Navigating Bradleys…

Six months ago…. :)… after a bit of a last minute discussion about potential locations for a Sunday sunrise shoot we opted for a quick trip to Bradley’s Head to shoot the Navigating Lighthouse there.

Our deliberations for a shooting location roamed far and wide from jetty’s and piers way down south to way up north, to seascape locations along the coast.

In the end we (Gerry, Deb and I) opted for convenience (somewhere very close by :)) and hoped for the best :).

Navigating Bradleys

Navigating Bradleys

NIKON D750 + 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 @ 32 mm, 41 sec at f/16, ISO 100

Note: These photographs (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

Bradley’s Head is a headland protruding from the north shore of Sydney Harbour in the suburb of Mosman and is quite close to Taronga Zoo.

I’ve shot here on a number of occasions at sunset and it’s a quite popular spot for that because the sun sets behind the city and Harbour bridge to the south west and you have a great view across the water of the harbour.

There are a number of very interesting things at Bradley’s Head. There’s a large amphitheatre area leading down to the waterfront and in front of that leading out into the water is a very old stone pier with old train rails in it.

The foremast of the cruiser HMAS Sydney, renowned for taking part in the Royal Australian Navy’s first ship against ship engagement in World War I, is also mounted on the headland

Finally also on the headland is an active lighthouse to aid in navigating ships, Bradleys Head Light, constructed in 1905.

I’d never shot at this location at sunrise and it was this navigating lighthouse that I wanted to include in my shots here this time.

There’s actually a good reason why this location isn’t a popular sunrise location… The area has a reasonably long promitory of land sticking out into the harbour and theres a single road which leads out and down to the end. There are gates up at the top of that road which are usually locked at at night and reopened in the morning.

This means that you don’t want to be shooting a late sunset at certain times of the year lest you get locked in and likewise we didn’t expect to be able to get in in the morning and planned to park outside and walk in (about 20-30mins).

The location gods smiled on us today – the gates were open and we could drive right down. However this mean we were on location much earlier than we were expecting so it was very very dark 🙂

Still after a recce of the area and messing about with the parking machine which gratefully accepted our credit card donations but didn’t actually print us any tickets! 🙂 we all headed off and looked for our first compositions.

The three of us actually headed off in different directions this morning which is pretty unusual. As the clouds decided not to appear making us almost wish we were back in bed instead :), Gerry looked to shoot towards the city from the stone pier, Deb went in search of the details and I headed around the point to the lighthouse I wanted to shoot.

Bradleys Light

Bradleys Light

NIKON D750 + 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 @ 32 mm, 134 sec at f/14, ISO 100

This shot is actually the first frame of the morning taken at 6:27AM and still 30 minutes till sunrise. No test exposures here I winged the 134 second exposure on the fly and either skillfully interpreted the ambient light and the rough exposure required OR got lucky and the exposure was just about spot on – you pick 🙂

The shot up the top of the post was taken just six minutes later and the light had increased significantly – even stopping down a little further the exposure time is reduced to 41 seconds.

As you can see there really wasn’t much cloud about but what there was was sitting right on the horizon – which is at least a small saving grace since that generally means nice smooth toned pastel skies like these…

Having now bagged one of the compositions I was looking for this morning I headed over to the stone pier where Gerry was shooting a sweet panorama of the city.

I quickly took my own (including him out on the pier) and then headed up top to setup for the other composition I wanted to try with the Bradleys Lighthouse of navigating goodness :).

What I really wanted here was a decent amount of cloud and windy conditions so that the clouds were either moving towards or away from me. Alas the skies were clear but I figured I’d still try the Lee Little Stopper long exposure to mystify the water. This one taken just a little after sunrise but it was still hidden behind the cloud to the left.

Navigator

Navigator

NIKON D750 + 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 @ 36 mm, 123 sec at f/13, ISO 100

Then the sun came up and breached the clouds and it was time to head down onto the rocks here which were being lit up nicely by the warm glow of the morning sun.

This is the last shot of the morning before packing up. I’ve stacked my new Format Hitech 1.2 (4 stop) ND grad with the Lee Little Stopper for some early daytime long exposure loveliness. It was hard to get the composition working how I wanted in this cramped spot (I’ve got the tripod down at the lowest position and I’m jammed up against the rock face along the coast). Still I liked the end result at a pretty wide 18mm.

Up and Down

Up and Down

NIKON D750 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 18 mm, 62 sec at f/13, ISO 100

Galactic Winds…

I’d done a little research before heading to South Australia on our road trip and I could see that we’d be arriving there the day of the new moon. Since we were staying for a few days on a farm quite a fair way from the nearest major city I figured we’d have a few days of pretty ideal conditions for continuing my love of astro photography. Now if only the other required weather conditions would fall into place.

Besides a lack of light pollution (no moon and a remote location far away from cities) we also need clear skies.

Unfortunately it had been cloudy and overcast all day so it wasn’t looking promising. The winds however were picking up and by early evening they’d managed to blow away just about all traces of the clouds.

Drive to the Infinite

Drive to the Infinite

NIKON D750 + 14.0 mm f/2.8 @ 14 mm, 30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 5000

There was a spot at the corner of their property I’d seen earlier in the day where there was a nice crossing of farm tracks with two fields on either side of the main track coming to the crossing and one of the pine plantations in a third quadrant behind me.

Checking out Photo Pills on my phone I worked out that this might be a good spot to setup for an arch of milky way stars over the crossroads.

So as soon as it got dark enough I headed out there and setup for some shots of the milky way. Around 10PM it was dark enough to take my sequence of frames for a stitched panorama.

Unfortunately as I’m composing each of the source frames manually, in the dark – I didn’t quite get enough of an overlap between some of the frames and I couldn’t get a successful stitch.

This is the central of those frames looking straight up that main track into this spot – with a little low light painting to pop the white dirt of the road in the foreground.

I didn’t linger long because it was getting late and I wanted to move onto a spot where I was hoping to do a set of star trails behind an old windmill at the top of a small hill on their property.

Fifteen minutes later I was at the windmill and testing a number of compositions to work with the stars.

Windmills

Windmills

NIKON D750 + 14.0 mm f/2.8 @ 14 mm, 30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 5000

Note: These photographs (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

Unfortunately looking anywhere even slightly east of south meant facing towards one of the larger cities in the far distance and even though it was perhaps three quarters of a hours drive away it still lit up the horizon as you can see in the frame above.

So it looked like a more vertical composition facing more west of south would be the best bet. Again using an app on my phone (StarTracker or SkySafari) I determined roughly where the celestial south pole would be and tried to place it just above the centre of the windmill.

Galactic Winds

Galactic Winds

NIKON D750 + 14.0 mm f/2.8 @ 14 mm, 61 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250 x 78 Frames

I took a few more test shots with some foreground light painting I might use later on to blend with the stacked star trails and then set the intervalometer to take my shots.

With chill winds blowing across the paddocks it was a very cold night, and it was just past 11PM by the time I stared the star trails frames. So I headed back to the car to wait it out in comfort and read some magazines on my iPad whilst I waited.

It was a little after midnight when I decided to start making my way back to pull the plug. Before stopping the camera however I pulled out my coloured torch to try a little impromptu light painting of the foreground whilst the intervalometer was still running. I figured if I screwed up these last few frames it wouldn’t matter since I was about to stop them anyway.

When you are shooting star trails source frames there’s no image review because the next shot starts immediately (0.1 sec) after the previous shot completes. So I couldn’t see the results of my impromptu light painting to see if I was grossly under or over exposing them. It’s a little hard to estimate when shooting at ISO 1250 and f/2.8.

As it turns out my red and green frames were both pretty spot on so I decided to include them both in the final stacking and thats what you see here on the windmill and tank in the final result (a little of the red and green lighting mixed with the white lighting).

So the final star trails image is the result of stacking 78 x one minute frames.

Within the Pines…

These holidays we were going on a family road trip. It was time to visit our relatives in South Australia – the last time we were here was perhaps half a dozen years ago.

My sister in law lives on a farm in rural South Australia and they have these huge forests of pines nearby. Even though we’d spent half the day driving already I was keen to get out and try some images I had in my head. So my eldest daughter joined me for a quick trip to a nearby plantation and whilst she played on her phone I looked to try and bring one of the images in my mind to life.

Spilt Milk

Spilt Milk

NIKON D750 + 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 @ 24 mm, 1/125 sec at f/16, ISO 100

Unfortunately nothing I tried really worked nor achieved the result I wanted – either in composition or look. Still we had a pleasant time taking a look at various parts and paths in the forest before it started to rain.

Note: These photographs (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

Forest Pines

Forest Pines

NIKON D750 + 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 @ 24 mm, 1/30 sec at f/16, ISO 100

Regans Curve…

My final image from this spot above Regans Pool – a four (4) frame stitched panorama looking down the cascade for an extra wide view. As with some other areas I took each of the four frames as a sequence of three bracketed exposures (-1 & 2/3EV, -2/3EV & +1/3EV). In the end I only needed to exposure blend one of these sets (the one looking straight ahead), for the rest the single -2/3EV exposure was fine.

Regans Curve

Regans Curve

NIKON D750 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 24 mm, 15 sec at f/13, ISO 100 x 4 (12) Frames

Note: These images (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

Pro Tip: I didn’t end up using many of my normal landscape filters (GND or ND) very often whilst down in the gorges. Shooting at the times of day (early morning or late afternoon) when the sun wasn’t beaming directly down into the gorges afforded me naturally longer exposures at normal apertures (f/8 to f/16) and ISO’s (near base 100). This meant I could get shutter speeds in the range I wanted to get the sort of flow and structure in the moving water that I wanted without having to use ND filters to extend exposure times. Note however I almost always had my Heliopan 105mm circular polariser on which also provides approximately two stops of light reduction which assisted getting to the longer exposure times.

Pro Tip: A circular polarising (CPL) filter is a must in these environments. With water, wet rocks and pools of water everywhere within these gorges the appropriate use of a CPL can make a huge difference to your images straight out of camera. It’s also hard to explain how much glare there is just on the bare dry rock (it’s been smoothed shiny by millennia of rushing water and the feet of millions of visitors in these narrow gorges). The CPL helps to cut down the glare of even these rocks but you do have to adjust the CPL each time for each shot to get the best effect. When using very wide angles it’s often not possible to get the polarisation effect to work for the whole frame. You may even be forced to take multiple images with different polarisation angles with a view to blending the resulting best areas in post production.

Happy Australia Day!

What motivates you press that shutter?…

“What motivates you to pick up a camera and press that shutter?”.

It’s a question I posed to my Arcanum cohort for a recent snap assignment and it got me thinking – what is it that motivates me?…

Netherworld

Netherworld

NIKON D750 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 18 mm, 430 sec at f/16, ISO 50

I start rummaging through the recesses of my mind and some possibilities do come out, but getting to the core reasons is not so easy…

I think for me one of first things that popped into my head and one of my main reasons is the challenge and drive to improve. A push to tae and produce better work (at least in my own eyes). I’ll get to that later however, first I’ll look at a few other potential candidates…

Moonbeams

Moonbeams

NIKON D600 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 16 mm, 31 sec at f/4, ISO 1600

Whilst I do take photographs across a very wide range of genre’s I feel my main photographic love is landscape photography. What is it that motivates me to get up at insane times of day or to stay up late at night and to go to remote locations and walk miles over hazardous rough terrain in the dark to take photos?

Sure, the actual visiting of those locations may be reason enough for some. I’ve never really been much of a traveller myself. That deep down desire to go on holidays and visit exotic locations. I know people who it seems live for that, it’s almost like they go to work just so they can travel and they spend their time between in anticipation of the next trip.

For most of my life I’ve never been that way, it’s not that I hate holidays or travel – it’s just never driven me and I never had that insatiable desire to go out and see the world.

These days travel often represents an extra excuse to take the best photos I can of some new (to me) location. However even when I travel with my family I find I have to plan to specifically take some time away to take “my” photos vs the sort of day to day travel photos with the family. So for me the travel and visiting amazing places isn’t the motivator, it’s almost the other way around – the photography motivates the travel. So no smoking gun yet…

Within Landscape photography there are many sub genre’s – including those that represent the bulk of my work – Seascape and Night photography. Even within those broad definitions there may be sub specialities like Long Exposure, Astro, Light Painting and so on. However with landscape photography in general we are often shooting at what might be called abnormal times. We are looking for that most interesting light or the right conditions – which most often coincides with dawn (from an hour before sunrise till just after), evening twilight (from just before sunset till an hour after sunset) or at night.

Getting up and out of a warm bed hours before sunrise so you can get to a location an hour before sunrise is not easy work. So what motivates you to do it?

Alone

Alone

NIKON D600 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 20 mm, 324 sec at f/8, ISO 100

It’s actually a really fantastic time to be out there. It’s most often very calm, peaceful and a beautiful time of the day. Watching the world wake up as the darkness slowly shifts to light and the colours and textures of the world slowly reveal themselves. There are generally no crowds, no hustle and bustle, often no people and very few sounds at all. It’s almost like you have the whole planet to yourselves.

Being out there either alone or with just a few other like minded friends is – some could say a semi spiritual experience. So perhaps that is the motivation? You feel like you’re getting to experience the zen of the world as very few people do. And even beyond the sleep deprivation you do feel renewed and recharged.

So I do enjoy that it gets me out seeing the world at this time… However – again – it’s a bonus but not I believe the primary motivator.

So what about the images I create – am I motivated by showing people these fantastic locations in the best way I can? Is the motivation to share beautiful images of these locations most people never get to see or they don’t get to see them in these conditions or in these particular ways? Is it the act of sharing or is it that fleeting reaction of amazement in the viewer enough to motivate the next shot?

I love to share my work as much as anyone, and any accolades are more than nice, but realistically likes and +1’s aren’t going to drive me to press the shutter and take better images. In my case I take the images foremost for myself and they look like they do to please me first. If others like them then that is obviously pleasing but if they don’t, then C’est la vie.

What about other genre’s of photography I shoot, ones that I don’t necessarily feel so passionate about but still take?

Shelter From the Rain

Shelter From the Rain

NIKON D600 + 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 @ 70 mm, 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 250

I have over the past almost ten years photographed a lot (hundreds) of school and extracurricular events and activities. I volunteer to go on most school excursions (some up to four days) so that I can help and assist with looking after the children and events. Primarily however my role is seen as the “official” photographer. I document the activities of the children (including my own), catch those candid or special moments and make web galleries for the families to see their children whilst they are away.

It is rewarding work that by all accounts is very much appreciated by those families, to receive what I hope are precious memories and beautiful images of their children. There is that feeling of satisfaction to use what skills I do have for good. To give them photographs and memories they could never take themselves.

Whilst I do, like anyone, enjoy that warm feeling of praise and the satisfaction of a job well done and those small tokens that indicate your work is actually appreciated. I’m certain that is only a small part of what motivates me to photograph.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole

NIKON D600 + 15.0 mm f/2.8 @ 15 mm, 1/15 sec at f/4, ISO 560

What about other genre’s I’ve dabbled in – macro, street photography, architectural, lighting and so on?

By nature I’m a very technical and structured personality. With photography I spend time researching new skills and techniques intently and then go out and practice till I feel I’ve perfected (or in reality at least gained a reasonable understanding of) what I’ve learnt.

These learnt techniques are like building blocks of information. Sometimes they are self contained and can be pulled out in the field to assist with “making” the shot. Where they become really interesting is when you can take the separate blocks of technique and combine them in your own unique way to make something new and beautiful.

There’s that sublime feeling when you know you’ve nailed a shot. I can usually tell the moment I’ve hit the shutter without even needing to look at the back of the LCD to chimp the image. I expect it’s the feeling that sports people get when they make “the play”. The “ping” for the golfer when they just know they’ve hit the ball perfectly.

Monolith

Monolith

NIKON D600 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 35 mm, 225 sec at f/11, ISO 50

Here I think I’m getting closer to what motivates me to shoot. Photography is like an endless source of new discovery for me. There’s always new things to find, new techniques to learn, new genre’s to try, new places to go, new compositions to make, new images to take… Most importantly there’s always room to improve. Just looking at the amazing array of work out there online I never feel like I’ve really mastered anything.

I do feel like I’m improving and getting better each year but I can see this is a lifelong journey and not something I will “master” or “achieve”. The goalposts are always in the distance driving me to strive to get closer.

In this case it’s definitely the journey and not the destination which is the motivator, and what a journey it has been so far, and hopefully will be till the day I can’t…