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Anecdotes from a landscape photographer

Anecdotes from a landscape photographer - In the fourth part of our series of beginners landscape articles Martin Pettinger takes a look at light, and how sometimes less can be more.

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In the fourth part of our series of beginners landscape articles Martin Pettinger takes a look at light, and how sometimes less can be more.

I’m at the end of Fife, at St Andrews and it’s 5:45 am. There’s no sign of any predawn light as it’s cloudy over the North Sea. I’m cold and I’m hungry and I’m wondering what possessed me to get out of bed at 5am as one side of my brain the practical side says you cannot take pictures in the dark.

Now the creative side of my brain tells me you need light for landscapes and indeed the beach and castle are side lit by sulphurous street lighting and hence a crazy notion of long exposures in the dark. A few minutes later I am gingerly crossing slippery seaweed covered rocks to find a vantage point.

The criteria for my vantage point is an area in shade to minimise the risk of flare on my 24mm wide angle lens. Then I remove my polarising filter and fit the lens hood. I also need to set the tripod very low - about a foot of the ground and crouch down to avoid a shadow from both myself and the tripod due to a street light behind me.

Next it is time to estimate the exposure - it is too early to think clearly - I should have set the camera manually for f/2.8 and ISO800 and 30sec to check exposure but instead I guess and estimate about 5 minutes at ISO 200 at f/11. I focus manually using the distance scale on my lens, select bulb and then hold down the cable release.

Five minutes seem an eternity on a very dark beach with the eerie sound of the tide and bird calls from curlew and grey heron amongst others. I check my watch and only 2 minutes have passed or is it three - next time I shall take a small torch. Eventually five minutes pass and I add a little time for luck.

302 seconds later I have the following image. It’s surreal - the long exposure has blurred the movement in the sky and the whole landscape has an orange glow accentuated by the fact I used cloudy white balance. It’s different though and it hasn’t cost me anything as I’m shooting digitally.

Inspired by the results I take some more long exposures including a rock outcrop immediately to my right. The resultant image makes me think this could be a landscape on the planet Mars - strange what lack of sleep does to a person. I’m also left thinking I should return at high tide and try the same image with ghostly water.

I also think that it maybe worth converting this image to black and white as the image is just too orange - just too surreal and something that looks like someones overdone the saturation or warm up in Photoshop. It also makes me think of my previous photo essay in that if you want different images you need to do things differently - I Yady Yag!

To finish I also tried something similar a year ago in Fife with the Forth Road Bridge. The scene was heavy overcast and the landscape seemed to have an orange glow - again I took a long exposure and recorded this scene. The original image is very noisy due to the small sensor of the camera but shows you can take photographs in the dark - but you still need an essential ingredient - a source of light!
302 seconds later, taken on a Canon 10D with a Canon 24mm f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 302sec at f/11 on ISO200.

225 seconds later, taken on a Canon 10D with a Canon 24mm f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 225sec at f/11 on ISO200.

8 seconds later, taken on an Olympus C-740UZ at f/2.8 for 8sec on ISO100.

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