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Night & Light Photography at West Burton

Our 18 November meeting saw us leaving the sanctuary of The Bolton Arms and venturing out to the Cauldron Falls at West Burton. It was three degrees below freezing, darker than a darkroom in a powercut, so what on earth were we thinking?

On the agenda was experimenting with night and light photography, guided by our good friend Tom Marsh of Yorkshire Photo Walks. Among the experimenters were a few old hands but the majority of us were new to these techniques.

Tom started things off with a walkthrough of the key technical things to remember:
– use a tripod,
– turn off image stabilisation,
– use a remote release or self-timer, and
– focus manually.

And then we got to it. Almost immediately, challenges presented themselves.

Gauging the length of the exposure (time value) depends, of course, on the ISO and aperture settings as well as the lens and camera. Sadly and surprisingly, there’s no guidance in the user manual for setting the exposure length in the dark.

Tom suggested five minutes as a starting point. Something that requires knowledge of where the Bulb button is. Know your camera!

Here’s an example of a setting that used a bulb timer of five seconds (5″), which is easily confused with five minutes (5′):

Gauging the length of the required exposure is easy once you know how

Another case of Know Your Camera!

Obviously, auto focus wouldn’t do anything in the dark other than run down the battery. In the pitch black darkness, focusing to just shy of infinity was a hit and miss affair. Mostly miss. Prime lens users found this especially problematic, for some reason.

Focusing is easier in daylight than at night

Another challenge with shooting in the dark is how do you know you’ve composed the shot well? You might as well be playing darts with the light off:

Somewhere in the distance are the falls. Nice sky though.

But, following another of Tom’s golden rules – be patient! – vaguely respectable results started to come through.

In seven minutes you could make a cup of tea, or capture the falls in the dark.

Next up, Tom had us “painting” the falls with the light from our torches. The effect is remarkable, revealing the elements of the landscape in a new, magical way:

Just kidding. This was taken during the day.

Finishing the evening off with some magic, Tom introduced to a different kind of light painting, the results of which are shown in the short slide show below (click on any image to start the slide show).

All in all, a fun and informative night out where for a few hours we forgot the cold and were entranced with the lights of the night.

Starry, starry night

The follow-up session at the next meeting looked at the results you see here, plus a few more besides, and helped confirm the learning points. While not everyone was convinced by the artistic merits of shooting landscapes in the dark, the techniques covered might one day come in useful in other settings. And a few members voiced their intention of revisiting the Falls to practise those very techniques!

Many thanks to Tom for journeying all the way up from Leeds and showing us how it’s done. To see Tom’s advice, download the PDF of his presentation here.

For more information about Tom’s work and the photography tuition he offers, visit Yorkshire Photo Walks.

Thanks to Stephen, Mark, Ken and Michael for sharing their shots.