Aurora over Lofoten

northern lights
I am just back from an exciting trip to the Lofoten Islands, where we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights on two evenings. Before I went, I was ambivalent about seeing aurora. There are so many pictures of them on the internet these days, and I had seen them before, in Canada decades ago. My purpose in going to Norway was, rather, to capture the beautiful, snow-covered landscape.Lofoten
However, when green ribbons ripped across the sky that first night on Skagsanden beach, I was as excited as anyone. I was unprepared for the raw power of the spectacle, and for how fast the lights can move. Shutter speeds as fast as 1.3″ were required and even then the lights were occasionally burnt out. It seems incredible that all this drama is silent, apart from whoops of exhilaration from onlookers. I fear photographing aurora may be addictive.
norway

Three from Thurne

Norfolk

During my trip to Norfolk last month, I had the chance to spend a large part of one day at Thurne wind pump.  I took many of the usual, landscape type shots but I also enjoyed the chance to use my long lens and capture some graphic black and white details.

Norfolk

My photographic eye tends to veer automatically to the large vistas but I want to start catching more intimate aspects of the landscapes I visit too.  It’s a new project for 2015.

Norfolk

Do you think your eye tends to favour one sort of composition to the detriment of others and is there another you’d particularly like to master too?

Fun with sea and filters

The good folk at Wex Photographic have asked me to write a post about how I use filters to achieve different shutter speeds using images from my recent trip to Brittany. Regular readers may remember I did a piece about this last month and promised a second instalment, so this is it. Today, I will talk a little more about the equipment I use. Almost every image in this post was taken using my Canon 5D mark iii and Canon’s 16-35mm f2.8 L lens, a Manfrotto tripod and ball head, and timer remote switch RST-7002 (the only exception is the one from Norfolk, where I used Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens).

1/60, f/9, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, circ. polariser.

1/60, f/9, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, circ. polariser.

The first few images in this post were taken on the same occasion, with the same composition, only a few minutes, or even seconds apart. They show the effect of different shutter speeds on breaking waves. The light was very dynamic that evening, with the sun going in and out of patchy clouds, so I had to adapt my ISO and aperture to achieve the shutter speeds I wanted without constantly having to change filters.

1/4, f/11, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop 'Little Stopper', circ. polariser.

1/4, f/11, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop ‘Little Stopper’, circ. polariser.

I use the LEE 100mm wide-angle filter system. As you can see from the image captions, most of these shots were taken using the 0.6 (2-stop) hard ND (neutral density) graduated filter. This enabled me to balance the exposure by darkening the sky, thus bringing out the foreground that for a lot of the time was in shadow. I have noticed on my workshops that people tend to be anxious about using a hard grad for fear that the line between dark and light will be too obvious. However, on the standard hard grad the transition still has a small band of gradation, allowing for a little ‘wiggle room’ in its placing, and I use this grad for 90% of my landscape work. When shooting in woodland, however, I tend to use my 0.9 (3-stop) soft grad.

Brittany

0.3″, f/13, ISO 100, 35mm, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop ‘Little Stopper’, circ. polariser.

To lengthen the exposure time for the whole image (i.e. without gradation), I have three go-to ND filters, the 10-stop ‘Big Stopper”, the 6-stop “Little Stopper” and a 3-stop “pro-glass”. Lee introduced the Little Stopper last year and I find that I now use it for most of my long exposure work, only using its bigger brother for very long exposures or very bright conditions.

Brittany

1.3″, f/13, 35mm, ISO 100, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop ‘Little Stopper’, circ. polariser.

A third, but invaluable, filter is the circular polariser. Strangely, despite all the advancements in digital imaging and developing, I don’t think it is yet possible fully to replicate the effect of a polariser in post-production. It can be used to boost colours, reduce or boost reflections and define a blue sky. (It also adds up to two stops to your exposure time.) The visual impact is strongest when used at right angles to the sun but it can still have an effect at other angles. However, a polariser should be used with caution on a very wide angled lens when it can add a patchy look to the sky. The Lee polariser sits in front of the filters on a special ring adapted to screw onto the filter holder. Be sure, if you are going to use it on a wide lens, to buy the ultra slim polariser. Lee only introduced it recently. When I first invested in the system, I made the mistake of buying their standard 105mm only to find it vignetted horribly on my wide lens, forcing me to invest the same money all over again in Heliopan’s ultra slim equivalent.

Perros-Guirec (wex 5)

20″, f/16, 35mm, ISO 50, 2-stop hard ND grad, 10-stop ‘Big Stopper’, circ. polariser.

As you can see from the images, even quite small adjustments in shutter speed affect the appearance of moving water. I like speeds of between 1/5 and 0.8″ as they introduce a pleasing sense of movement without smoothing the water completely. I find 1/5, or thereabouts, is particularly good for catching the way water seems to scatter and fragment in clashes or peaks of waves, as in the shot below, taken on a different occasion, on the Norfolk coast.

1/5, f/8, ISO 50, 123mm, 3-stop "pro-glass".

1/5, f/8, ISO 50, 123mm, 3-stop ‘pro-glass’.

Not every shot has to be a long exposure, of course. In the image below, I liked the effect of the sunset light on the water and wanted to capture more texture.

Brittany

1/50, f/3.5, ISO 400, 22mm. 2-stop hard grad.

However, sometimes the serenity of a longer exposure is more pleasing, as in the image below, taken during a subtle dawn at the same location the next day.

Brittany

101″, f/16, ISO 100, 23mm, 2-stop ND hard grad and ‘Little Stopper’.

If you are thinking of investing in some filters, Wex are kindly offering readers of this blog a discount. Details as follows:

10% off LEE Filters
Start Date: 17/03/2015
End Date: 17/04/2015
Code: SC10LF
Link: http://www.wexphotographic.com/square-or-rectangular-filters-lee-filters/b3073-m144.
T&Cs: http://www.wexphotographic.com/?/popups/terms-promo-leefilters-17032015.html

A turbulent evening

Brittany

During the first couple of days of my trip photographing lighthouses in Brittany earlier this month, we had some nicely changeable weather. The wind was so strong at this lighthouse, it was hard to keep the camera and tripod still enough. Black and white seemed to suit this two-toned structure.

Dawn the next day, and it was still just as windy but the sky was serene, heralding more peaceful weather ahead.  A long exposure in colour seemed the way to go.  I love going back to locations and capturing their different moods.

bretagne

* * * * *

Still catching up with my 365 redux backlog. 365/66, 68 and 69 are from 2009, the year of my original, and more conventional, project 365. It’s handy to have that project to rely on when I hit a patch where I haven’t taken pictures in other years. True to my pledge, I have re-edited these. 67 is from last year, a shot previously unshared of a midge on a pieris shrub in my garden. I am enjoying seeing how my images have improved (to my eye, anyway) in the 7 years since I switched to digital, and became obsessed.

365/66

365/66

365/67

365/67

365/68

365/68

365/69

365/69

365 Backlog

derelict hut

365/60

Starting to catch up with my backlog of 365 redux images before a different sort of post tomorrow. 365/60 is from 2010, 61and 62 are from 2009 and 63 is from 2014.  365/64 is also from last year.  According to the traditional song, seven magpies is ‘for a secret never to be told’, but what about 24?  Finally, 365/65 is also from 2014, an image hitherto unprocessed from my day out shooting street images with Damian Demolder and Amateur Photographer magazine.  If you want to know more about my 365 redux project, see here.

wey navigation

365/61

poinsettia

365/62

snowdrops

365/63

magpies

365/64

street

365/65

Perros-Guirec

Brittany

I am just back from an excellent adventure photographing lighthouses along the rugged coast of Brittany, France. The trip was organised by Jonathan Critchley of Ocean Capture. Some may remember that I had a few days in France with Ocean Capture this time last year.  There will be more from Brittany soon, but this picture might be my favourite.