Oh boy! Self portrait time. I really needed to update my about page with a better portrait. The last one was a year old and really wasn’t that good. For a photographer, I take the worst selfies and even worse studio portraits. Maybe they are okay, but I always look so serious because I am concentrating to hard. So I asked my girlfriend to take some.
I still consider them self-portraits as I set the camera up, did the lighting, hair and styling and was clear about what I wanted. All she had to do was press the button. The button! The one on the top of the camera. No, the other one on top of the camera!
We finally succeeded in getting some good shots and having a laugh (after the shot, after buying her lunch, while having a drink, an hour later, after I praised her patience and told her I loved her photos).
Sometimes the weather just isn’t what you want it to be. Sometimes you just have to go with it. My partner, dog and I have been on holidays 3 hours south of Sydney. The weather has been blah: drizzling and overcoast. Time for some moody seascapes.
Neutral density filter, tripod and raincoat, I braved the wet to capture some coastal images of the little town of Culburra. Stay warm.
The most incredible thing happens when the sun goes down: Those subjects that were ‘nice’ or okay during the day, are transformed into something magical at night. There is no denying photos taken at night have a certain element of excitement. Why? Because they take a little more work to pull off.
There is something about shooting at night that moves your images beyond ordinary into something altogether amazing.
Cameras and equipment for night photography
All DSLR, Compact System Cameras and many point and shoot are going to have settings for longer exposures. But sometimes that is not going to be enough. Pushing your camera to the limit is what is going to set them apart from ones made to handle more challenging conditions. The challenge of long exposures or extreme ISO settings are going to test what your camera is capable of capturing.
What, however, is going to set them apart is a large dynamic range, high ISO range and a large sensor. I shoot with a Nikon D750 which ticks all those boxes. My small Nikon Coolpix 7000 may be great for during the day, but at night, with ISO over 1000, things are starting to look very ugly and noisy.
A wider dynamic range is going to allow you to draw more information from those shadows. Otherwise it is just going to be sensor noise. And there is nothing worse than noise. It is certainly not as romantic as film grain.
Camera settings for night photography
There are two approaches I take. One is to shoot on a tripod and aim for long exposure images. The other is to shoot at extreme ISO settings and shoot handheld. Both are interesting in their effect and feeling.
Most of the images here are shot at 8,000 ISO. Pretty extreme. I never thought I would need that high an ISO, but then, I had never shot hand-held at night either! Start with 800 ISO if it is twilight and move your ISO up from there as you go. A dark laneway at night is going to need 3200-8,000. Crazy numbers!
Something changes as you push your camera to the limit, and it is something I love- this incredible softness. The images become almost painterly.
The other approach is to set up your camera on a tripod and shoot long exposures. Most good cameras can meter to 30 seconds. Beyond that, you will have to use the ‘bulb’ settings and hold the shutter open as long as you want or need to.
Night photography tips
Use a tripod. Or not. Two approaches. Personally, I like moving around at night. Tripods are essential with long exposures. Spend as much as you can on a tripod. A good one is worth its weight in gold. Light, stability and compactness are the key features to look out for.
Shoot in Manual or Aperture-Priority. Gain more control of your camera. Auto modes just won’t work because your camera won’t know what you are trying to do. You do.
Shoot wide open. Get that light in there so shoot way open. An aperture of f/1.8- f/ 2.8 is what you should be aiming for. That big zoom you love so much, may not cut it at night. A nifty fifty (50mm) will do the trick perfectly. I use my Nikon 50mm f/1.8 or my Tamron macro 90mm f/2.8 all the time.
Be patient. Shooting at night is tricky. Take your time and experiment with camera settings.
If you use a tripod, then grab a shutter release cable or use the timer on your camera. (One less piece of kit to carry!) There is nothing worse than an unintentional camera movement. With long exposures, you don’t want any movement- and that includes touching the camera.
Shoot in RAW format. I know, everyone tells you to shoot RAW, but this is one time when it is really important. Digital noise can be greatly reduced in RAW software.
I love the ocean. Growing up and living by the sea, I have great respect for the ocean- it can be incredibly dangerous and sometimes, surprisingly, safer than being on land.
When I was young, I lived in Bronte Beach, Sydney and again lived there in my 20’s. It is one of my favourite beach in the world. It is also my closest beach to where I live now- a 15 minute drive on a quiet morning.
Bronte is a couple of beaches down from the more (in)famous, Bondi Beach. It is a more beautiful, family-oriented beach with big sandstone cliff faces, a rock pool and a concrete swimming pool. The surf is always way better than it’s famous neighbour.
This is where I bodysurf through the warmer months, and the surf can be incredible. I have had so many amazing days swimming here, so recently I turned my camera towards it.
These were taken just as the sun faded, and as families started packing up and heading home. Surfers started coming in and the beach grew quiet. I noticed, and you can see in one of the photos, another photographer enjoying the late afternoon light too.
I was shooting with my Nikon D750, swapping between my wider 28mm lens and the narrower 90mm Tamron lens
Of course, a sturdy tripod is essential. I use a Vanguard Abeo 243AB. They are very durable and well priced for what you get. I also use a shutter release cable. Not a branded Nikon one, just a budget one- it does the same job without costing a fortune.
These are the main ingredients for successful long-exposure seascape photography:
Camera. Any camera where you can take long-exposure photos will be suitable. Most modern cameras will allow you to do this.
Tripod. I would go without many other pieces of equipment rather than skimp on a tripod. I have used junky cheap ones when I was younger and wondered why I was always disappointed with them. Heavy, flimsy, or badly-engineered tripods will just frustrate you. Spending a little more will give you years of enjoyment. A good tripod should be light but not weak, sturdy without being heavy, adjustable without having to curse at it.
Shutter release cable. Don’t ruin your long exposure with movement from touching the camera. Cheap, non battery-operated cabled shutter release ones can be found everywhere. There are cool ones available where you can set timers, or set it to fire your shutter at intervals. These are both so cheap. I have one of each. In a pinch, just set your cameras inbuilt timer.
Shoot at dawn or dusk. You will be rewarded with beautiful light.
Although this is a brief introduction, I will be exploring seascape photography more in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!
Social media, especially Instagram ‘likes’, is not your measure of success. There are incredible photographers with small followings. There are professional, well paid, highly regarded photographers with a few thousand followers. Followers and ‘likes’ is not a measure of success- it is a measure of popularity.
Don’t fall into the trap of linking followers to success.
A great example is Bill Henson, undoubtedly one of Australia’s most famous photographers, has less than 10K followers. A friend of mine, a leading Australian food, product and portrait photographer, Tanya Zouev, has just over three thousand followers. Tanya has worked with the biggest brands in Australia. Numbers mean nothing.
Instagram is addictive. It was designed that way. Nothing is free. You pay for Instagram with your time.
Even if you go on Instagram twice a day for half an hour (sounds pretty reasonable), that makes seven hours a week. What can you achieve in seven hours? How many photos can you take in seven hours? How many blog posts can you write? How many new techniques for shooting or editing can you achieve?
There is something else as well. There is an Instagram ‘look’. Photographers are now aiming for this particular look and are becoming generic in their image-making. A quick scroll on Instagram’s main page will show a repetition of center-framed, highly saturated ‘epic’ images. There is no room for calm or thoughtful photography. Those images are there, but it’s not what a most of Instagrammers want. They want at high-energy fizzy drink. They want ‘Red Bull Photography’. So people shoot more of the same. The same locations, the same poses, the same filters and the same presets.
Myspace was big. Now it is dead. Flickr was huge and was great for storing and sharing images. Now, almost dead. 500px? Dead. Facebook was huge for photographers. Not any more. You gotta pay to get any traction on they platforms. It is one of the ways they make money. Nothing is free.
I am not anti-Instagram. I am on Instagram and I enjoy it as much as the next person, but I do know that it will never make me rich or famous. I do know followers are not my currency to being a good photographer.
Small doses go a long way.
I also know it was designed to keep me, and you, on there as much as possible. And that, above all, makes me very concerned.