There’s a definite downside to being forced off the road (aka not driving) in that you lose the desire to go to risky places carrying camera gear that might look expensive. Low light photography become a thing for early winter evenings when you can walk to possibly interesting places when there are still crowds around, rather than going places in the dead of night when they are deserted, and only likely to have people you would probably rather not meet being nearby.
I had no idea the Barrowland Ballroom neon still worked, let alone was in use, but there it was one (dark) afternoon/evening, flashing away and looking impressive.
As an aside, seeing it has made me wonder where I could find anything similar, since all the other (large) neon adverts are long gone from Glasgow.
I don’t have a sufficiently wide lens to catch the whole frontage in one shot, and panorama stitching results in distortion when used so close to the subject, so this was a chance to exercise some perspective correction filtering I had been using for another project. Provided this is applied correctly (and ignoring the anomalies that can arise for non-planar views) the results can be pretty good, as this corrected shot illustrates:
The coach wasn’t going anywhere, and is the only real flaw.
It was harder timing this shot to catch all the lighting active than to correct it, since the stars and letters are not all illuminated all the time. Now alerted, you should be able to spot the variation in intensity of some of them.
‘Experts’ (who I suspect don’t even own a camera) keep telling me to shoot this sort of scene in RAW, but I’m sorry, I’ll be ignoring them and sticking with jpg while the results come out like this, and I don’t have to work harder.
For reference, this is the original view, which I had to capture from one side and at an angle to get into a single frame.
This was partly dictated by the lens, but at the time, was also forced on me as it was the only place I could get a clear and unobstructed view (forgetting that coach), and I’d probably have been given a hard time if I’d tried climbing onto the roof of pub/shops just behind.
While I was never fully attracted into the world of film photography (too much fiddling with chemicals and fear of poisoning myself, no matter how careful), I was always impressed with what could be done in the darkroom (by someone who knew better), and the sort of surprises that could be pulled out of shots, from areas where there was apparently nothing to be seen – to the untrained eye at least.
I tend to think this no longer applies in the world of digital, not because it can’t be done, but because it can be seen as ordinary and needing little effort. Studying Photo
shop (or rather its various and more reasonably priced clones) can provide a handy reminder that knowledge of appropriate techniques, and the application of appropriate filter layers, can achieve much the same as a ‘wet’ darkroom, and with a lot more safety (ok, this is maybe only important to me.)
I was running a series of long exposure trials during some nice evening light, after spotting a clear dusk sky with some contrails crossing below a bright Moon. The real reason was to see how the extended exposure affected the sharpness of the final result when the ISO was fixed at 100 ASA (which is of no interest here), but was interrupted when a low flying jet passed through one of the shots.
At first glance, the shot didn’t appear to have seen the aircraft, which was no great surprise, but more intriguing was the apparent absence of the aircraft’s lights or strobes, which I expect the long exposure to have caught, if not as light trails, then at least as light spots.
The untouched capture is shown below (not the original though – this one is reduced for the blog), and while it took a moment or two, I did eventually spot the aircraft lights – they can just be spotted in the upper right quadrant of the image (but they are just splodges in this blog version of the original). A star is more noticeable, below and to the right of the Moon – but then again, it’s not moving, so delivers more light to the spot.
Curious about what was recorded of the aircraft, or its lighting, I tried some extreme post-processing just to find out what might have been caught, and was intrigued to find not only the strobes, but also the coloured marker or navigation lights could be seen.
The push-processing might make for horrible image (I’ve spared you the whole scene, and just clipped out the section with the lights), but it does show that even digital image sensors – which some people like to criticise as having no sensitivity – do catch detail that can be recovered. And if need be, rendered useful if enough time is spent fettling them. But that’s not justified in this case, which was just to satisfy a little curiosity.
The passing of Christmas (with its fun lighting) and the arrival of some pretty rotten weather – heavy rain and wind – has curtailed low light pic fun somewhat, and seen me arrive home soaked through to the skin, not a usual occurrence so I know the rain is unusually heavy.
In the absence of anything decent to point at, I thought I use one of my failed shots to show how easy it is to get careless.
The pic below is probably recognisable as a cat at night, but that’s more luck than design.
First mistake was that the camera settings were all wrong. I hadn’t worked things out and this was a grab shot made quickly before the cat walked away. The camera was set to allow long exposures (as in having a tripod or other support if shooting in the dark), so a hand-held grab was never really on – but I tried.
Next was the lighting, and not taking into account how good eyes are compared to cameras.
Although I could see the cat, when I reviews the location of this failed shot, I found I was standing in a side street where the street lighting had failed. This meant the only light available was coming from the lights in the street behind the cat, and that makes then at least 3o metres away, and probably more in reality.
They’re also very yellow low-pressure sodium, so playing with the white balance makes no difference to the view, just changes the colour, or becomes grey.
If the weather dries up, before the evenings get light, or the council fixes the dead street lighting, I might go take a comparison shot of the same spot, just to see if proper settings do actually work better.
In all seriousness, there is actually a valuable lesson to be learnt from this pic, and which has paid dividends in other pics I have since taken.
Despite the nostalgia (and some seem to have the same fatal affinity for film as others have for vinyl), film is not digital – and vice versa – applying film techniques to digital photography may not always work.
While one can still make long exposures, one no longer HAS to in order to get a low light pic.
Granted, one needs a good camera with a big sensor (and this also flies in the face of the old film adage that it’s not the camera, but the photographer that matters), but that in hand, it’s possible to flaunt the old rules, add an anti-vibration lens, and take hand-held pics in low light.
With care, even noise/grain become a non-issue – but again, the big sensor plays a part for that to be true.
And if you want noise/grain, you can still make it happen with appropriate settings.
One surprise I’ve dug out of noisy low light pics is that the noisier ones actually end up with less smoothing when processed, and can deliver greater detail. I’ve been able to read printing caught in noisy pics, but only been able to see that there is printing, but not read it, with lower noise settings.
Found myself in the same place, and at night.
Took another shot in passing, but it was a terrible night throwing rain down, and I wasn’t chancing getting things wet while fiddling with settings.
While it is better, I hadn’t anticipated taking any pics in low light, so I was still in largely daytime settings – maybe next time.
I know some people can’t get their heads around any sort of humour related to graveyards or crematoria, if that’s you, please just look away and/or stop reading now.
As I squelched around a local crematorium’s grounds during an annual pilgrimage, and felt the endless torrent of rain soak through to my skin and fill my shoes (I kid you not), I had to stop and make a double-take at one spot.
I thought somebody was having a deliberate laugh with the vases, but on closer inspection, noted that this was most definitely NOT the case, and it was merely an unfortunate juxtaposition of a particular vase design.
I’m slightly amazed that this pic actually came out and is so sharp and detailed (note the interesting person reflected in the vases). I let the camera have control and it pushed the maximum ISO, aperture, and a surprisingly fast shutter speed, yet I see no noticeable or objectionable shake/vibration, or noise/grain.
(All personal details and the location have been edited to anonymise the original.)
Not particularly interesting, but having seen so many pics taken from the walkways over Charing Cross, I had to have some of my own, since I was passing over and carrying a camera that would do it.
The only problem was that this was before I had done any trials to find out the sort of setting that worked, so this was going to be largely reliant on the camera’s brain rather than mine.
As it was, most went in the bin, and I found that I still had more successes than outright failures, mainly due to having been told how to set up the camera to take over all setting if a shot was being shot at a silly ISO or crazy slow shutter speed, but this also means that attempts to produce light trails are seriously defeated, as the camera looks after things, even when set to ‘Manual’.
Now I know how Tiff Needell feels when complaining about certain traction-control system that don’t turn off, even when ‘turned off’.
The first one stayed because of the Mitchell Library.
This one survived the cut thanks to the ambulance that drove through the scene.
The last one was just amusing, with the semi-circle of cars caught waiting in the centre – I always hated getting stuck there if it was busy.
I should probably have made this St Paul’s nativity in the dark, and the wind, and rain!
I forgot about this because the weather had been so bad as I walked home. The wind and rain (horizontal) were so bad I almost didn’t try for the pic, but wasn’t likely to be there again for a while. As it was, I had to hide myself behind the bus shelter at the church, which kept the rain off the camera, and meant I had half a chance of holding the camera reasonably still in the gale that was blowing at the time.
Probably the last Christmas pic for the year, but not the last low-light.
Never managed this in the days of film, and even this one was more luck than judgement, as it was taken before I had learned the right way to set thing up for a hand-held grab shot in the dark. This shot should have been ruined by camera shake, but somehow managed to beat it – although I have to admit there were one or two that got thrown in the bin.
Wandering across the M8 (on a footbridge), I noticed the overhead lights had failed and it was much darker than usual, and this meant an opportunity for some more low-light pics.
There wasn’t much to support the camera on, but I took a range of shots to compare long exposures against the sort of short exposure the camera would call up, if left to work on its own.
I kept a fairly wide aperture, as previous results proved that small apertures make horrible patterns around small lights, and this set was better.
The camera did a very good job on its own, provided that the aim was not to get light trails recorded, and in both cases, the focus was pretty good.
Focus is still a puzzle in the dark – some is spot on, some is dreadful, but I can’t find a consistent rule. Autofocus is generally not an option once it gets this dark, and you can neither see much, or be accurate. Autofocus lenses don’ generally have distance scales (like the ‘old’ days when autofocus was not the norm), nor do they have very good manual operation, since the focus ring has a very short travel.
Looking at the camera’s ‘automatic’ result shows an extra problem – the direction of the light trails at the front of the vehicles.
While those at the rear at fine, those at the front appear to precede the car, so would seem to be best avoided, perhaps by forcing shorter exposure times.
Unlike first and second shutter sync for flash, it’s not possible to play the same trick to fix this.
It’s funny how you can find yourself in unexpected places with odd pic opportunities.
Some years ago, even though I had some friends that lived around there, I wouldn’t have gone near Welhouse, part of Barlanark, and not in the dark.
Things have changed a lot, both there and in neighbouring Easterhouse, but reputations die hard.
So, when I spotted some Christmas lights, I did still look twice before I headed across the fields for a literal shot in the dark. And I really was crossing fields, as so many houses have been razed here. That said, it’s a while since I was last at this particular spot, and more (old) house were still standing than I expected, as they had already been closed and sealed last year.
Really dark here, and interesting that I was able to lift the sign on the right out of the gloom.
When I took a wander along to Glasgow Fort a few months ago, one of things I had wondered about was how it fared during the winter. Unlike this year, which has been wet and windy, previous years have been snowy and frozen, which might have made it a bit harder for me to walk along there, but I got lucky a few days ago, when the wind dropped and the rain stopped.
Even with Christmas lights installed, I still find it to be a dull place, with few shops of any real value. Too many ‘names’ that ‘kewl’ people like to spend ridiculous amounts money for, just to have the right logo on show.
One odd thing I noticed was the high sign rising from the midst of the shops. This has no lighting to advertise or draw attention to the centre.
The Christmas decorations weren’t particularly inspiring, but at least provides an opportunity to learn a little more low-light hand-held photography.
It’s intriguing to see the effects that can be drawn out in post-processing, and in this case I’ve tended toward raising the level to look closer to day time than night time pics. This was simply because leaving them as night pics tended to look like failed shots with no detail, but it’s nice to have the choice, and still have the black sky.
Depressing view of Chisholm Hunter. The ceramic watch I have had an eye on has gone from £770 to £1,440 in the short time I have a taken a liking to it.
The big LED clusters were kind of nice…
Coincidences – can’t keep away from them.
The last few post show I’m currently enjoying a return to low-light photography, something I’ve finally got digital kit which can do it without producing images that look like baby’s fingerprinting. The most interesting part of this is that unlike film, which could only do this trick with long exposures, and could produce random result due to problems with different colour stock, big image sensors have nailed this. And I also learned that the long exposure was not the only way to get good pics under these conditions.
Well, reading some media predictions for 2014 suggest that this will be the year when camera makers stop their silly megapixel wars, and start to produce sensors that work better in low light. This lunacy has people drooling over 41 MP phone cameras, forgetting that their lenses barely resolve a quarter of that, or less. And now we have the police suggesting that they will be identifying criminals by zooming into reflections of their faces, as found on the surface of eyeballs caught in such pics.
I have news for the tired and worn-out hack that thought this was worth a cheque from their editor – they’re about a year (much more if you could afford full frame pro dSLR even before that) behind the times, and should be fired, not rewarded. Had I been able to afford the price of a small car to buy such a dSLR a year or two ago, I would have been tempted.
Another experiment, from Glasgow’s St Enoch shopping centre. Looking at the date I have for this pic, it doesn’t really qualify as low light, but it looks as if it should, so it’s in. There was a white reindeer along the gallery, but no clear view, courtesy of various vendor’s displays.
I’m always dubious about pulling out a semi-pro looking camera in such places nowadays (cameras in phones can be used with impunity, even when supposedly banned). While I used to visit the Metro Centre (Gateshead) and found photographers welcomed and encouraged (they even had their own stall selling disposable cameras to day visitors), I’ve never quite got over the time I was almost, but not quite, thrown out of Princes Square shopping centre by two very large security suits for taking pics, after a brief “Third Degree”.
I’ve never gone back, and never will, but having looked at the list of tat shops it contains, it’s not a place that I’d ever go into anyway, so it’s a futile gesture – but I can still give it a bad review.
These lights have been strung across Burgher Street at Parkhead Cross for years.
I’m sure they were trashed (forget why) a few years ago, were cleared away, then reappeared a while ago.
The thing standing in the middle of the (closed) street below these lights is a remote air sampling device, connected into a nationwide network of similar devices sampling air and measuring its quality are numerous key locations around the country, and used to carry out ongoing monitoring of pollution levels.
Seeing it under these lights always makes me smile when I pass.
There are some sets of proper Christmas lights a few metres away, strung across the main roads leading to the cross, but there seems to be something wrong with them, as they’ve not been on when I’ve been there recently, so no chance of grabbing a pic.