June 21st was the Summer Solstice and the shortest night of the year and the perfect time to spend the evening out in London taking photographs of the sun setting and then rising a few hours later.
Unfortunately, as photography doesn’t pay the bills the shoot had to wait till the shortest weekend of the year, the 25th June. I met up with some friends at a Meetup organized by the London Photographic Meetup Group. We split into smaller groups and headed out to find the perfect spot to shoot the sunset. Sonia. and I chose the middle of Tower Bridge having had walk down towards the design museum and been unhappy with the views. The middle of the bridge offered a few advantages; composition was enhanced because we were above the Thames, allowing a vanishing point in the centre and the ability to get both London Bridge and the Mayor’s office in the shot with no problems.
Tripod, such as it was, was setup with the kitbag used to weigh it down, I was shooting with the L series 17-40mm using a cable shutter release. I also wanted to focus on HDR images because if you are shooting a sunset its all about the deep varied colours and that is where HDR excels.. Essentially, once a location is found. The Mark III is excellent for HDR for a couple of reasons; firstly it will cheerfully do an automatic 7 bracket exposure. Secondly it has a built in eye-piece shield preventing the eye-piece from adding additional light to the sensor. I set the camera up, and it then became a waiting game, taking a set of images every few minutes as the sun set. Some shots were a different composition, but my feeling with this was once I’d found a perfect composition that I liked, I wanted to shoot enough that I also got a perfect set of colours. I’m not sure I completely achieved it, but I am very happy with several of the images and the one attached to this post in particular. It is also worth noting that I was using manual focus as automatic focus struggles with lights on a night scene. (NOTE: a handy trick if you have a live view system is to switch to that, zoom as much as you can and focus from there, much finer control)
The disadvantage of HDR is you can’t see what you are producing (well, except for the new Sony cameras, which offer in camera HDR) and so there is always a bit of a wait before you know if you’ve wasted you time. In that respect it is similar to film.
Once the sun had set, I was left with five or six hours until sunrise. Whilst many people continued around the Thames looking for some interesting night shots of buildings I wanted to do something a little different. As such I headed off with a friend who is a fan of street photography to Soho. These adventures and images will be covered in a later post about taking street shots of party people.
4am and I’ve arrived back on the Thames and waked down from Embankment to Westminster Bridge. Walking along the bridge I find the spot I am looking for. Unlike earlier, I have an additional requirement. I need a spot that has a firm concrete base or pillar to rest my camera on as my Tripod is lost somewhere in Aldwych. This posed a pretty significant challenge, as HDR required matched images and without a tripod it is very difficult to achieve. In order to manage I used every trick I knew. I pushed the ISO up higher than was required and kept the aperture as wide as possible so that the shutter speed, even at the lowest exposure in the bracket was fast to minimize the impact between shots. I also used the 2 second timer delay to trigger the shots so my finger pressing the button would not affect the shot. All in all I’m happy with the results, though at maximum zoom you can see a slight disconnect between the images.
I also took a shot of the impact of the cloud cover on the Houses of Parliament first thing in the morning with no traffic or pedestrians that I’m very happy with, only minor tweaks to pull the colours out. It is solitary and splashed with light.
I absolutely recommend taking an evening to do a shoot like this. Whilst there is no actual reason that you have to do sunset and sunrise in one evening, it is a nice challenge and it give you a sense of completeness.