bridge images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I got up early again recently to capture the late autumn sunrise on Hampstead Heath. I was waiting for the lovely lighting conditions that one gets on a clear, cold morning with frost on the ground and some mist in the air – the pre-dawn shots over the London skyline are always great as the colours of the sky change so quickly from a really dark blue to red to orange to yellow and then eventually back to a light blue!
I started at about an hour before sunrise and took pictures of the cityscape until the sun finally broke through the horizon. I then moved in to the woodland areas to capture the sun bursting through the trees for about another hour – after which time the sun was truly up. The lighting was still lovely and clear, but the spectacular nature of the light in those 1-2 hours around sunrise just cannot be beaten. I prefer the dawn, as opposed to the dusk, as the light seems much fresher after a cold night, and it’s always more peaceful too!
Like in Trent Park recently, many of my favourite shots were contre-jour (i.e. against the daylight) – with the low sun bursting through the trees in various ways. See my recent blog about the technical details there. When you cannot darken the sky (with ND grads) or lighten the foreground (with flash), and you cannot really use HDR techniques (as the ghosting around moving leaves is very difficult to remove), then you do have to rely on working with the shadows and highlights. This is fine with an excellent FX sensor, but you do need to carefully watch the image, the histogram and clipping previews all the while. Assuming that you’ve got the exposure correct, i.e. balanced nicely between the highlights and shadows, then you can adjust the highlights/shadows sliders, within reason. I then use the whites/blacks sliders like a Levels adjustment to maximise the tonal range and then the tone curve for a final Curves adjustment.
With the pre-dawn shots, I was obviously using a tripod at ISO 64 and f/16, giving exposures of about 5s to 1/20s. Once the sun was up, I switched to hand-held to move around more quickly - the sun’s rays were rapidly changing as different bursts of light came through the trees. I was then using a minimum speed of about 1/100s with an f/11 aperture and an ISO of 100-400 – these slighly higher ISOs still work really well at large print sizes on my D810 sensor.
In the skyline view below, which was taken an hour before sunrise, you can see the whole panorama from Canary Wharf across to the BT Tower. The star was Venus, I assume, and the first few planes were just starting to arrive in to Heathrow. In the second image, an hour after sunrise, the sun is caught bursting through the trees, but most of the frost and mist has now cleared.
You can see some of my other best images from the day in my Landscapes Portfolio.
The final autumn leaves were being blown off the oak trees in the last few days of November – it was like a snowstorm of leaves blowing around. After a while, I managed to capture the sudden gust of wind picking up the leaves at the same time as a plane flying overhead, seemingly almost vertical ! Against a beautiful clear, blue sky on a very cold morning.
Most of my images are well planned, but this was caught on the spur of the moment as the wind suddenly picked up. 1/1000s was fast enough to freeze the leaves in mid-air.
I took a series of long exposures of the Bonfire Night fireworks a few weeks ago – it was interesting to compare a similar set that I had taken a year beforehand from an almost identical spot but on my Nikon D7100, a DX camera, whereas this year I used my Nikon D810, an FX camera.
Both sets had the lens stopped down to f/11 and a low ISO of 100, giving shutter speeds of 15-20 seconds. Both also used a tripod with the usual techniques of operating the shutter at mirror-up with a remote and of covering the eyepiece. I also set the long exposure noise reduction on the cameras to be on and then did very little in Lightroom to adjust the images.
On the surface, both sets of images look great – I remember being really pleased with the ones from last year ! However at closer examination, you see how much sharper and clearer the recent images are from the full-frame FX camera. It was very windy last year, whereas this year was calmer, which did add a little to the improvement, but it was not the main change.
Of course, the lens will have had some effect too. Last year, I used a pretty decent FX lens, the 24-120mm f/4, but at its widest angle of 24mm, where it is a little softer. This year though, I used the better 24-70mm f/2.8, at the equivalent focal length of 36mm, where it performs superbly.
Either way, camera or lens, or both, I am really pleased with the photographs from this year, but now a little less pleased with the ones from last year !
You can see my other firework images in my Abstract Portfolio.
I went to Trent Park at dawn a few weeks ago to capture the late autumn sunrise. I was particularly waiting for the unusual lighting conditions that one gets on a clear, cold morning with frost on the ground and some mist in the air.
Many of my favourite shots were contre-jour (i.e. against the daylight) – with the low sun bursting through the trees in various ways. I know that this technique has become much more popular recently as sensor technology has really advanced in the last decade or so, allowing many more opportunities to create these unusual images, but I still love the effects.
You can watch almost any outside documentary or drama on TV nowadays, whether it’s Planet Earth II, Poldark or one of the many science programmes, and see that they use contre-jour on almost every scene!
Technically, it really needs a fabulous sensor with a very large dynamic range – my Nikon D810 has about 14 stops, which is perfect. In Lightroom, amongst other adjustments, I can then darken the highlights and lighten the shadows to pull out this massive dynamic range. I almost think that the days of bracketing 3 images at differing exposures (and merging them in HDR software) are probably gone for me now – it’s far easier, and pretty much just as high a quality, to pull out the detail from the highlights/shadows. With traditional landscape shots and an obvious horizon, I would still use ND grads to darken the sky, but nearly all these images in Trent Park had trees across that interface, which does not then really suit these graduated filters.
I was generally using my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at focal lengths of 24-30mm and at f/11-16 to maximise the depth of field and the sunburst effects. Handheld at 1/125s gave me ISOs of 100-400, going up to about 800 in the shady areas – these can still generate really high quality images at large print sizes.
You can see a larger range of my other images from the day in my Landscapes Portfolio.
I took the opportunity on a pleasant, sunny autumn day to visit London Zoo again last week. I’ve been there lots of times beforehand with the family and kids, but have never really spent a day just concentrating on the photography.
I had the 70-200mm f/4 lens on my Nikon D810 and the 200-500mm f/5.6 lens on my D7100 - see my previous blogs in late 2015 about this fabulous super-telephoto lens. In reality, most of the pictures were indeed taken with this longer lens, to get really good quality close-ups and full-face shots. I used high-ish shutter speeds of 1/500-1/1000s to capture any unusual moments with the lens wide open at f/5.6. When it’s very sunny, you can then still get an ISO of 100, but you can easily lose 4-5 stops of light as soon as it gets more cloudy/shady, taking the ISO up to 1600-3200. Ideally, you want the ISO to be less than about 400-800 for a really good quality image, slightly more on my Nikon D810 (which has a superb FX sensor). So, you end up playing a constant game of trying to balance the shutter speed and the ISO.
As a result, you also have the longer lens wide open at f/5.6 most of the time, but at all focal lengths, the sharpness is really exceptional. You have to be careful with the focus point though, as the depth of field is very small at the 500mm focal length, typically only 100-400mm for animals 10-20m away, or much less if the animal is closer than about 5m.
Anyway, I got a really good set of images out of it all. Some were simple portraits – such as this very majestic male Asiatic Lion (Bhuna), but I also managed to capture quite a few interesting moments too, like this African Giraffe eating a tree branch – you forget that giraffe must have teeth too !
The best of the day’s photographs can now be seen in my Portfolio/Wildlife/Zoo section, including one of the fabulous male Silverback Gorilla (Kumbuka) who "escaped" briefly today !
The problem with photography nowadays is the massive volume of pictures uploaded onto the internet – it’s millions every day ! So, how on earth does a serious or professional photographer sell any work ? It’s all about producing images that others cannot.
I tend to focus (!) on landscapes and wildlife, basically creating images that you cannot get from an iPhone. This works for various reasons. Firstly, there’s the essential combination of wonderful lighting together with some unusual event. To get the best lighting, you need to be out at sunrise or sunset, or during some other unusual lighting condition, i.e. with stormy clouds or a rainbow – this needs some effort ! Then to get that something special, you need the unusual event. For landscapes, that event might be the combination within the scene of a plane, or a red London bus, or an animal, or the moon, or some interesting reflection – water always adds a lot to any landscape shot. For wildlife, the additional event (rather than the image being a simple portrait) might be some unusual interaction with other animals, or a strange face or pose. Again, waiting for these unusual events needs some time and effort !
Secondly, there are the advanced technical features of a good DSLR, which can produce images that others cannot. For landscapes, the main motivation is to use a very low ISO (64-100 for exceptional quality at large print sizes) with small apertures (f/11 to f/16 to produce as large a depth of field as possible). This generally means using long exposures that need a solid tripod – 1/10s to 30s, or more. The use of filters (polarising, ND and ND grads) also helps to enhance many landscape photographs. For wildlife, the main need is to use a high shutter speed to freeze the action or the event – 1/500s to 1/2000s, or less. This generally means using telephoto lenses at their widest aperture (f/4 to f/5.6) to keep the ISO as low as possible (ideally 100-400 and best not more than 800-1600). These wide apertures also then produce very shallow depths of field that make focussing very difficult – often needing lots of shots to get one really clean and sharp image – all of which needs time and effort, again !
Snappers and iPhone users simply cannot replicate any of these types of landscape or wildlife image.
These two images below should show what others cannot produce, without skill, some effort and the right equipment !
I’ve now got some images of Tower Bridge at sunset and dusk. I arrived about an hour before sunset and took a whole sequence of long exposures all the way through to about an hour after sunset. I didn’t notice the stars in the later shots at the time, but they definitely showed up on my sensor !
I was really trying to capture the moving river boats on the water, to add a bit more of an event to the images – a great picture often has some unusual event caught in dramatic lighting conditions. The best exposure for me was about 25 seconds. At ISO 64 and f/11-f/16, this meant that at the beginning of the shoot, I needed about 5 stops of my ND filters, whereas by the time it was dark, I didn’t need any filter. My favourite image, which is shown below, was taken about 45 minutes after sunset, with a nice mixture of the remnants of the natural light in the sky together with the drama of the lights on the bridge and the surrounding buildings.
All I had to do in Lightroom was to shift the white balance from about 9,000K for the first few images gradually through to about 5,000K for the last few. I also darkened the highlights and lightened the shadows to pull out the massive dynamic range of my Nikon D810. I think that the days of bracketing 3 images at differing exposures (and merging them in HDR software) are probably gone for me now – it’s far easier with this fabulous sensor (and just as high a quality) to pull out the detail from the highlights/shadows, especially the shadows. With traditional landscape shots, I would still use ND grads, but these images of Tower Bridge were not really best suited to using such linear graduated filters.
You can see a bigger collection of other Tower Bridge images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
As noted in my last blog, I’ve now processed the images of Tower Bridge around dawn – the lovely golden hours, when the light is at its most variable and dramatic.
I did capture some nice shots of the sun bursting through the sky next to the towers and also ones with red London buses on the main span, all of which you can now see in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I also used my circular polarising filter to capture some clearer images of the scene. It seemed an ideal day to see how the polarising filter changes the image. With the rising sun almost exactly at 90 degrees to my right, it was possible to maximise the impact of the filter. You can see the dramatic difference between the two images, with the first filtered shot not only having a bluer and clearer sky, but also having clearer reflections in both the glass of the buildings and the water of the River Thames – the contrast is also larger. I always use manual exposures but you could see that the camera’s TTL light metering was showing that the filtered image was about 1-2 stops darker, for which one obviously compensates.
Both pictures were at a focal length of 35mm on my 16-35mm f/4 wide-angle lens – you shouldn’t really use polarising filters on focal lengths less than about 24mm, as the banding of the light in the sky (which you can see to a certain extent in the first image) becomes much more pronounced. Both images were also at f/11 – mid-range apertures are not only best for image quality but are also best for limiting any of these filter aberrations.
I’ll get some dusk/night-time photographs later this week – I did mean to go last week, but on the sunny evenings it was just too hot and sticky in the end ! The muggy 32 degrees of last week has now become 15-20 degrees this week !
Continuing my theme of London landmarks on the River Thames, I did a reconnaissance run back in July in the Tower Bridge area of the river, but have only just got around to processing them all ! (For every day that I spend taking pictures, I must spend at least a day processing them all in Lightroom). I went back to Tower Bridge a bit later in July as well to capture the same scene at dawn and I’m planning to go back later this week at dusk/night-time.
I took quite a few photographs with my Lee Big Stopper (see my previous blogs about the best procedures for this 10-stop ND filter) to blur the boats on the water and the traffic on Tower Bridge itself. In the end, I preferred this un-filtered shot though - it took a while to get just the right timing for a boat to be caught in a good position, together with a glistening plane overhead !
Next to Tower Bridge is St Katharine Docks – the entrance to the docks has a very simple, little bascule footbridge, which I designed at Benaim many years ago ! We worked it up with Powell-Williams Architects, who were very good at respecting the integrity of the structural form. It must be the smallest bridge that I ever designed by quite a long way, but it looks pretty good still – especially with the matching red road bridge in the background, which was designed by Arup.
After 13 years, our lovely Hooch sadly passed away in early September – it felt like he’d been with us forever, keeping an eye on all the kids growing up ! We got him as a rescue dog and he was as mad as a hatter until the best dog trainer in London, John Uncle, helped us out. After many, many hard months of training from Jil, he became the best family dog ever. As with all Labradors, he loved food, chasing squirrels and swimming.
The first picture shows him having successfully recovered a favourite toy from rock pools and waves in Cornwall, while the second one is waiting for his tea in his most handsome dog in north London pose !
At the end of August, the wildlife on our sedum roof was still swarming everywhere – hundreds of bumble bees especially. I took these images with my 200-500mm telephoto lens, at full zoom and at full f/5.6 aperture, where it still has excellent sharpness and clarity.
I used high shutter speeds of 1/800-1/1000 to capture any key moments with the ISO-Auto to help get the right exposure in the variable light conditions – in sunnier areas, the ISO was helpfully around 200, whereas in slightly shadier areas, the ISO went up to about 800, which is pretty much fine still on my D7100. You do have to be very careful with the focus point, especially as I was only about 3m away, as the depth of field is exceptionally small, typically only about 10mm. Also, even though the VR on the lens is fantastic, it’s best to switch it off when using shutter speeds that do not need it to be on!
The second picture is of a lovely and unusual Gladiolus. I liked the V-shape of the two flowers framed by the V-shape of the oak trees in the background. Depth of field is an issue here too – with a 50mm focal length on my D810, you need to close down to about f/11 to get enough of the flower in focus.
You can see a larger range of other recent summertime images in my Wildlife Portfolio - Gardens and in my Gardens Portfolio – Summer.
I've printed quite a few large images recently using White Wall - check them out on-line. I used their Kodak Pro Endura paper with a UV film lamination on an Aluminium Dibond backing, which gives a very slender, 3mm thick frame that can be beautifully mounted straight on to any wall. They're exhibition quality and are therefore quite expensive, at around £200 for an A1/A0 size - but they look stunning. Printed at this size (60cm by 90cm to 80cm by 120cm), the images from my 36 megapixel Nikon D810 are absolutely flawless, even close-up and even though they are only printed at 150-200ppi, including this one of Westminster Bridge below.
Typically, you would normally need a print quality of 100-150ppi for a big monitor or a canvas or a good print, whilst for a very good print you would need 150-200ppi, and for an excellent print 200-300ppi. Many professional print houses say that A4/A3 prints should be at 300ppi, due to their very close viewing distance, and that larger prints (A2/A1/A0) that are viewed from a greater distance should be at 200ppi. My experience of images from full frame FX sensors is that you cannot spot any lack of quality at 200ppi for any of these print sizes.
It’s interesting to see how phone/camera manufacturers, and users, chase megapixels (MP). Modern phones/cameras are often well over 8MP, if not 12-20MP. This is very odd as 99% of all users will not need anything more than 6MP ! A big monitor (A3 sized at 120ppi) only needs 3MP. I guess that most people would never print anything larger than an A4 image – even at 250ppi, this only needs 6MP. However, nearly all social media outlets reduce any phone/camera image down to less than 1MP ! So, why do modern phones have up to 12MP ?
It’s not just the number of pixels, of course, it’s their size and therefore quality that's really the key. A full-frame DSLR has a sensor that is 36mm wide whereas a modern phone has one that is about 5mm wide. Ultimately, it’s the sensor size and therefore the pixel size that matters. A 12MP phone sensor can never capture the same image quality as 12MP DSLR sensor – how could it ? The pixels (or photosites) of a DSLR are 5-7 microns wide for a full-frame (FX) camera and 4-6 microns for a cropped-sensor (DX) camera, compared to the 1.5 microns of a modern phone. Bigger photosites pick up better image quality, less noise and a higher dynamic range.
On top of the sensor/pixel size issues, there are the obvious points about the quality of the glass/lens and the skill/technique of the photographer, both of which add very considerably to the quality of the final image compared to a phone !
I would also estimate that modern phones can probably only pick up about 6-8 stops of dynamic range, i.e. between the darkest and lightest parts of the image. Compare that figure to the 8-10 stops that a compact digital camera can record, or the ~12 stops from a DX DSLR or the ~14 stops from my FX D810. I guess that the human eye can record 20-25 stops, probably more.
Even with DSLRs, the maximum size that most people would print out their images is probably around A3 – this needs 12-16MP at most. This is why even the flagship professional Nikon DSLRs only have around 20MP – most pros would only assume that their images end up in print at A4 or A3, at the most. Clearly, fashion and landscape or architectural photographers will often print out at a much larger scale – A2, A1 or A0 – this does then need the 36MP of something like the Nikon D810. DSLRs are also close to reaching 50MP now and, of course, medium-format cameras can deliver 50-100MP, as well as producing even greater image quality, better noise control and huge dynamic range.
As noted in one of my recent blogs, I’ve also now got some images of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge around dawn and dusk – the lovely golden hours, where the light is at its most variable and dramatic.
With dawn so early at the moment, I wasn’t able to get any really powerful images over the waters of the River Thames, but I did capture some nice shots of St Paul’s Cathedral including this sunburst image of the sun coming through the towers framed with red London buses, as you can see below.
My dusk visit to the river was better - I arrived before sunset and took a whole sequence of long exposures over several hours. My favourite images were the ones more towards night time, where you get the added drama of a red/blue sky and the lights coming on around the River Thames. I love all the thousands of colours merged together in the water – just like a Turner painting! This is appropriate opposite the Tate – although it’s Tate Modern, of course, not the Tate itself where all the Turners are displayed!
I was trying to capture both moving people on the bridge together with river boats on the water - the best exposure was for about 20 seconds. Sadly, once it got dark though, the boats on the river stopped and there were less people on the bridge. At ISO 64 and f/11-f/16, I needed all ten stops of the Lee Big Stopper at the start of the shoot, whereas by the time it was almost dark, I didn’t need any filter. Besides my normal adjustments in Lightroom, all I had to then do was to adjust the white balance - from about 6,000-10,000K, depending on the filter opacity, the length of the exposure and the actual light itself. The steel bridge piers acted as a nice grey card!
You can see a bigger collection of various other St Paul’s and Bankside images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
May is always the fullest and most dramatically changing time of year in the garden. Jil designs all her gardens to have interest all the year around, but springtime is literally blooming!
As with the Chelsea Flower Show images below, you have to wait for a good balance of highlights and shadows, or for the early morning or late afternoon sun to add some more dramatic lighting. I always shoot with RAW files, which enable me to make the subtle adjustments of colour and tone in Lightroom afterwards – this often differentiates a good photograph from one that really stands out. A grey card helps to get a more precise value for the white balance too.
Besides all the focussing issues noted in my last blog at Chelsesa, the most difficult images in a busy London street are always those of larger expanses of garden, where you are trying to avoid all the extraneous backgrounds! Fences, sheds, cars, other houses, neighbours and other unwanted stuff can easily be removed in Photoshop, but I always try to get the shot without them there in the first place!
You can see a larger range of my most recent springtime images in my Gardens Portfolio – Spring.
Jil (www.jilaynerickards.com) and I went to the annual Chelsea Flower Show last week, as we do every year.
Jil looks at the gardens very professionally (as a Member of the Society of Garden Designers – MSGD), looking at both the overall design layout and the individual planting arrangements. I look at them from a garden photography perspective, which is tricky with so many people around each garden!
RHS Members’ Day is always busy, but the crowds do slim out at the end of the day and, as often happens, that time nicely coincided with a lovely evening sunshine, which beautifully enhanced some of the main show gardens. It was worth waiting for that low light to break through the sky. The first image below is of the lovely Andy Sturgeon garden, which was winner of the Best in Show. Our favourite scheme though was the Garden of Mindful Living designed by Paul Martin, which is shown in the second image, both taken before the early evening sunshine!
Also, as I have noted on several previous blogs, it’s quite awkward to get the whole garden in focus, from 1-2m close up all the way to 20m or more. Really, the only way is to close the aperture down to f/11 to f/16 and to use a wide angle lens of 24-35mm (on a full-frame camera). On sunny days, it’s then best to use a 35mm lens at f/16 – this also allows a good ISO of 100 and a fast enough shutter speed (>1/100s) to freeze any wind movement. As the light can drop by up to 5 stops though from full sunshine, there are then limited options. You need to keep to at least 1/100s to shoot both hand-held and to avoid any wind motion in the plants. You can open up the ISO, but I don’t really like going above 400-800 to get a really good quality image (even on my Nikon D810). So, you then have to also open up the aperture to f/11 or f/8. To maintain the depth of field from 1-2m to infinity, you must use a wider angle lens. I have a little spreadsheet that allows me to pick the required near and far focus points – it then calculates the focus distance and the hyperfocal, which allows me to choose the best combination of aperture and focal length. Roughly, at f/16 you’ll need a 35mm lens, at f/11 a 30mm lens and at f/8 a 24mm lens. In all cases, you need to focus at about 3m, which is close to the hyperfocal distance.
There’s a fuller selection of other images from Chelsea 2016 in my Gardens Portfolio.
Continuing my theme of London landmarks on the River Thames, I did a reconnaissance run last week in the St Paul’s area of the river. I’ll need to go back when the lighting is better at dawn or dusk, but I was pleased with a couple of them.
The first one used a Lee Big Stopper (see my blogs below) to blur the boat on the water and to eliminate the moving people on the Millennium Bridge. It took a while to get just the right timing for a boat to be caught in a good position.
Prior to the hugely expensive (owing to some serious lack of structural integrity and honesty) Thames Garden Bridge (you can Google my comments in New Civil Engineer about this scheme), the Millennium Bridge probably had the unfortunate title of being the most expensive footbridge in the world. I know from my 35 years as a major Bridge Consultant that a stunning footbridge in this location should have cost around £5,000/m2. The Arup scheme with all its flaws (it had nothing like the required amount of lateral stiffness and was also pre-disposed due to its inclined cable configuration to move laterally under eccentric vertical loads) cost closer to £10-15,000/m2, but then closer to £15-20,000/m2 after the remedial repairs were carried out – not far off the ludicrous cost of the Thames Garden Bridge at £25,000/m2!
It has become an iconic structure in London though, which is a great statement about how valuable Civil and Structural Engineers are to society. With bridges the vast majority of the design is carried out by the Engineers, with Architects occasionally supporting the team, whereas with buildings, the design is generally led by Architects, supported by teams of Engineers.
See the link at the bottom of my Bridge Consultant tab to the paper in The Structural Engineer that I wrote last year on the whole issue of good value in bridge design - Landmark bridges - utilitas versus venustas.
Back to photography! The second image is a common shot of St Paul’s Cathedral, but I waited a considerable time to get the red London buses in just the right location.
As I noted in my last blog, I’ve also now got some images of Westminster Bridge around sunset and dusk.
I arrived about an hour before sunset and took a whole sequence of long exposures all the way through to about an hour after sunset. In reality, my favourite images were the ones more towards night time, with the added drama of a fading blue sky and the lights coming on around the River Thames.
I was really trying to capture both moving buses on Westminster Bridge itself together with river boats on the water. The best exposure was for about 20-30 seconds. At ISO 64 and f/11-f/16, this meant that at the beginning of the shoot, I needed all ten stops of the Lee Big Stopper, whereas by the time it was almost dark, I needed no filter at all. So this was tricky, as I had to change the intensity of the filter as the light faded, from 10 stops, to 5 stops, to 2/3 stops, to nothing. Overall though, it worked out very well, but my favourite image was definitely the one right at the end, which is shown below.
All I had to really do in Lightroom was to shift the white balance from about 10,000K for the first few images gradually through to about 6,000K for the last few. I also darkened the highlights and lightened the shadows to pull out the massive dynamic range of my Nikon D810, with no visible noise at all.
You can see a bigger collection of various other Westminster landmarks in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
Even though we’ve lived in London for nearly 40 years now, I’ve never really taken any proper photographs in central London itself! So, I’m putting that to right by looking at lots of locations along the River Thames – famous landmarks are good, of course, but I need something more to add to the photographs – moving water and great lighting conditions make a good combination. I’m going to use my Lee Filters Big Stopper to add some further interest to the water, together with getting the most dramatic lighting by taking images at either dawn or dusk, in the golden hours.
Dawn is my favourite time, as the light after a cold night always seems to be more intense than with dusk shots, which are generally after a warm day. Dawn is always quieter too, with not many people around – the downside at this time of year though is that sunrise is at 5.30am! I’ll try some dusk shots over the next few weeks as well, as the evening can add that extra dimension of a stormy sunset together with the lights of the buildings just coming on.
The Big Stopper neutral density (ND) filter closes the light down by about 10 stops, i.e. 2 to the power 10, which is about 1,000 times. The net result is that normal daylight exposures (at ISO 64 and f/11-f/16) of 1/30-1/125 go to 10-30 seconds, which then completely softens the moving water and clouds. I was also looking for the blurred line of red London buses on Westminster Bridge to add more drama to this particular scene.
Using a tripod with a remote, the shutter at mirror-up and with the long exposure noise reduction (not forgetting to close the shutter on the eyepiece too!), it was pretty easy after a couple of trial shots to see from the histogram that the exposures were coming out just fine. The Big Stopper does add quite a strong blue cast to the final image, which Lee suggests is equivalent to a white balance setting of 9-11,000K. I also did some tests later using the ND filter to photograph a grey card with the sensor opened up by 10 stops (at ISO 1600, f/2.8 and 1/20) – this showed that the white balance correction should be about 12,000K. Anyway, I adjusted the images in Lightroom to about 11,000K, which seemed to look the most natural. Oddly, both the Auto white balance in camera and in Lightroom suggested values closer to 8,000K.
Having said everything above about the golden hours close to sunrise/sunset, the first image below was actually my favourite, at close to midday - I was trying to get Big Ben (the Elizabeth Tower, of course) at exactly noon, but the light had gone very flat by that time. The second image was indeed from a dawn sequence starting at about 6.30am – actually the light didn’t change much over that first hour, or so, but this image with both blurred buses and a boat on the river seemed the best to me.
I’ve been to Hampstead Heath at dawn again recently (see my blogs from late 2015 too), capturing both the fabulous London skyline and the spring sunrise on the Heath itself. I was particularly waiting for the unusual lighting conditions that one gets on a clear morning with frost on the ground and mist in the air.
Whereas last autumn/winter I was using HDR merging techniques, this time around I stuck to single exposures, as my Nikon D810 does have an amazing dynamic range to bring out great detail from both the shadows and highlights. I could have also used one of my graduated Lee ND filters, but it was too dark and too frosty! I certainly did not want to miss any of the fleeting moments of glorious light by fiddling around with filters!
I had the lenses stopped down to f/11 with an ISO of 100, giving shutter speeds as long as 10 seconds when it was first light. You have to use a tripod, of course, with the usual techniques of operating the shutter at mirror-up with a remote and with the long exposure noise reduction. My Nikon D810 also has the facility to raise the front curtain of the shutter with an electronic exposure of the sensor, which further reduces any vibration on the longer exposures.
In the skyline view below, you can see the whole panorama from Canary Wharf across to the Gherkin, the Shard, the London Eye and the BT Tower. The light from the sunrise was changing very quickly – it produced a red sky for only a minute or so, before turning orange and then yellow. The moon in the background was a deliberate bonus too. About half an hour later, there were stunning reflections off the buildings around the Gherkin and off the Shard, both of which you can see in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
In the second image below, I managed to capture the crepuscular rays from the sunrise, with them appearing almost vertically above the sun itself. Again, I waited for the few seconds when the sky was its most red. At this time of the morning, the first planes arriving at Heathrow are also just starting to appear in the sky, adding a little more texture and interest.
Jil and I took a trip to the fabulous Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex last week, mainly to look at the early spring blooms of snowdrops, daffodils and hellebores in the woodland garden. We’ve been there lots of times, but not at this time of year beforehand.
As most such places do not really allow the use of tripods and as I generally take garden photographs at about f/16 to maximise the depth of field, I had to hand-hold with shutter speeds of around 1/30-1/60 – I find that you get problems with anything slower than these speeds, even with fantastic VR. It was reasonably bright though, allowing me to use an ISO of 200, which was fine.
The other main issue with gardens and flower beds is the depth of field that you need. Whereas with a landscape shot you can get a large depth of field relatively easily (using wide angle lenses, focus points that are some distance away and at least f/11), it is much more difficult for garden beds, where you are trying to get about 2-8m in focus, or preferably about 1-10m in focus.
To get 2-8m of the image in focus, you need to be focussing at about 3-4m away. Using f/16 as the best aperture to maximise the depth of field, without getting any serious diffraction effects, means that you cannot use any focal length longer than about 50mm – for my Nikon D810, anyway. But, if you want to get about 1-10m of the image in focus, which can often be preferred, you then need to be focussing at about 2-3m away, at f/16 again – this then forces the maximum focal length of the lens to be about 30mm. 30-50mm is probably a little wider than most shots would usually suggest, but it’s the only way to get everything in focus, if that’s want you want, of course!
To get a more precise white balance, I’ve started to use a grey card – the auto white balance that the camera uses can often be different from the auto white balance that Lightroom tries to suggest for the RAW file – so, a more correct value is useful! (See my previous blog about how stock agencies seem to prefer a true white balance). Anyway, I wouldn’t try to sell any Beth Chatto images, as it’s a private garden after all.
You can see a larger range of these Beth Chatto images in my Gardens Portfolio.
I’ve been uploading some of my older images onto microstock photo agencies – Shutterstock, in particular. From thousands of images, I had several hundred that were already catalogued by me as being 5-star and suitable for commercial use, i.e. my best ones taken from public land and of public places! Private photos or anything from private land cannot be used. However, there are issues – it takes ages to upload the selected ones, the income is probably tiny, and the review process by Shutterstock is very odd.
Shutterstock hold about 80m images and pay out about $80m a year to their contributors – on average, that is clearly only $1 per image per year! I guess if you have several thousand photos uploaded - really good quality images that are commercially desirable, then you can get an income of thousands per year. However, I would estimate that most decent photos are not that commercially desirable and that therefore the returns are likely to be less than the $1 per image per year. Anyway, we’ll see?
I uploaded my best ten photos for review to become a contributor a few weeks ago, and got passed that first hurdle relatively easily, with seven accepted. After that point though, the review process seems very subjective and random. I’ve subsequently submitted about ten batches of 20 similar quality images – I’ve had 20 out of 20 accepted, and had 2 out of 20 accepted! Odd? Overall, after several weeks, I’ve had about 50% accepted, which is not too bad, as the average acceptance rate seems to be closer to about 25%?
Take the two images below of The Pitons in St Lucia last year. The first longer shot, which I thought was the best one, failed due to “Poor Lighting”, whereas the second closer shot, passed with flying colours. I guess that it depends on the mood of the reviewer – also, once they fail one of a batch due to “Poor Lighting”, say, they tend to then fail a few for the same reason. Odd?
Anyway, after submitting about 200 images so far, I can conclude the following:
So overall, it’s best to use a full-frame camera at ISO 100, on a tripod with even and true lighting, with everything in focus, and very little post-processing!
There has been quite a lot of fox activity recently in north London – Spring is in the air, or something! A warm winter so far has got the sap rising, in more ways than one, as you can see in the second image!
I’ve been taking many more wildlife shots with my new 200-500mm f/5.6 Nikon lens (see my previous blogs in late 2015 about this fabulous lens). I used high shutter speeds of 1/500-1/1000 to capture any unusual moments with the lens wide open at f/5.6. I also use the ISO-Auto to help get the right exposure in rapidly changing light conditions – in the first sunny shot, the ISO was helpfully only around 200, whereas in the second and more shady image, the ISO was boosted to 3200-6400.
The detail produced with this lens wide open at f/5.6, and at all focal lengths, is really exceptional, especially at low ISOs where every hair around the fox’s nose and eyes is in very sharp focus. You do have to be very careful with the focus point though, as the depth of field is very small, typically only 200-400mm. Even though the VR on the lens is fantastic, it’s also best to switch it off when using shutter speeds that do not need it to be on!
I tend to use my Nikon D7100 (a DX camera with a cropped sensor) for these wildlife photographs and my Nikon D810 (an FX camera with a full-frame sensor) for landscape and garden photos. I know that there’s a debate about whether DX or FX bodies are best for wildlife photography. In essence, you can argue that the DX body gives you a longer reach, i.e. my 200-500mm lens gives the same image size as a 300-750mm lens on an FX camera, and that the DX sensor has a greater pixel density with more pixels/mm (~250) compared to the FX sensor on my D810 (at ~200 pixels/mm). Alternatively, it’s probably a more valid argument to note that the FX sensor has more and larger photosites/pixels, giving better overall quality, better ISO performance, less noise and a better dynamic range. And, the D810 has a much larger buffer (~16 vs. ~4) for taking bursts of RAW images at ~5fps.
Either way, it suits me to have the super-telephoto lens (200-500mm f/5.6) on my D7100 and my other main lenses (16-35mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/4) on my D810!
You can see more fox images and other wildlife shots in my Wildlife Portfolio.