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Behind The Photo: St James Hill Norwich 24/12/2015

Location: Norwich, Norfolk, UK - Date Taken: 24/12/2015

St James Hill in Norwich near the prison is one of my favorite places to take images because it offers views overlooking the city. It is also a convenient place for me to access as I can walk from the office in about 20 minutes up the very steep and tiring hill. 

Capturing the sunset is unusual for me at this time of year as I  do not get out if the office till around 6pm while the sunsets around 4pm. As this was Christmas Eve it was a shorter working day making this image possible.

Although I have been to this spot many times taking the same view I usually come away with a different picture every time and so far this has been on of my favorites which finishes off 2015 nicely.

I really like the range of colours in this image with the purples and oranges with the rain and cloud introducing an additional element. 

My typical approach to capturing landscapes is to defiantly use a tripod or use a flat surface. This is to eliminate any camera shake that can be introduced by pressing the shutter button. 

I had used the bracketing feature of the camera to automatically take 3 images. The first one normal and then the other two as darker and then lighter to later merge into one image to HDR illuminating the whole scene. In this case I just used the one image as I think the buildings being in silhouette is more interesting and striking. 

Most of the time I have the camera set to -1 Exposure Compensation to make the picture darker then what the camera exposes for to make sure I have enough detail in the sky. Most cameras will automate taking three or more images when the self timer is active at the same time as bracketing. 

Camera Settings 

  • Camera: Fuji X-E1
  • Lens: Fuji 35mm f1.4
  • ISO: 200
  • F/8
  • 1/35 Seconds 
  • -1 EV
  • RAW File 

Edited in Adobe Lightroom 6 

Perseids Meteor Shower

Over the last few weeks with the nights starting to get longer I am now trying to take pictures at night with the aim of photographing the night sky. On August the 12th saw the Annual Perseids Meteor Shower reach its peak. Being a Wednesday I wouldnt normally travel so far as Wells Next The Sea with being at work the next day. I eventually got home around 1.30am with my alarm set for the usual time of 6am making my purchase of Redbull energy drink essential, surprisingly I was fine till about lunchtime. 

The weather forecast kept changing throughout the week and I wasn't hopeful the sky was going to be visible to see the meteors through the clouds, I only decided to go at the last minute. Leaving early enough I had time to scout the area I intended to set up in daylight and to photograph the sunset on the same trip to make it worthwhile incase the sky was too cloudy for the meteor shower. Clouds may not be good for taking images of the night sky but I think they are essential to good sunset images as you capture different colours in the clouds. 

Can I call this a selfie?

I selected Wells because I thought the beach huts would add interest to a potential image other than the night sky which I think can be boring on its own. Also I like the fish and chips there and not having eaten anything before I left home I simply was determined to have a big tray of chips which made Wells the ideal place to go. I could have easily gone to Brancaster or Burnham Staithe further along as alternative locations.

Soon as I arrived at the beach my mind was focused on foreseeing potential images with a sunset using the beach huts as a primary point of interest. Using my Nikon D7100 and the 35mm 1.8 lens on a tripod I set the camera on self timer mode with the bracketing set to 5 images at +/- 2 stops, to later merge into a HDR image to ensure I create an image with good exposure and detail which works well with the top image.

With the self timer on the camera will automatically take 5 images in quick succession which makes HDR easy, more so with Lightroom 6.  The picture at the top of this article would be impossible with a single picture, not without loosing quality in the beach huts as they would be in silhouette as you would need to expose for the sun which is far brighter than the beach.  

Wells Next The Sea Town

After the sun had set I walked back to the high street to get my chips while the sky turns to darkness. Once I return to the beach and pointing the camera towards the town as I was advised the best place to look was north east. Using an intervalometer which arrived only a couple days prior I was all set. I was convinced the bright and frequent meteors were going across the sky everywhere but where the camera was pointing. Only once I reviewed the images the next day and altered the exposure I noticed a couple of images had captured a meteor or two.

Created from 2 images to get three meteors

On the initial image I used a torch to illuminate the beach huts, with the involomitor automatically triggering the camera every 18 seconds I just watched the show with my own eyes. Being on the beach at 11pm was very peaceful and stress free. 

The sunset alone was worth the trip out to Wells after work and watching the Perseids Meteor Shower only made it better. One of the main reasons why I love photography is because I would never have an interest in events such as the Meteor shower or exploring the countryside. 

I entered the beach huts sunset into #wexmondys on Twitter and was lucky to get second place on this weekly competition which is a good personal achievement. Been trying for months but the standard of images entered on a weekly basis is very high.

Cant wait till next year to try again !

Sunset At Burnham Overy Staithe

Fuji X-E1 35mm 1.4 with +/- 1 Stop 3 bracketed images. ISO 200 F/16 1/60 Sec 

This image was taken at Burnham Overy Staithe along the North Norfolk Coast on Wednesday 20th May 2015 during a week off work. Typically I focus on a theme for my photography and this time I wanted to focus on sunsets and the night sky and possibly capturing an aurora if there was an opportunity to do so.

Because the sunsets quite late this time of year around 9pm the sky does not get completely dark till midnight which for me it too late especially when I have an hours drive home and ended up just capturing a couple of sunsets during the week.

Keeping an eye on the weather forecast over the week I was looking for sunny spells conditions to see if there were an opportunity of the sun setting and clouds to create an interesting sky with the sun changing the colour of the clouds and possibly breaking through them. Weather that week was perfect for photography with storms creating interesting skies. 

My reasons for choosing this location was for a few reasons. Firstly I had not visited this part of the Norfolk Coastline before so was somewhere new to explore. Secondly it was recommended for night photography. Thirdly I wanted to visit the coast at least once on my week off.

Taken With Nikon D7100 with +/- 2 Stops 5 Images using 35mm 1.8G ISO 100 F/16 1/25 Sec 

Being warned not to park on the dirt/sandy flat further into the quayside as it floods at high tide I parked on the embankment just off the roadside. When visiting coastal areas I typically wear wellies but mine turned out to be useless with one of them being split which meant I had to be more careful to avoiding ending up with wet feet. 

I soon started to walk along the coastal path which I assumes leads to the beach. While walking along I am constantly looking all around to find potential images such as boats and the general shapes and curves of the landscape and taking test shots to see what is possible. At this point the tide was out and all the boats were sitting on the sand, not researching the tide times I had no idea on what the conditions will be once the sun would start to set. 

One thing I have learned in photography is that once you have found something of interest it's best to stay in one spot. Sunrise and sunset is so short you have very little time to set up to be ready for the show which is why I arrived early. It is better to come away with one good image than nothing because you were rushing around.

While waiting for the sun to set I was previewing different angles along the bank of the waterway,moving in either direction avoiding any obstructions such as bushes and signs. In this case there was another smaller craft to the left which I wanted left out of the picture as their is a photographic tip of having "odds". When capturing flowers for example you want 1,3,5 flower heads, it's just one of the many photographic "rules".

Once I had framed the image in the viewfinder I locked down the camera in that position with a tripod to avoid taking a blurry image due to the camera moving. To ensure there was going to be enough information I decided to bracket the images to combine into an HDR file using Lightroom 6 which I will include a YouTube tutorial below. I find using HDR is very useful to landscape images by capturing detail in the sky and the ground. 

Using both a Nikon D7100 and Fuji X-E1 to compare the bracketing features and to see if I could live with just the Fuji to benefit from the lighter weight. The Nikon has much better bracketing features with taking upto 5 images with +/- 2 stops or 3 images with +/- 3 stops in quick succession with the camera in timer mode.

The Fuji can only take 3 images +/- 1 stop which for me limits its use for HDR, however the 35mm lens for the Fuji is the best lens I own over the Nikon and Fuji so I try and use that where I can. Taking bracketed images with the Fuji is certainly possible and I use it all the time but I cannot see why Fuji is less advanced, maybe the newer Fuji cameras are better? 

Using Lightroom 6 I merged the files using the new inbuilt HDR feature which now avoids the interaction with Photoshop which is handy. Using a similar method to the below YouTube tutorial I eventually achieved these results which I think produced interesting images that I am happy with making my trip out worthwhile.

The top image was entered into the Wex Photographic weekly competition held on Twitter by Tweeting an image taken the previous week to #WexMondays which I occasionally participate in with the hope I could win a voucher, most of their entries by other photographers are simply stunning and I have little chance. If anything I enter images to help increase my twitter following and drive traffic to this blog to help promote my work. Wex have requested I write up my experience in taking this image by explaining my process and giving it difficulty rating out of 10. 

Fuji X-E1 35mm 1.4 ISO 200 F/5.6 1/240 Sec, a Single image not HDR to capture the person.

Asking myself on how difficult it was to capture this image and give out difficulty rating seems to be a simple request but It's actually quite difficult. I went out knowing on what I wanted to achieve. I know what combination of setting are needed to capture this type of image and I know the camera's limitations and why an HDR is useful in this situation. After some thought I will rate this picture with a difficulty rating of 6/10 and here is a simple checklist for taking sunset images and landscape images in general.

  1. Get there early and find something of interest to include with the sky. It can be a boat, tree or a building for example.
  2. Use a tripod to stabilize the camera as hand holding the camera will make the image blurry, or a flat surface such as a wall and trigger the camera with trigger release or self timer mode.
  3. Take test shots before the sunset to see if you're happy with the general framing and dont forget to look around the edges of the viewfinder for any unwanted branches that you don't immediately notice.
  4. HDR is not always required, a silhouette image is just as effective.
  5. Try manual mode, remember to use your lowest ISO and around F/16 then change the shutter speed to get the sky correctly exposed as auto modes will probably get it wrong.
  6. Take images in RAW mode, this is very important to capture enough information for post processing later.
  7. Practice, taking good images takes time and experience which can only improve by getting out there and taking pictures.
  8. YouTube is a great resource with tutorials on camera settings, technique and image editing to learn from.   

Castle Acre & New Toy

Recently I purchased a "Joby Gorillapod" tripod designed for a lightweight camera like my Fuji. The idea is to replace much heavier and larger tripod for urban exploring as it can fit all in one bag.

The way its used is by attaching the tripod on railings, lamp posts or just simply walls to add stability to the camera which is essential for photographing sunsets and city skylines. 

A few days ago I was out exploring a nearby field which reportedly was growing yellow and red flowers but it turned out to be too far away from the roadside to be any good.

I then decided to travel to Castle Acre to capture the sunset from a viewpoint I discovered a couple weeks earlier and made a point to use my new "toy" which worked well and kept its position while I changed the dials to manually take images with different exposures to merge into HDR later. 

When I next visit London I shall only be taking this smaller tripod. It should also work well in woodland, however in the countryside I can see it being less useful for landscapes.