To Trip the Light Fantastic: light painting at Hogsback

I think there’s a good deal of fun to be had light painting. It’s like a mini performance. You have to imagine a dark scene to light up, get your camera organised, put on your darkest clothes, start the camera and then take your light into the space, weaving and turning, circling and waving. Then dash back (taking care not to trip in the dark) to see what you’ve captured on the live view of your camera. I’m particularly fortunate because my Olympus OMD has a live composite mode that lets you see the picture you’ve already built up. You can then either stop the long exposure or go back into the scene for some more painting with light (of course you might then ruin it!).

We were up at Hogsback last week and I was looking forward to doing some light painting experiments. It’s a great dark sky site with very little light pollution and lots of locations with mountain views, stars overhead, forests and waterfalls.

On our first evening there I went down the steep woodland path below Wild Fox Hill and took a few shots of myself coming back up towards the camera from out of the forest. I called this picture In the Flow. The second picture was taken that same evening down in the basement extensions being built below the house. I lit the walls and beams first with sweeps of colour and then did some perilous weaving On the Loose dodging the buckets, tools, beams, bottles and mud scattered around the floor. The third picture is almost formal. Standing Guard was taken in the plantation forest with a back lit night sky. It took multiple trips stumbling through the pine litter and fallen branches trying to remember which trees I had stood behind to make the pattern of circles. The last two pictures were taken when there was still some sunset afterglow beneath the milky way. Tor Doone rears up over the valley from Wild Fox Hill and I made these two pictures at almost the same spot. The Sentinel looks rather as though he’s standing guard whilst the Ribbon Dancer is far more elegant as she trips the light fantastic.

When the wave breaks

Towering over our townships, like a wave ready to break, was this huge cumulus cloud. Ominously pink in the late glow after sunset the top of the cloud was rising fast and, blown by the winds, looked like a crest hovering over Grahamstown’s townships below. This was taken a couple of nights ago, a week after the lockdown began, and mirrors my feelings of apprehension.

Cumulus clouds breaking over Makhanda's (Grahamstown) townships during the Corona virus lockdown

When the wave breaks

Technically this was a tricky photo to take. It uses the Olympus’ Live Composite mode – in this case it’s seven minutes worth of half-a second exposures superimposed (a total of 840 frames).  But it was really quite dark at 6:40 pm so I adjusted the ISO to 1000 and opened the lens up as far as possible to F2.8. The bright white lines in the sky are star trails. The moon was playing hide and seek in the clouds whilst I took the picture and that gave an unpleasant bright smudge in the sky that I have edited out.

Days of looking to be there at the right moment …

“That’s pretty much the life of a National Geographic photographer. Days of looking to be there at the right moment.” Jim Richardson

Jim’s got it right: if you want to get a particular composition, or just the right light, then it can take days of looking and days of waiting. Then you’ve got to get yourself in just the right spot at the right time with the best equipment you have – camera set-up, lens, lens filter, and tripod.

You also need to know your landscape and how it’s lit. If you stand with your back to a Karoo sunset you often have golden light washing over distant mountains. That’s something I’ve wanted to get a good photograph of for a long time. Here’s one from my last shoot.

A golden sunset at Ganora farm

Golden Sunset at Ganora

There’s a second photograph that I’ve worked on many times over the past 10 or 15 years. If you are at Ganora Farm (just outside Nieu Bethesda) and stand looking north towards Compassberg mountain then the sunset is to your left and the light bathes the cliffs and skyline. You can also get lovely colours on the clouds beyond.

The dramatic cliffs of Compassberg at sunset

Compassberg’s cliffs catching the sunset light

Just last month I managed to be there at the right moment for both of these shots. We’d had a dull, hot, overcast afternoon but an hour before sunset a nice rift appeared in the clouds way off to the west. I figured that’s pretty much where the sun would be as it set so I assembled my camera gear and headed to a good vantage point up on the road out of the farm.

One of the reasons I got the pictures I wanted was the lenses I used. It’s the first time I had taken the M.Zuiko 40-150 mm PRO lens with me. I also had the MC-14 telephoto adaptor which enabled me to zoom really close up to the subjects.

I waited for about half an hour keeping an eye out for the sun to drop below the clouds. When it did I shot a picture of the road out from the farm with Compassberg mountain beyond. I used the 12-40 mm PRO lens for this and quickly switched it for the 40-150 mm as I knew the light would change rapidly. Swivelling round so the sun was now behind me I got a couple of really nice pictures of the golden glow on the distant hills and koppies off to the east.

The golden road to Ganora Farm

Golden road at Ganora

The golden light of a Karoo sunset

Golden light at Ganora

Then I walked back over the road for the long exposure shots of the mountain with clouds behind it. These were taken on the tripod using Live Composite base settings of half a second and a second. Each shot was five minutes long – so either 600 for 300 exposures superimposed in the camera.

Sunset colours over Compassberg mountain

Sunset colours over Compassberg

Late sunset colours over Compassberg mountain

Late sunset colours over Compassberg

It had been a pretty intense hour but I was feeling really pleased. It was a nice walk back through the gloaming with the prospect ahead of a cold beer at the braai.

Autumn Currents

It’s hard not to be drawn to the sublime autumn colours here in Sweden. Then there’s the rivers tumbling downstream full of waterfall foam and loaded with leaves. This set of pictures tries to capture the tranquillity of the waters as they twist and turn, curve and weave on their way through the forests and over the falls.

I used the Live Composite mode again so the foam and leaves make streaks, curves and circles that  show the currents in the rivers.

Riverscape Impressions, Live Composite Photography

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve admired the Impressionists and lately I’ve taken photographs of riverscapes that look very impressionistic. Here’s an example.

A curve in the Bäveån

A curve in the Bäveån

The rushes in the foreground are blurred in motion whilst the river, full of autumn leaves, flows smoothly around the curve behind. The sky overhead is reflected in it and the bank of trees behind completes the composition. I’ll describe at the end just how I used the Live Composite mode on my Olympus to do this. But first some more riverscape impressions.

The second picture’s got similar elements in it. It was taken in windy conditions again so there was the opportunity to capture the grasses and reeds waving in front of the brown flood water. The composition’s different as I was much closer to the grasses and lower down which meant I could get the feel of the river, highlighted by the streaks of the autumn leaves, flowing quickly towards you.

Alstersälven, impression of grasses

Alstersälven, impression of grasses

The third picture is more abstract. The yellow leaves in the river loop and swirl towards you but the top of the picture blurs upwards and away. I moved the camera whilst taking the image to distort the leaf covered river banks and skyline. I think it highlights the rushing flow the river – which was in flood – and gives the impression of the rain and light snow that was falling when I took the picture.

Faluån Impressions

Faluån Impressions

In the next one a strong wind was blowing from right to left. A small promontory of reeds and grasses was bending with the gusts and that separates the picture. The foreground leaves were more or less stationary in the water but the ones in the current proper were going past at speed.

A windy day on the Bäveån

A windy day on the Bäveån

The last picture is the most abstract. It’s taken looking down into the water and it would be difficult to work out what you were looking at if you hadn’t seen the other pictures already. I think it looks like it’s been painted with oils and then the grasses added in with a palette knife.

Bäveån abstract impressions

Bäveån abstract impressions

The pictures were taken with my Olympus camera’s Live Composite mode. It’s usually used to take long exposure shots of astrophotography subjects like star trails or street pictures of car headlights sweeping past you. It works by setting a base exposure (half a second in the case of the pictures here) which is then repeated as often as you wish. The camera adds the changes in each subsequent exposure on to the original image and you can see it happening on the screen. After around two minutes I stopped each picture as it began to spoil the composition.

I’ll be showing more of these in another post. They have really stretched my creativity and it would be great to hear what you think of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to a flyer at the UCI Road World Championships 2019: Individual Time Trial Elite Men

So there I was just behind the barrier with a great view of the cyclists who were about to come – one by one – hurtling down the main street in Northallerton at the UCI’s 2019 Road World Championships Time Trial. Yes you have it, a nature photographer (a landscape photographer) about to attempt to get some shots of cyclists belting past at 40-50 km/hr!

I’d decided I would love to pan along with them as they went past to get some background blur. I discovered that a quick burst of the shutter (at 11 frames a second) to get one or two shots worked well – rather as it does for pictures of sugarbirds – but when they were cornering towards you that was really tricky as they went out of focus.

Anyway I was really pleased with the results my Olympus gave me. I was helped by the fact that the cyclists came along at regular intervals, not like the road races we went to in the rest of the week. Here are eleven of the participants in no particular order. The Australian rider Rohan Dennis went on to win it.