Author Archives: David

Isolating a subject with light

St Paul’s Cathedral : Canon 5D : EF 17-40mm (21mm) : 60 sec : f22 : Cokin Nuances ND10 and ND 3 Grad filter

Anyone who has ever seen the famous image of St Pauls caught in the crossfire of the blitz during world war II, cannot help but marvel at its longevity and architectural splendour. For me, a wonderful building we have in grace the London skyline. It is also without a doubt, one of the most pleasurable buildings to photograph, with so many different ways of capturing it set against the London skyline.

The Millenium Bridge makes a great lead-in but has in truth become somewhat of a cliched addition to many photographs of St Pauls. With this shot, I tried to take a slightly different approach. Shot in mid-day with broken cloud cover, I positioned my tripod down by the riverside, looking up at the underside of the bridge with St Paul’s just to its right. My intention was to create a moody shot turning the sky dark in post-production and creating a soft water foreground of the Thames using a long exposure. Both neutral density and graduated density filters were used to create this effect.

This particular shot was helped by a lucky break in the clouds which allowed the sunlight to fall just on St Paul’s giving it an uncanny resemblance to those images taken during the blitz and the ensuring St Paul’s rightly dominated the final image.


Darkness falls on the Thames Barrier

Thames Barrier : Canon 5D : EF 17-40mm (35mm) : 101 sec : f20 : Cokin Nuances ND10 and ND 3 Grad filter

Some shots look more dramatic under dark skies. So what do you do when you are at a location, it is the middle of the day and the dynamic range of the shot is off the scale. The answer is to use a combination of neutral density filters and be fearless in your post-processing.

There are some who believe you should do everything in-camera. I totally respect that but happen to believe that creativity is whatever gets you to your visual destination. As long as what you create, captures your imagination, makes you feel something, tells a story and is unique to you. It is still great photography.

The Thames barrier can make a great subject. Their structures dominate the skyline, are beautifully constructed and sit majestically across the Thames. The problem is what they are constructed from bright reflective metal. In daylight, especially with the sun anywhere near overhead, they present unimaginable difficulties with regards dynamic range. The answer is cut the range down with the use of filters and in post-processing to find channel settings (in monochrome) that allows the structures to stand out.

In this case, the sky was darkened to almost a night sky and a long exposure used to create a soft backdrop of water the barriers are left looking almost asleep as they lay across the Thames.

Futuristic tunnel lighting

Canary Wharf : Canon 5D : EF 17-40mm (40mm) : .3.2 sec : f18 : Cokin Nuances ND5 filter

Canary Wharf in East London London has lots of potential for creating interesting architectural shots. One particularly interesting area is the new Crossrail development. The challenge in this shot was deciding how to treat and expose for the central strip light that could be viewed as a distraction but could be elevated in post-processing to become a key feature of the image.

This shot was taken mid-afternoon. It involved a great deal of waiting around for the right combination of people to walk through the tunnel. Using a tripod and long exposure I wanted to capture just a few of the city workers walking through the tunnel, having them positioned at points that would add to the strength of the composition. I chose an exposure that ensured they were blurred just enough to create a discernable but ghosted effect.

Ultimately, I decided to use the strip light as a key feature rather than try to subdue it in post-processing. This gave the photograph a slightly Star Trek feel which I liked and worked best in monochrome.

The drama of moving clouds

Canary Wharf : Canon 5D : EF 17-40mm (20mm) : 69 sec : f20 : Cokin Nuances ND10 filter ND3 Grad filter

You cannot control the weather, but when you have the right conditions the opportunities to capture dramatic skylines can be endless.

On this occasion, not only were there strong cloud structures, but also a lively wind ensured they moved across the sky quickly. Using a long exposure to capture their movement with a neutral density filter and a graduated filter to accentuate their dominance the image presented an exciting set of image creation opportunities.

Of course, there is a significant degree of chance and with long exposures, you can never be sure of the exact effect. You need to take numerous shots and constantly review the impact of the moving clouds on the direction and intensity of the light.

This shot was captured when a break in the clouds allowed the sun to highlight only a few of the buildings, providing a focal point for the image. You can see that the ferry platform is not in focus. This was not deliberate, however, it was also not caused by camera shake or a focusing error. In fact, the platform was being buffeted by the choppy waters of the Thames and as a result of the long exposure appears in the image with a significant degree of blur.

The power of isolation

Rotherhide, Canary Wharf : Canon 5D : EF 17-40mm (40mm) : 208 sec : f18 : Cokin Nuances ND10 filter

It is an interesting phenomenon in photography, that it is not always the image that you intended to capture that becomes the most interesting and dynamic. Sometimes serendipity intervenes and you see something that spikes your imagination.

The walkway to jetty at Rotherhide is somewhat unremarkable. In fact, I had no intention of shooting it at all that day. It stood there for a full two hours while I concentrated on capturing the skyline of Canary Wharf. Just before packing up to go home, I turned around, and it struck me that without the surrounding clutter of both in the choppy water and surrounding buildings this was in-fact a potentially interesting. subject. The water was easy enough to manage. By using a long exposure, I was able to create a blanket of diffuse mist under the structure. The buildings however presented more of a challenge. In fact, although I was able to position myself to minimise their distraction, it took an hour of cloning to remove all of the building clutter that rose above and behind the walkway.

During the exposure, the birds came and went that were sitting on top of the walkway. This led to a rather interesting ghost-like portrait of the ones that stayed longest during the capture.

A sense of intrigue

Hayward Gallery, London : Canon PowerShot G7 : 1/100 : f5.0

Images do not always have to tell the whole story to draw you in. Sometimes the unspoken can create intrigue and lets the imagination of the viewer take over.

This image was taken at the Hayward Gallery in London. The exhibition’s designers wanted the audience to experience losing their sense of space and perspective and to understand what it feels like to become totally disorientated. The image depicts people groping their way-round the outside of a room filled with steam such that the only way to avoid being totally overwhelmed was to cling to the walls.

The effect of the steam was to show the hands of the people in sharp relief while blurring everything else. The effect is both eerie and provocative almost Hitchcock in its feel. The treatment in black and white helped create a sense of atmosphere with the full figure on the left acting as a counterbalance to the slightness of the hand and arms of the second subject.

Finding and capturing this image taught me several lessons about how I approach my photography. Firstly you never know when an image is going to present itself. I was fortunate and taught me to remind myself always to have my camera with me whenever possible. Secondly that silhouettes can be incredibly provocative. They give you clues, but let you and the viewer create your own meaning for the image.

Atmospheric landscapes

Haputale, Uva Sri Lanka : Canon 40D : EF85mm : 1/320 : f6.3

Landscapes can be particularly challenging and initially difficult to master. Practice and patience are important ingredients. However, there are a number of useful rules-of-thumb that can be useful for capturing landscapes that can be useful.

Always try to ensure that there is something special about the light when you are shooting. This can come in many guises but often requires planning. If you reach your location at the end of the day when the light is low, you can try to capture the last vestiges of the sun’s rays as they cut across the landscape. Alternatively, it may be early morning and misty, in which case the landscapes can take on an eerie persona allowing you to incorporate a sense of intrigue and mystique to your shot. In the image shown here, there was an early morning mist that intersected the direct rays of the sun accentuating the suns rays.

Make sure you have a genuine point of interest in your field of view, however small. The eye given half the chance will wander across an image, with the viewer feeling uncomfortable if their eyes cannot find a place to rest. Find something off-centre in one of the golden thirds if possible, although sometimes you can get away with a perfectly symmetrical shot if it appears that this was intentional and adds to the composition.

Finally, look to create layers in your shot. Landscapes are great for this, where the increasingly distant planes tend to dissipate the light giving the effect of exaggerating the perspective and creating a more interesting and arresting landscape.

Drawn to a stare

Cape Town, South Africa : Canon 20D : EF135mm f2: 1/320 : f4.0

Children can have incredibly intense stares but it is not always obvious what they are looking at. It might not matter. In this case, I could not take my eyes off the child’s glare, being captivated by the child’s intensity and powerful eyes. Capturing an intense stare can be a great way to capture a viewer’s attention. We are naturally drawn to the eyes and with images often more so.

This child staring over a fence within a South African township tells a story of hardship and determination. Often there are only a few fleeting seconds to evaluate the composition. In this case, it was achieved in post-production, both the cropping and finding a Photoshop ‘curves adjustment’ that would allow the boys head to remain within the dynamic range of the image despite the glaring mid-day sun.

Reflected autumn colours

Hampstead Health, London : Canon 40D : EF-S10-22mm (16mm) : 1/200 : f5.0

Reflections can be a great way to inject creativity and a sense of art into your images. Water creates patterns and distortions that create wonderful often abstract art out of ordinary everyday scenes. Don’t  be afraid of experimenting with Photoshop either. Sometimes the reflections can lack contrast, need colour correction to be selectively sharpened if they extend outside your intended depth of focus.

As Autumn approaches the leaves that are blown across the ponds and lakes will have turned golden brown and now decorate the water in amazing patterns. This shot was taken late one afternoon in Hampstead Heath London. The ripples and golden glow combine to create an eye-catching background highlight while the floating leaves offer an interesting foreground pattern across the spectrum of autumn colours.

It certainly may not look like this on the day, but with some patience and Photoshop skills, you can create something rewarding that reflects our English autumn.

The street as your studio

Atlas Mountains, Morocco : Canon 40D : EF200mm f2.8L : 1/250 : f4.0

Shooting groups on the street can be challenging and even when the shots are candid, can be highly unpredictable. You may not be in control of the background and a clear focal point for the shot can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

Walls, especially of the coloured variety, can make great backdrops for such occasions. They can visually pull out the subjects in the image, allowing you some scope to change perspective and remove the clutter and distractions from the composition. They can also be used to create interesting shadows to enhance the dramatic appearance of the shot.

This shot was taken in a small village in the Atlas mountains a few hours outside of Marrakech. There were buildings and clutter everywhere, Suddenly this bright orange wall came into view, with a group of students hanging out in front of it waiting for the bus while happily interacting with friends. It was the perfect outdoor studio backdrop. The dominance of the orange wall helps make the shot, picking out each individual meanwhile creating a sense of cohesion in the image.

Capturing a feeling of serenity

Old Swanage Pier : Canon 5D : EF 17-40mm (27mm) : 103 sec : f20 : Cokin Nuances ND10 and ND3 grad filters

The original Swanage Pier was created between 1859 and 1861, but has long since been replaced by the new pier built just to the side it. What is left of the old pier, are the original wooden pillars, which can make a great subject for a range of different photographic treatments.

Long exposure techniques can be used to create a sense of serenity, especially when the sea is calm and the light is low at either end of the day. This particular shot was taken late in the afternoon towards the end of October. Using a graduated filter to force the sea and sky into similar tonal ranges, and an ND10 neutral density filter to take the exposure up to 103 seconds, the water was transformed into a blanket of calm.

To exaggerate the sense of isolation and space, a fairly comprehensive amount of cloning was utilised in post-processing to remove some of the clutter from the visible sea area such as unwanted buoys, a few birds and a small damaged boat. This it felt was needed to prevent visual distractions from disrupting the unbroken stretch of water. To emphasise the sense of serenity still further, a square format was used with the position of the horizon chosen purposely to create a symmetrical composition.