Photography and shutter speed…. and with only seconds to spare……

You may have heard of the Aperture Triangle – I’ll be dealing with that in a day or so. The three sides are Aperture (which we’ve looked at), Shutter Speed (today’s topic) and ISO (tomorrow’s item – probably). ISO and shutter speed are wonderful tools.

Shutter speed refers to how long you leave the aperture open – to let the light from the scene reach the sensor. You’ll have picked up something of that aspect yesterday, I hope. I’ve provided, below, some examples of different types of scene that you may wish to photograph – not to say that you MUST use the speeds shown – but to give you a ball park idea of the order of magnitude that may be involved.

This is a powerboat racing scene, at Carr Mill Dam, St Helens, Merseyside. The boats are moving very quickly. I used a fairly fast speed and ‘panned’, that is, before the boat arrived, I’d already focused on the place on the lake surface where I knew it had to be. I stood still but, with my camera set to continuous focus, I turned my shoulders to allow the camera to track the boat as it passed, firing off a burst of shots at 1/1600 seconds, f/5.6, 260 mm and ISO 400. If I’d used a slower speed, the image of the boat would have been blurred.

I took this photo at a horse race at Haydock Park racecourse, St Helens. Horses don’t move as quickly as racing powerboats, so I was able to use a slightly slower shutter speed and still kept the horses and the background properly focused. I still used the panning technique, focused ahead and used continuous autofocus (AF.C). As the first horse started to move into my frame, I followed it with my camera and fired off a burst at 1/1000 seconds, f/5.6, 85 mm and ISO 400

This shot was my practice session the first time I ever used panning technique. The car is on the M62 motorway in Northern England. I was stood at the edge of woodland. I wanted to create a feeling of speed by letting the background blur. A faster shutter speed would have kept both the car and background in focus – as in the above examples. My ISO of 100 and aperture of f/8 allowed me to use a slower shutter speed to create the effect. 1/30 seconds, f/8, 55 mm and ISO 100.

This is a view of the city of London at daybreak. Nothing is moving apart from the River. I wouldn’t have been able to take this photo with such low light, if I’d used my camera’s minimum ISO of 100 with an aperture as small as f/16. To get the image I used a tripod and let the camera use a quite long shutter speed. 8 seconds, f/16, 28 mm, ISO 100

I shot this view of London from the South Bank of the Thames at night. I still used a narrow aperture for sharpness and a low ISO, but I needed a much longer exposure of 30 seconds to collect enough light at f/18, 30 mm, ISO 100.

Sometimes you need to use a faster shutter speed to compensate for camera shake because you’re not using a tripod. Even with built in image stabilisation it can help. The heavier your camera and lens the more difficult it can be to eliminate camera shake. A frequently quoted suggestion is to set your shutter speed to be no slower than the reciprocal of your focal length. If you are using a 50 mm lens, set your shutter speed to be faster than 1/50th seconds. With a 135 mm lens, shoot faster than 1/135th seconds.

The featured photo today is one that I took just before lockdown, at Trefor Stacks (Ynys Mawr) on the Lyn Peninsula, North Wales. You may have expected that, with the settings below, the whole image would have been vastly over-exposed. Because the the midday sunlight was so bright, I used a 10 stop neutral density filter. I’ll say more about filters in a few days. My settings were 20 seconds f/11, 20 mm and ISO 100. This means that, because my shutter speed, in a test shot, without a filter had been roughly 1/64 seconds at that aperture and ISO, I used a filter dark enough to cut out 10 stops of light. That meant that I could use a shutter speed of 20 seconds to provide an equivalent exposure value.

What do I mean by a stop? A shutter speed of 1/32 seconds is one stop slower than a speed of 1/64 seconds. Two stops would be 1/16 seconds. Keep on doubling the speed ten times from the start and you reach 20. (i.e. 1/64, 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1.25, 2.5, 5, 10, 20) Okay, I did a bit of creative doubling to get from a half to one and a quarter, but I did say roughly 1/64 originally. You can’t be precise with very dark filters because daylight can change from sunny to cloudy in seconds. As I said earlier, I’ll deal with filters again, in more detail soon, when I write about long exposure photography

One last point, on the subject of shutter speed and blur, notice how that 20 seconds exposure has calmed the waves, focusing attention on the detail in the stacks.. You can get some great effects using long exposure. The golden lichen, by the way, really was that bright – no software trickery. I was tempted to make it duller but, what the hell, it was beautiful in my eyes, and it’s my photo, so I left it as it was.

Tomorrow I intend to deal with the third side of the Aperture Triangle – ISO or brightness.

Photography: Decent Exposure

Today will be all about something known as Dynamic Range. This term refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest tones in a scene. Having a high dynamic range isn’t necessarily bad – and the types of image that it’s Ok in don’t need rescuing.

Sometimes, however, you are faced with a scene where you know that you may need the wizardry of your digital camera settings to capture the scene as you’d like it to appear. Why might you need wizardry? Well, the problem is that your human eye can cope with a much wider range of contrast than your camera can. A bright sky that looks OK to your eyes might appear almost white in a photo. Certainly, any cloud detail in the sky could be ‘blown out’. Similarly, your camera might not be capture the details in the shadows if the contrast is too great.

What I am showing is some examples of what I mean and how I’ve used a technique called exposure bracketing to create an image that reveals the best of both worlds. All that means is that I use a tripod and take, say three photos of the scene – one normal exposure, one under-exposed and one over-exposed. With most digital cameras you can let the camera do it. With some cameras you can do this and the camera will produce a merged image for you. Other cameras simply store the three images for you to merge in your post-processing software.

This over-exposed photograph of the South Stack Lighthouse on Holy Island, Anglesey in Wales is one of three that I took using my camera settings for exposure bracketing.

On the other hand, this is the under-exposed version of the same scene.

This is the Normal photo. I should have checked my preview before I started but the bracketing process sorted that error anyway.

This is the version produced by exposure bracketing. The sky detail has been preserved and the detail in the shadows has been rescued. I still wasn’t happy so I cropped out the clifftop distractions.

The final shot – bracketed and cropped.

This is the Normally exposed shot from a bracketed group of photos shot at daybreak. The scene is the lone tree at Lake Buttermere in the English Lake District.

This is the bracketed version after merging.

To close, this is an under-exposed photo from a group of five photos of the disused Twr Mawr Lighthouse on Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey. I’ve used the merged version as my featured photo today. You may notice that I’ve also cropped out the photographer and his tripod and removed a sensor spot in the sea part of the image.

I’ve not decided what my next subject is going to be, but I’d like to move on from generalities to specifics of technique to use for different types of photography that I’ve tried. I haven’t tried every technique but I’ll tell all about those that I have had a go at.

Photography: A balancing act

Composition, in photography, means setting up your image so that it helps anyone looking at it to see what you want them to see. There are lots of online sites that tell you about the various techniques, but most of them will also tell you that, sometimes, you should throw away the rule book. It’s your photo – use YOUR judgement.

I’m just going to list eight of the techniques before I go any further, just to get that out of the way.

  • Simplicity – less is more and get rid of distractions
  • Symmetrical balance – useful particularly in a shot with reflections.
  • Asymmetrical balance – For example, with a seascape, don’t put the horizon exactly half way up the frame.
  • Radial balance – for people with an artistic eye
  • Rule of thirds – mentally divide the frame into a 3 by 3 grid. Put your subject at about 1/3 up and 1/3 in or 1/3 down and 1/3 in (from either side). (Personally I think that this is just a kind of asymmetrical balance).
  • Leading lines I’ll illustrate this by examples
  • Golden Ratio -for people with an artistic eye
  • Framing – show your subject inside a frame – natural or otherwise

I’m going to ignore Radial Balance and Golden Ratio but add a ninth and tenth – Colour and People. Again, I’ll provide an example.

In this image of the South Stack lighthouse on Anglesey, I’ve placed the horizon asymmetrically.

This image, taken at Trefor Boatyard near Llangollen in Wales is fairly symmetrical to show off the reflections.

This is an example of a structural leading line formed by the Humber Bridge. The underside of its image drags the viewer’s eye into the frame.

Another example of a radial leading line formed by this spiral staircase at the Queen’s House at Greenwich. The eye is drawn to the skylight.

Here, the beach at Porth Oer on the Lleyn Peninsula provides a natural leading line. Other examples are rivers, roads and jetties.

You’ve seen this one before, but here I’m using it to show how the clouds act as leading lines.

Here, leading lines and symmetry are combined at the Brunner Bridge in the South Island of New Zealand.

Here framing is provided by the gateway entrance into Exchange Flags, Liverpool to draw attention to the Town Hall.

There are two other useful techniques, using colour – especially spot red – and people (preferably both). In this shot, the people provide a focal point, interest and perspective to the image.

Here we have symmetry, reflections, people and colour to draw the eye.

Today’s featured photograph is of the Healey Pass in the Beara Peninsula of Eire’s Wild Atlantic Coast. It has an unusually winding leading line to take the viewer’s eye on a road trip. I shot this panoramic image using my old Pentax 24 MP cropped sensor camera on a tripod with an 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens at 23 mm and f/13. The ISO was 400 and the shutter speed 1/10 seconds.

Your probably fed up by now, so tomorrow I want to look at a different aspect of light – Dynamic Range.

Photography: Come Closer

Today I want to illustrate three ways of getting up-close with a photo when you’re too far away where you are.

This shot of Media City at Salford Quays, Manchester was taken from exactly the same spot as today’s featured photo, but I used my lens to zoom in by changing the focal length from 24 mm to 43 mm.

Using my lens meant that I didn’t discard any megapixels from the image – I got the full benefit of my sensor’s resolution

This image has been cropped and resized in post processing from the original. The featured image is a panorama, stitched from three shots each of 42 Megabyte RAW format originals. This cropped and resized, jpeg format, image from one of the original three has less than 1 megabyte, and therefore, less detail information for further editing.

This photograph of Ynys Bach at Trefor, Gwynedd: one of two sets of sea stacks, is a shot taken from a distance along the cliffs

This is also a photo of Yns Bach, but I took this from the clifftop directly above it, by walking, sometimes known as ‘sneaker zoom’. No megapixels lost when getting closer this way.

I hope that seeing these three ways of coming closer helps you to choose the best method for you. ‘Sneaker Zoom’ is not always practical, but you get the highest resolution quality. Lens zoom – by changing the focal length of your lens – or by swapping lenses – is often more practical. Using a wide angle lens provides the big picture, but sometimes you get a nicer image by choosing some feature to zoom in on, and ‘getting right in camera’. Cropping in post processing is an option if, when you get home, and load your day’s image batch into software, you realise that there is a section of an image that you want to pick out. Just remember that, when you do that you are also throwing away megapixels. The cropped image will not enlarge as usefully as a close up obtained by one of the other methods.

I took today’s featured photo using my tripod mounted, Pentax K-1 camera plus a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 24 mm and f/16. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/25 seconds.

Tomorrow, we move on to composition.

Photography – The importance of position

Thinking about position should begin when you arrive on site. Try to get the best possible viewpoint – check different places nearby, kneel, sit or lie down if necessary (did you bring a bin bag?) Compare today’s featured photograph with the one below. Both are images of the Millennium bridge in London, but the one below – apart from being a daylight shot – is a typical tourist photo looking across the bridge.

From this viewpoint, for me, the image is too cluttered, too many lines competing for attention, litter, no clear subject.

Sometimes, however, you can be spoiled for choice and you decide to photograph more than one viewpoint. This is a popular view.

This is the same jetty photographed from a different angle. Both shots are of Lake Ullswater in the English Lake District.

Have a good look around. but vary the angle that you look at your subject – look up and look down. Look at what’s behind you – it may be more interesting.

Here, I’m in London, in the Square Mile of the financial district, but I’m looking upwards.

Here, I’m in London again, inside Heals’ department store, looking down from the top of the spiral staircase.

Sometimes, if you look around you you’ll see interesting reflections or shadows. This shot is of the Gherkin Building in London

I was driving into my local town when I noticed these shadows, so I turned off the road, parked my car and walked back to take the shot.

Sometimes it’s just a question of noticing an unusual viewpoint. I was kneeling down when I took this photo in Blackpool. Everything seems to be bending away from the wind.

While you are looking, consider where the light is coming from. In landscape photography, sometimes you need to wait for the sun to come from behind a cloud, or to light some hills differently. In portrait photography, you may want the light to come from – or to appear to come from – above and to one side of the subject.

Whatever you are photographing, are there any objects in the scene that could spoil your composition – road signs, bins etc? Think especially of things that are at the side of your frame that could distract a viewer,.

Last, but not least – make sure that you are working in a safe position – for yourself and your equipment.

I took today’s featured photograph in London, at night using a Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera using a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 30 mm and f/7.1. The ISO was 100 and the Shutter Speed 30 seconds. I used a tripod. No filters were needed.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a brief look at aspects of photographing distant objects.

Photography – Time of Day and Time of Year

The featured photograph today is of the Widnes to Runcorn Silver Jubilee bridge. It is one of my favourite shots. It represents Sunset – a time of day, in line with today’s title. I took the shot with my Pentax K-1 36 MP camera using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 35 mm and f/13. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 2.5 seconds.

To show the difference that the time of day can make, look at this photograph of the same bridge taken the same day, from only a few yards away but 56 minutes earlier.

The light at Sunrise can change just as dramatically and often more rapidly. This photograph was taken at 06:58 behind the Plas y Brenin Mountain Training centre at Capel Curig, Snowdonia. The moonlight is reflected in the lake.

Taken from a few yards to one side at 08:42, on the far side of the lakes (Llynau Mymbyr) the details in the slopes of the Snowdon Horseshoe range are now much more clearly defined.

Summer photography in the hills after mid-morning also means you will have to work with heat haze. This tends to blur and to “blue” distant hills and trees etc. The human eye interprets this gradient of warm to cold colour as a measure of distance so, in a photograph this is a sort of proxy for depth of field. The effect is at the cost of sharpness and detail.

At sunrise and sunset you will usually get softer light, beautiful colours, pleasing shadows and textures – and often calmer water for reflections. In the Autumn the gold, orange, yellow and brown tones of leaves can yield magical photographs. In winter soft, untrodden snow or children playing games in the snow are a gift to capture. Spring brings blossom, new foliage and buds. Even the harsh midday sun of summer can offer silhouettes and sharp contrasts of deep shadows framing bright buildings.

Ness Gardens on the Wirral Peninsula in Merseyside at Springtime.

As daylight disappears, the night brings new opportunities such as light trails, cityscapes and astrophotography.

Light trails from a bridge at Ravenhead, St Helens, Merseyside

Cityscapes are, for me, one of the most interesting types of photography

Canning Dock, Liverpool by night

Astrophotography is fairly specialised. I can’t afford the type of equipment needed to capture nebulae etc. Milky Way photography is more accessible in some ways but needs clear, dark skies and the galactic core can only be photographed during late spring to late summer.

Twr Mawr on Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey below the Milky Way

I’ll say more about the techniques and settings that I used for some of the above types of photographs in later blogs. Tomorrow, I’ll continue my generalised rambling but I’ll be starting to talk about aspects of position, angle and composition – possibly over three days or so.

Have you got a minute? Photography and Time.

In photography, thinking about time goes hand-in-hand with thinking about light. If your photographing birds or sport timing is at the heart of capturing the shot. In landscape photography, everything slows down.

A hill-walker jumps between Adam and Eve at the summit of Tryfan in Snowdonia. A split second’s delay and I couldn’t have got this shot.

Whatever you intend to  photograph you should make time to plan and prepare for the conditions in which you’ll be working – travel plans, food, shelter, health and safety (eg on a mountain ridge). What will the weather be like? How much weight will I be carrying? Make time to check that you’ve packed everything.

Camera, lenses, tripod, of course plus backpack, filters and holders/step-up adapters, maps, timetables, food, water, lens cleaning material, body caps and lens caps (if changing lenses), cash, phone, spare batteries, spare sd cards, suitable footwear and outerwear. You may need to carry six or more kilograms to carry for remote locations for long distances and long periods of time.

You should be thinking about the time of day that will best suit your subject – sunrise, sunset, night? What time will those be on the day I’m going? Do I need to check tide tables? You should be thinking about the time of year that will best suit your subject – autumn colour, winter scenes?

Two elements of time here. I was probably two weeks too early to get the full effect of the Autumn colour, but the time of day – early morning – was right to get the calm water surface that provided the reflections.

You ought to build-in time to look around. Conditions change; roads and paths may be closed, there my have been a flood. Where will I get the most from the direction of the light?  where will I get the best composition, the best angle? Would I be better moving further back or nearer?

I got a reasonable angle here, but later in the day – and at the Autumn equinox, I’d have been able to get the sun setting at the end of the pier.

You should make time to ensure that your settings are OK, This is doubly true if you’re considering employing filters. Is your sensor clean? Is your lens clean – and filters if in use? You should make time to check your preview and adjust accordingly – reset, re-shoot and re-check.

Just below the centre of the image you should be able to see two sensor spots. The image has been heavily cropped to show just one area of sky and the exposure adjusted to make them show up more, but they would have ruined the image without using spot removal tool in Lightroom. The shot was taken at f/11 but at f/16 the effect would have been horrendous.

Before you leave the spot, make time to check that you’ve left nothing behind.

Do check the ground around you. I once left a lens cap behind after a Milky Way shot. It was pitch black at night but I did have a torch and head torch – so no excuse. Also, check that you’ve zipped up your backpack pockets – dangling flap could allow your camera or a lens to fall out or get stolen.

Don’t rush

Tomorrow, I’ll say more about things like the time of day and time of year

My featured image today relates to a particular moment in the time of day – the Blue Hour, shortly after sunset, photographed here at Media City, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester UK. I used my Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera together with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 14 mm and f/11. The ISO was 100 and (without filters) the shutter speed was 5 seconds. The camera was mounted on a tripod.

Fiat Lux – Let there be light. Photography and Light

Following on from my disclaimer yesterday, nothing that I write below has anything to do with expensive equipment, or travel to exotic locations. Every photographer, whether cash-strapped or a lottery winner needs to know how to use light. The very word ‘photography’ means drawing with light: no light = no photo.

Light: directly from the Sun and sky and indirectly bounced back from the sculpture, the sea and the sand

The light we use can be direct – as from the sun or a flashlight, ambient – such as through a window, or reflected – as from the moon or bounced off something – such as a mirror.

To use light in a photograph, it has to be allowed into the camera through a shutter, focused by a lens and stored on a film or electronic sensor. For the light to be useful it has to be controlled. Once the lens has been adjusted to focus the light precisely, the shutter mechanism has to be set to limit the size of its opening (its aperture) and the amount of time that it will be held open (its shutter speed).

Different lenses for different used of light and focal length

If too much light is allowed in, the photo will be over-exposed, if there isn’t enough light, it will be under-exposed. There is one final element within the control of the photographer for a particular image and that is the sensitivity of the sensor. This is the ISO setting. In low light conditions. By increasing the ISO you can continue to take photos even when it’s quite dark, but this comes at the cost of increased graininess (or noise).

Too much light caused by solar flare

We haven’t finished with light yet.  You, as a photographer, have a role to play and this is what separates photography from snapshots. A photograph is to a snapshot as carpentry is to flat pack furniture assembly. There are exceptions. A photographer may need to take a snapshot in order to capture a fleeting opportunity. At such moments the prime objective is to get the shot. There may not be time to erect a tripod, to attach filters or even to check settings. It can be now or never, but the photographer has had to recognise the opportunity.

I arrived just at this moment, saw the light rays, dropped my bag and tripod on the beach, grabbed my camera, pointed and clicked the shutter. Two minutes later would have been too late. I hadn’t checked my settings or whether the lens was clean. Luckily they were okay. Opportunity is sometimes everything.

Normally though, with a snapshot, the camera does the photography – not the person who merely points and clicks. Photography requires judgement of the objective. More on that in another post. The photographer recognises the constraints set by light including the time of year, the time of day, the movement of the Sun, Moon and tides, the range of the tones of light given in the scene, the ‘temperature’ of the light available, and the use of shadows and reflections.

This an example of the wrong colour temperature. The previous evening I’d been taking photographs indoors under tungsten lighting.

The following morning, at Pwllheli, I forgot to check my white balance setting to change the setting from tungsten to daylight. Ooops!

I’ll try to shine more light on all of these are topics, and illustrate them by some of my own photos, in the blogs to come.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about Time.

My featured image today is, of course, the London Eye, from the Embankment, with lots of light, colours and reflections. To take the shot I used my Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera, using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 29 mm and f/8. The ISO was 100 and the shutter time 30 seconds. The shot was tripod mounted without filters.

A little learning and an apology

I suppose that the little learning that I refer to represents a couple of steps across a bridge to a different place. I apologise if the link is tenuous but It’s the best I can manage as a link between photo and what I have written today.

The bridge in the photo is at Llanrwst in Snowdonia, North Wales, UK. The photo was taken in October 2019 and, despite the blue skies and sunshine, it had just started raining quite heavily. I used my Pentax K-1, 36M, full frame camera with a 15-30mm, f/2.8 lens at 27mm and f/8. The camera settings were ISO 400 and 1/125 seconds. The shot was handheld as I rested my elbows on a concrete ledge.

Today I managed a further 4,000 words to describe three scenes. Gareth has suggested to Sandra that, one way for them to begin their learning about each other, would be for them to do their weekly supermarket shopping together on the evening before their first planned get-together since acknowledgement of their romantic feelings. The experience leads to some minor bickering, but it is good natured. On the Saturday, when they meet at his house, as she looks around, she has more than momentary qualms as she realises what she might be committing to. She is reassured when she explains her fears. Soon they prepare a meal together and compare notes about what might constitute red-lines regarding traits that they could discover – such as unfaithfulness or dishonesty. they part on the best of terms.

The following day is the day when Gareth must meet his ex-wife to apologise for his past behaviour, and also to tell her about his new-found love for Sandra – whom she knows well. This leads to some hilarity on her part, and a feeling that the meeting would have been good value for that snippet of information alone. His ex-wife hugs him as they part – this is witnessed by Sandra’s assistant. Could this innocent gesture lead to a misunderstanding? Don’t ask me – my characters haven’t told me yet.

I’m still new to WordPress. I tend to do the same kind of thing every day and seldom experiment, but this morning I noticed that I must never have published two blogs that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I’ll publish them just before I publish this post. I have no idea whether they will appear in the correct chronological place

All’s well that looks like ending well

I was stuck for a photo to use for today – at least one that would have anything to do with what I’ve been writing about. In desperation, I’ve resorted to a photo that would have been taken about the time of year portrayed – some bluebells in my garden.

The photograph was captured on 29th April this year using my cropped sensor, 24MP Pentax KP mounted with a Sigma 70mm f/2.8 mm macro lens at f/11. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed was 3/10 seconds. I used a tripod.

I did start out today with some idea about what to write about. Yesterday, after a lakeside walk with their children and an accidental meeting, there had been a late night discussion during which the couple had agreed that they wanted to be ‘an item’, but needed more time to learn about each other. They decided that they were prepared to go public about that limited deal.

Today, writing about events two days later, they were at the weekly dance and were prompted to say something by a sharp rebuke: they had virtually ignored everyone by remaining in their own ‘bubble’. (I didn’t use that word in my writing -it was 2005 then!). So, they took it in turns to reveal how they had come to a realisation about this step-change in their relationship – an awareness of love for each other. That this had all taken place over a mere two weeks caused a degree of shock among their listeners. There was a mixture of shock and disbelief also when they told their children – even though it had been the children who had first suspected something.

The stage is now set for two key days to come. After all, it’s one thing to decide that you need ‘more time to learn about each other’. But how long is ‘more time’? What criteria do you use to decide whether you still want to take things further? What would ‘further things’ comprise anyway – engagement? wedding bells? a civil service? simply living together? or deciding there was no reasonable probability of a long-term romantic relationship? Awkward questions indeed!. I look forward to discovering what they decide. I have no idea yet. Then, the following day will be the meeting at which Gareth apologises to his ex-wife. But how will she take the apology, when she realises that he has a new love interest? Has his ‘change of mind’ been a device to ease his guilt and shift her out of his consciousness?

Progress in words today? A further 5,000 words. Just over 29,000, but no nearer knowing how to reach a conclusion that will justify the verbiage.