Category Archives: Low Light

Ripley’s Aquarium

Ripley's Aquarium-3“We’re going to the aquarium.”

We had guests for the weekend and the new Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto was on the Saturday afternoon agenda. Something new to photograph always gets my attention.

I grabbed my camera along with my 50mm f1.4 and 105mm f2.8 macro and joined what turned out to be a line that extended out the door and around the corner. Both new and getting great press, I would recommend buying tickets online for a specific entrance time and by-passing the line.

Ripley's Aquarium-1The aquarium has a route you follow and despite the crowd (start of March break, Saturday afternoon) we were able to approach each tank with a little patience. The ambient light is very low, accenting the light in the tanks and I had to shoot at ISO3200 to get the shutter speed I wanted, foregoing depth of field.

As we wandered through the “path,” we came to a slow moving sidewalk, which takes you right through a large tank, surrounded by sharks, mantas and all sorts of fish. There were times I felt I could just reach up and touch one moving overhead. This is quite a big, winding “ride” and allows you to experience the tank without waiting for people in front to move along. There is a separate walkway should you wish to return and explore at a slower pace.

Ripley's Aquarium-2I cleaned up the photos using NIK Define to reduce noise and fussed with the color temperature – some tanks have changing colored lights – and the rest was done in Lightroom.

I highly recommend a visit, though for the experience more than for the photo opportunities. It was a fun day and after close to three hours, we were never bored or put off (much) by the crowd.

 

 

 

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Spanish Steps

Flower Seller

Arriving in Rome on a Saturday, my wife and I hiked from our hotel by the train station to the Spanish Steps with the intention of winding our way back towards one of our favorite restaurants. I had two lenses with me on the trip – a 24-120mm f4.0 and a 50mm f1.4. I bring the 50mm for these walks where the available light is low.

We arrived at the top of the steps around dusk to a bustle of activity and an amazing view of blue from the sky and gold from the street lights. Knowing we were pushing ourselves on the first day, this burst of energy revitalized us for the rest of the evening.

Ubiquitous to our trips to Italy are the street sellers with everything from glowing toys they toss in the air to flowers offered while eating in a restaurant. I found this flower seller taking a break from what must be a hard way to make a living. He looked tired, and the night was still young.

Rain

Wet Night in Orvieto

After exhausting ourselves walking around Rome, we rented a car and drove to the hill top town of Orvieto, arriving late in the afternoon. Settling in to our hotel, the drizzle started and my three travel companions decided it was time for a nap, while I choose to wander with my camera.

I was excited about the rain. At dusk it brings out reflections and colors, not to mention colorful umbrellas. The streets were busy (for a small town) despite the rain. I learned while hiking to turn around occasionally as I might be missing a good view too focused on what was before me. I turned around to see a wonderful contrast between the gold of the street lights and the blue cast of the darkening sky with the clock tower framed by the narrow road.

I waited patiently for my “foreground” to appear. I took a number of shots, but this was my favorite.

Eating with friends

James Cooking

I’m not sure if it is unique to our street, or just to me, but we tend to break bread together frequently. We are fortunate to have a number of excellent cooks on our street with a wide range of cultural influences. As the warm weather approaches, we move outside and get together on the spur of the moment rather than planned dinner parties.

Of course, this gives me an opportunity to capture my friends, who have all come to see my camera as a natural extension of my face. When I first moved here and took pictures, they glared at me; those long stairs that say, “What the #%$* are you doing?” I smile, put the camera away, then slowly retrieve it and carry on. I think I wore them down, and they do like the end results.

I’ve caught some really special moments as everyone has become more comfortable. Mother and child, child licked by dog, and James above caught by the light through a window in his kitchen preparing dinner for the mob.

Yes, I cook, too. I always have. I think it is an extension of the creative urge that is part of my attraction to photography. I love staring at an open fridge and then preparing a meal, although on occasion this has resulted in nothing more than a boiled egg. I attend cooking school at a local college because, much like photography, understanding the theory and techniques first allows me to be creative later.

So, while I will do my share of cooking, I like to think I repay some of the trust my friends show by documenting our time together and sharing with them the moments I’ve captured.

If I never sold a print, that would be enough.

A different approach to hockey photos

The Playoffs-7

My wife’s hockey team is in the midst of their playoffs. I was banned from taking pictures from the bench when they introduced a rule requiring everyone on the bench to have a helmet, though in all the games I’ve been to this rule is randomly enforce. Regardless, I was left to shooting through heavily marked glass and more recently, a “fog” that is on the inside making photography more challenging than I wish for.

The Playoffs-4With the season coming to a rapid conclusion, I decided to “hang” around the benches and start to “creep” into the door at the rear, giving me a fairly clean look at centre ice and one end. I would then travel between the two benches to get the different ends of the ice. I’m pleased to say I got away with it. This time.

The Playoffs-3Back in my digital darkroom, I started “playing” with some of the filters in Color Effects by NIK Software. I started to get an interesting look. Sort of a watercolour with an old-style hockey feel to it. There is a “detail” filter I use and combine it with some vinetting (light and dark) to enhance the subject.

I like the look. It’s a little different for an action shot. As an experiment, I even took a rapid set of photographs while the players were “still” for a faceoff to try an HDR. The state of alignment with HDR software these days gave me a pretty good image, though getting ready for a faceoff isn’t my idea of a captivating image. Still, I can keep an eye out.

The Playoffs-2

At the rink, I shoot on a D300s (crop sensor) using a 70-300mm at f5.6 in manual. The lighting is fairly even across the rink but I shoot in manual so the exposure doesn’t vary as the amount of white ice in the picture increases or decreases. The ISO is 1600 and I use NIK Define to reduce the noise before I run it through any of the creative filters.

I would appreciate any comments you have on the photographs and if interested, can provide more specific information about the steps I took and the filters I used.

The Playoffs-5

Music in the neighbourhood

Chris Hale B&W

My neighbourhood is in transition. Thankfully, in a positive direction. An art gallery opened a block away and about once a month, it hosts muscians who live in the area. It’s a tight fit, but the music is great.

Chris Hale lives across the street and plays the sitar. When he invited me to hear him play, I jumped at the chance. As usuall, my first questions is, “can I bring my camera?” Turns out there were many who did. The lighting wasn’t great, mobility was difficult, and because we entered from the back of the gallery rather than the main entrance, late arrivals sat at the front, preventing a clean shot.

Given circumstances where detailed, noise-free pictures are difficult (I don’t like using flash in these situations) I tend to try and photgraph with something else in mind. Black and white is an obvious choice as we will accept noise disguised as grain. In this photograph, I actually used NIK’s to0ls to create a more “pencil drawing” effect than a traditional B&W high-contrast shot. I did a couple of colour versions of some photographs that have a more watercolour feel to them.

Another thing I like to do under these conditions is to focus on details or use “creative motion blur.” I focus in on the hands and capture the motion against a fixed instrument. I still have to process these.

But most of all, I want to make sure I enjoy the music.

You can find chris at christopherhalesitar.com

 

So many changes

Rome Square

I’ve been making changes. I was working with Adobe CS4 for over four years and wanted to upgrade to CS6 for a while but first needed to upgrade my equally old IMac. Apple released some new IMacs in November of 2012 so I decided to make the move in January and now sport a new, much faster computer with the latest version of Photoshop.

Not enough change. I decided to use Lightroom instead of Bridge to give me better management over my growing library of photographs. So I am now learning a new interface and workflow in addition to all the new features in CS6.

Not enough change. I added NIK software’s products. Since I teach at a local college, I am able to get academic discounts for both hardware (minimal) and software (about half price), so I’ve invested in some tools while the price is right. The NIK software tools integrate nicely into Photoshop and Lightroom; I haven’t tried them with Aperture as yet. I still use Aperture as a final “library” as it is integrated with all my other tools (two IPhones, two IPads, AppleTV, ICloud, etc.).

Which brings me to the photograph above. It is a photo I took on my trip to Italy last year. I’m going through all my photographs looking for low-light samples for a book I am writing on the subject and came across this one. I decided to experiement with some of my new software and this was the result. I love the original version taken at dusk on a long walk through Rome, but I also like the look of this more artistic style. In some ways, it reminds me more of how I remember the square than the original.

Perhaps it’s just the way my mind works.

I would love to hear any comments you have around extensive manipulation or editing of photographs. I am a huge fan of “art” in its many forms and look at any “picture” as the artist’s expression, whether it be “realistic” or “interpretive.”

Hanging around the bar

Kim Cooke -1

I thought on this eve of a New Year I would reflect on a technique for low light photography, as I assume a number of photographs will be taken this night. Of course, I am referring to those taken without flash, but I will be likely taking both tonight at our annual New Year’s Eve party.

Kim Cooke -6When I am photographing an event, I have learned to for pockets of light. Invariably, the bar seems to be reasonably well light regardless of the venue. Not only does everyone eventually find themselves at the bar at some point in the evening, they tend to “pose” and I find very self-reflective portraits evolve.

So, as I wander the room, I move to spots where I can watch a light source and wait. It almost sounds like I’m hunting.

Scott_RayThe light can be contrasty and is often directly overhead. Still, considering the situation, the poses can overcome the technical aspects of the photo – high grain and poor light.

Early in the event I circle around and try to take a number of photos being very obvious with the camera. I do this so everyone gets familiar and bored with the guy with the camera and start to ignore me. It is later in the event (evening) where I get the better shots. They are more relaxed with me and, generally, alcohol is involved (not me, them).

Deep in ThoughtI don’t like using flash at events if I can avoid it. (There are times, such as presentations, where flash is expected, so I pull it out then.) I find flash moves the focus from the people enjoying themselves to me. Not what I want.

SLY_8788 B&W VeniceSo tonight, I will have my camera handy and wander around taking photos. I’ll make sure the lighting works in my favour for a change, and I will “hang out” in a couple of key spots and “capture” my guests.

I hope everyone has a wonderful (and safe) New Year’s Eve.

Serena Ryder

Serena Ryder Concert-20

As I sit here typing, I am listening to Serena Ryder‘s new album, “Harmony” remembering her fantastic performance November 20th at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club in Toronto. I was a fan before I met Serena and jumped at the invitation to attend the pre-release concert. You can find video clips of the performance on the CBC website.

Serena Ryder Concert-22

At first I wasn’t sure I would even bring a camera. As an invited guest, I thought I would just enjoy the music. Nah. So as usual when I don’t know the location, I did some research. Their web site gave me a good overview of what to expect – large open area with no seating. You stand in a “pit” to watch the performance. Not too photographer friendly. Even up to the end I debated bringing my camera. I knew Sandy, Serena’s manager and our good friend would make sure I would be in a good position to get some photos. Camera in hand, we jumped on the streetcar and headed over to the west side of Toronto.

Serena Ryder Concert-12

I walked through the doors into a dimly lit club and hoped the stage lights would provide enough light. The CBC was taping the performance, so I thought the lighting would be pretty good. The place filled up quickly and people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the pit. Sandy led us upstairs where we found seats in a balcony and I had a perfect view of the stage. The lights came on and I smiled through 468 photographs. If I was going to take pictures while listening to music, this is what I would listen to. I did get a chance to go backstage and take a few photographs from that angle, but the layout isn’t conducive to getting good pictures. I have a lot of close ups of the bass player as he swayed back and forth in front of me.

Serena Ryder Concert-8

I brought only one lens with my Nikon 300s – the 70-300mm. It’s not particularly fast, but I crank up the ISO and with the bright stage lights, I was in pretty good shape. The 300s has a slow and fast continuous frame mode (motor drive for us old film guys) that I use in slow mode. This lets me take a short burst of shots and deal with the performer’s movement, slower shutter speed and whatever shake I seem to add to the mix all on my own. You could feel the shake from the bass speakers, so I wondered if the other photographers with tripods were getting any vibrations. I tucked my elbows against my body and shot away.

Serena Ryder Concert-3

Considering I was restricted to one location (a pretty good location, though), I’m pretty happy with the shots. I recently upgrade to Lightroom 4 and CS6 and this was my first project using the software. One of the reasons I haven’t been writing as often as I’ve been so enthralled by the capabilities, particularly the noise reduction going from CS4 to CS6. Another blog, perhaps.

If you haven’t listened to Serena Ryder, she is definitely worth it. You can find her at serenaryder.com

Taste Matters

 

I enjoy photographing events. It combines a lot of happy people in some of the worst lighting conditions I can imagine. Perhaps its the challenge. I recently photographed a charity event for Eva’s Initiatives called “Taste Matters” in the Liberty Grand at the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto.

This is the second year I have attended so I was a little more prepared for the poor light. As you can see from the photograph on the left, the ceiling is very high and dark, dark brown. No bouncing flash around this place, though I rarely like using flash at events as I feel it is very disruptive to the paying guests.

Although there are windows along the side, the evening event was primarily lit from chandeliers and some spot lights that rained down on the row of food and beverage donors lined along the side of the long hall. This became my prime shooting area and I was able to get behind the tables to face the patrons enjoying their evening.

I usually arrive early for an event, especially if I am not familiar with the location. I also like to capture the set up of the room and get pictures of the volunteers behind the scene that don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Not only did I get to photograph the set up, but I helped out, setting up tables and the silent auction. Always makes you feel good to help out. No pictures of me, though.

Did I mention the lighting was poor? I recently upgraded from CS4 to CS6 (Photoshop) so my confidence in noise reduction has increased. The difference is astounding. I shot mostly at ISO 3200 when using the f4 24-120mm lens and 1600 when I switched over to either my f2.8 105mm or the f1.4 50mm. I had my flash with me. There are usually speakers at these events and that is the one time no one really minds the flash going off. Almost expected. Lets me get some low ISO shots. Now if the speakers would only take a breath with their mouth closed I’d get more decent shots of them!

I didn’t take as many photographs as last year, but still took close to 1,000. The Nikon D300s has a low and a high setting for the “motor drive” so I use the slow setting in RAW to take a burst of shots. Working with slow shutter speeds in low light I hope that one of the burst I take will be sharp. It’s not sports photography, so I’ve never exceeded the buffer even in RAW. (When I shoot hockey, I switch to JPEG so I don’t exceed the buffer.)

Funny, this morning my wife reminded me how much I use to shy away from photographing people. I was commenting on my lack of panic for the wedding I’m shooting with my good friend Heather Pollock (see link on the right). Practice. Get out of your comfort zone. Volunteer to take pictures at local events (I’ve done community rallies) or a favourite charity. Take lots of pictures. Try different things so you can learn. And have fun.