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Weller at Rough Trade

A bit of music photography from Paul Weller’s instore set at Rough Trade East for Record Store Day 2013… He was ably supported by two of the incredible Strypes, along with Jay Sharrock, Miles Kane’s drummer.

Posted April 21st, 2013.

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In Reflection

It’s hardly modern architecture, but Lhasa’s Potala Palace has a perfectly placed lake to reflect the building back at you and add some foreground interest.

Writing last weeks blog about balancing the light in urban photography got me thinking about photographing cities in general, and what other tips and tricks I might be able to pass on via this blog. Ive decided to try and write a short series of posts that fit into a sort of urban outdoor photography’ theme  inspired my continued irritation that Outdoor Photography magazine and the like seem to think the only type of photography you can do outside involves a lot of greenery and no Starbucks for 50 miles!

Im not sure how many posts on this I have in me (and if you have any ideas for subjects youd like to see included Id love to hear them!) but I thought Id try one on reflections this week. One of the benefits of photography in cities is that reflections (along with Starbucks) are usually far easier to come by than they are in the countryside  and often need less manipulation to make the most of when you do find them.

The combination of historical city locations often being decided by access to water, and modern city design’s emphasise on open, showcase space means that photographers can often take advantage of rivers, lakes, and manmade water features to reflect city lights back on themselves. I often find myself using reflections when shooting after dusk in the urban landscape, particularly as a way give buildings a sense of scale and add interest to the foregrounds of my images.

Modern buildings like airports tend to have amazingly reflection surfaces, particularly at sunset when the natural light is low, as in this shot of reflected lines leading into the silhouette at Heathrow’s Terminal Five.

Thanks to the preponderance of glass in modern urban architecture, and more often than not nicely tinted glass, finding ways to enhance the impact of your images with reflections is usually easily done. Whether it is in creating abstract compositions that trick the eye; using reflections to act as lead in lines to the main subject; or using the mimicry of a reflection to highlight the power of piece of modern architecture, the opportunities are many and varied.

The final benefit from shooting in the city when you are looking for reflections is the streets themselves  whether they are concrete slicked with rain (as they are pretty much constantly in London at the moment!), or marble and its modern equivalents, they offer another element to your photography

Manchester is rarely short of rain, but one benefit of wet weather is the reflections water casts on rain lashed streets!

Ive tried to make clear on here in the past that Im no real fan of relying on gear fetishism tosubstitute for having a good eye and waiting for good light  and with aiming to shoot reflections, you really dont need any special tech at all. That said, if you want to have a bit more power to manipulate reflections, then a polarising filter is a very handy tool to apply. By attaching a circular polariser to your lens, when you rotate the filter, you can either emphasise, or reduce reflections  if youre looking to add some punch to them to aid your composition, twist it one way, if you want to cut them out, twist it the other. Id recommend using polarizers that fit directly on to your lens, rather than ones that slot into a system like Lee or Cokin filter holders  that way you have maximum flexibility, better equality optics, and still retain space for other filters like graduated neutral density ones which absolutely have to go in the holder. I use this Hoya one: 77mm Hoya Polarising Filter.

Posted July 18th, 2012.

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Balancing the Light

Encouraged by a few questions about my photos of the Shard last week from Facebook and Twitter friends, I thought I would start a short series of posts about city photography at dusk and nighttime. Looking across my photos of various locations around the world, my favourites tend to be those of cityscapes and attractions after sunset, with light trails, reflections and star burst street lights adding magic to backdrops that rarely need them but generally benefit from them anyway. Whether it is in Lhasa or New York, Hong Kong or Manchester, Budapest or Berlin, there is rarely a city I’ve visited that I’ve left without a long exposure image or two on an SD card.

Taken with a Canon EOS 500d, 18-55mm kit lens and a Gorilla Pod.

That’s not to say I reckon myself as any sort of an expert, but the one thing I have learned is that it isn’t that hard to manipulate a city to produce a captivating image and you need very little specialist gear to do it. In fact, so long as it has an aperture priority mode (where you set the aperture and the camera sets a corresponding shutter speed), and a method to attach a tripod, then your compact camera will do the job.

Of course, if you have a full frame DSLR with a semi-pro tripod, a remote release and a range of filters, things might be easier, or the results might be more spectacular, but the image of Hong Kong above was shot using an entry-level DSLR and a Joby Gorilla Pod (a great travel tripod!). All I did was find a railing at a reasonable height, fix up the tripod and camera, compose in Live View for ease, then using the two second delay function, triggering the shutter as the traffic approached up the overpass.

There can’t be many places in the UK as good for cityscape photography at dusk than Manchester’s Salford Quays development.

The real trick to this type of image is to forget the usual Golden Hour rule – that is that for landscape photography the best light is in the thirty minutes either side of sunset. For this type of photo, the artificial lights of the city won’t be balanced against the sky until at least half an hour after sunset, and it’s then that the magic happens. So not only does the time you have to shoot extend, as camera sensors improve, they are able to capture blue in the sky until later and later at night. My final image of the Shard was shot at 23:25 last Wednesday!

For the most part composition is exactly what you would expect at any other time of the day, but there are two other benefits of shooting at night – both reflections and light trails can be used to add foreground interest to shots and lead the eye through the image.

As for settings, to make sure the exposure if long enough to produce light trails, and water is smoothed to a reflective sheen, you need a long shutter speed, so setting an aperture of between f8 and f13 is necessary depending on how well lit the city is. This has the added benefit of making every light look like a star burst. To reduce noise, always shoot at ISO 100 if you can do – especially as exposures tick up to the 30-second mark. If you have the option to shoot RAW, it is always sensible to do so and then edit the image in Adobe Camera Raw or a similar programme to bring out the best in it. If not, and you can do, make sure you set your White Balance to Tungsten light to stop the image looking horribly orange – as almost every other option seems to.

The lights of New York reflected on the Hudson – shot from Queensborough park around 40 minutes after sunset on a cold February night.

When it comes to post processing – assuming you have shot Raw – my main tip is to keep it simple. Computers are boring and cameras are fun, so I focus my time on the later not the former, and tend to process a Raw file by tweaking the contrast, levels, correcting any lens distortion and boosting the saturation and vibrancy. Outside of the Raw processing software, I then use Nik’s software to reduce noise and sharpen, before exporting to high resolution Tif and lower res JPEG for sharing online.

Finally, remember that no matter how good the shot is, it’s not worth putting yourself or your gear at risk, and frankly, there is more chance of danger in cities than the countryside, so make sure you don’t venture into dodgy areas; and let people know where you’re off to… And don’t ask me about the neighbourhood I had to walk through to get to the park I shot the image of Queensborough bridge from!

Posted July 10th, 2012.

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