(This column first appeared in Olympus Magazine Jan/Feb issue).
It seems strange to me now that I only really picked up a camera (as in with real intent!) just over five years ago. With a few specific goals in mind – I wanted to learn how to create shallow depth of field photos – so I focused on learning what I needed to do that…
With so much knowledge – and so many tutorials – at our fingertips, if you search hard enough you can pretty much always find what you need on the internet. However, as I have progressed I am only too aware of some glaring gaps in my photography knowledge.
So why not take a course? Which is exactly what I did recently. Just a few hours of an evening for a night photography course with the London Institute of Photography. Curious to know how to create those headlight trail shots and what settings to use, I set off with my first mistake in hand! An inadequate tripod.
So before I get onto what we did and how we did it, do make sure you have a decent and sturdy tripod. Mine was so jittery; shooting from a bridge over the Thames my shots came out blurred because the legs were absorbing movement from passerbys.
But to start proper, we gathered in central London with course leader Holger Pooten at Piccadilly Circus and had a little settings pow-wow before taking our first nervous shots. Turns out my instinct to set the aperture as low as possible and ISO high was completely wrong. Night photography is all about long exposures, we’re talking 60 seconds and up, so you can set you aperture at anything from F11 upwards (I started on F18) and ISO low at 100 or lower.
Positioning our tripods in amongst the bustling crowd (turns out night photography is a bit of a city centre pastime!) we tried to get our first traffic shots. Mine were pretty hit and miss to begin with and then I scored lucky. I suddenly realized what an amateur I was though, as I had no idea what effect I would be creating with light and movement when I pressed click!
Of course, the one thing you realise immediately is how much more constrained you are by both the tripod – you can’t reposition a shot in the middle of shooting! – and by time – it takes so much longer to get your shot, ones that don’t work are extra painful and you can only take so many in an hour. Out of the whole evening I only achieved a few I was happy with.
We moved slowly through some of London hotspots, shooting water in fountains in Trafalgar Square and the London Eye from nearby bridges until we decided to jump a wall at Southbank and totter down to the waterside. Here I could have stayed forever, the water so soft and dreamy, the distant lights creating the most gorgeous effects.
A few weeks later, visiting the Isle of Skye a huge moon hung low in the sky and repurposing my father in-law’s telescope tripod for my camera I stood, bare feet in the wet grass getting attacked by the midges, determined to capture it in all its beauty. It took me a few shots, but this time I knew a bit more about what I was doing. I was so pleased with the results! I’d love to see your night photography shots – do share with #peninpractice in Instagram!
All images by myself on the Olympus Pen F