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Night Time Landscapes At The North Norfolk Coast

With the recent photographic talk presented by Tony Worobiec on taking night time landscapes, I have been visiting the Norfolk Broads and the North Norfolk Coast to try this out for myself.

Taking images of the night sky is very different to taking nighttime landscapes. When taking images of the night sky, typically cameras are pushed to the limits of high ISO and with the lowest aperture possible to gather as much light before the stars start to blur due to the rotation of the planet. Also added to the fact that a clear sky is desired with no moon which limits the opportunities further. 

With taking landscape images at night, long exposures of at least 2-3 minutes and longer are required to gather enough light to create a properly exposed image to look as if the image was taken during the daytime. This type of photography is much easier to capture as I was mostly using an ISO between 200-400 with an aperture of around F/8.

Burnahm Staithe while standing in inches of moving sea water - a 4 minute exposure  

I can see all modern cameras made within the last 5 years would be capable of these settings and produce acceptable results. As a clear sky is not required, having clouds would be beneficial as moving clouds are very effective with long exposures, the only time when not taking nighttime landscapes could be a challenge would be during rain. Even then that could be possible and interesting if the camera was inside pointing out of a window. 

All that is required is an intervalometer that can be purchased from eBay around £15 and a good sturdy tripod. 

Taking pictures at night can be tricky in terms of setting the focus point, on a manual focus lens such as the stunning Samyang 12mm F/2 (est £140 I spent) where the focus markings are clear and easy to read is fairly straight forward. On auto focus lenses I find a distant light for the lens to lock onto and then turn off the autofocus, if there is no distant light is around then I shine my torch onto something to the desired distance for the camera to set the focus. 

Typically I only visit placed at dark when I have been before in daytime, in the case of Burnahm Staithe and Thornham I have been here a few times and know the layout. Below is a list that I bring with me, not all items are essential but these are what I have found to be useful and change depending on where I plan on going and the likely conditions

What I took with me on my nighttime trip to Burnahm Staithe and Thornham

  • Fuji X-E1
  • Fuji 35mm 1.4
  • Samyang 12mm F/2
  • Tripod
  • Intervalometer
  • Wellington boots and wearing 2-3 pairs of socks for extra comfort and warmth
  • Head torch
  • Normal handheld torch
  • Extra camera batteries 
  • Music to keep me entertained between the 4-6 minute exposures 
  • Battery Bank to charge my phone if needed (Not Used)
  • Flash Gun (Not Used)

Thornham - around 4 Minutes as the battery died during the exposure 

Finding the desired composition can be difficult in the dark even for a mirrorless camera as it was literally "a shot in the dark". The best way I found was to take a quicker snapshot by bumping up the ISO and lowering the aperture and capturing a minutes exposure. Once I found a good composition I the went back to an ISO of around 400 and aperture of F/8 to get a more cleaner image and more movement in the clouds.

These setting I used were from trial and error, I set an initial exposure with a low ISO and mid Aperture and guessed the shutter speed. To bight and I would need a shorter exposure, to dark and a longer exposure would have been needed. If the shutter speed is taking too long then dont be afraid of increasing the ISO.

Ending this post with a word of warning, I took some risky steps that I would not recommend anyone to take. At Burnham I was actually standing the the sea and my wellies only had a few centimetres clearance and the ground was mostly stones making it possible to support myself on the mud.

A couple of years ago I visited Morston which is not too far from Burnham and it was in the daytime. I had the great idea of wanting to stand in the middle of the river as the tide was out to get a better angle of a small boats laying on the mud. Soon as I put one foot into the empty river (wearing wellies) it sank a good few inches and created suction. Not being able to initially move it out I started to panic, I eventually got out of that situation a bit more dirty than I wanted but made me appreciate the potential dangers when out and about.

First attempt at night time landscapes just before dawn a week prior. Not a picture that I like. 

Only because someone else arrived and went into the very low river and started walk around I thought it was worth a try and I used the tripod to test the ground before advancing my next step. As I was in the water, the risk of dropping any equipment in the sea was a very real possibility and I needed to change the lens, increasing the risk further. Not recommended! 

Thornham just up the road was a very different environment and was like walking on ice with the wet mud, again walking with great care was essential. 



Chinese New Year in London

At Christmas it was suggested that the family should meetup in London to see the Chinese New Year event and would be a good opportunity to capture some street life.

As I was traveling into London by myself I decided to leave early. Looking at the weather forecast Sunday afternoon was to be wet so any exploring had to be done in the morning while it was still dry. 

Chinese New Year in Chinatown

The alarm was set for 5am with the idea to leave about 6. It was a cold night and the car was frozen which needed removing. Before setting off the passenger side light bulb had blown as it was turned it on which took a good 20 minutes to replace, most of which was trying to find the tools I needed. 

After much research I decided to travel to Epping which is the closest underground station from Norfolk and is the start of the Central Line. Parking is £1.50 on a Sunday and estimated the underground fee to be around £7 round trip. 

Other options would have been to park at Ely and take the overground in Kings Cross or Downham Market if it were not closed to engineering works. The train fare would have been £22 which isn't bad. But there wasn't too much of a cost difference between these options when factoring in the petrol. I felt Epping would give me more flexibility with the more frequent trains.

Walkie-Talkie (Left) Cheesegrater (Tall Middle Building) Gherkin (Right)

Arriving at the underground around 8am, this was to be the start of my day. In the case of a couple of people who stumbled into the same train carriage theirs had just ended and quickly went to sleep. I found it amusing when they got off at Stratford as both sides of the carriage were open and they must have walked through the train a couple of times figuring out which side of the platform they wanted.

I pre planned my route to exit the underground at Bank to walk across Tower Bridge to explore the South Bank area as I researched where the Sun would be at that time of day. As soon as I emerged from the underground I was inspired by all the old and new architecture surrounding me with the Walkie-Talkie being the nearest landmark.

The equipment I brought along was both my Fuji X-E1 using the 35mm lens and Nikon D7100 with the 18-105mm and 35mm lenses. As I only have the one lens for the Fuji I would be limited in what images I could take and I knew a wide angle lens would be very useful. The D7100 is also weather sealed where the Fuji is not and with the threat of rain I wanted the option to take images if it were to get very wet. 

I spent about 3 hours walking along the South Bank absorbing the London skyline through the viewfinder seeing such landmarks as Tower Bridge, The Walkie-Talkie, Shard, Gherkin and City Hall to name a few. 

Saw a few of these along the Golden Jubilee Bridge

My exploring was peaceful and relaxing until I entered Trafalgar Square where it was packed with people celebrating Chinese New Year and it was a struggle getting through to the meeting point at the M&M store at Leicester Square. I should have gotten here much earlier if have had a chance to see any of the event. With so many people in front it was hopeless to get any images of the dragon (or sheep?) acrobatics. I could only see the large screens which isn't too interesting.

We soon went into Pizza Express in ChinaTown and by the time we finished it started to rain which signalled the end of the trip to London and made my way to the busy underground to start the journey home. 

Thoroughly enjoyed the day out with all the architecture to photograph. I have some time off at the end of March and intent to revisit for night photography. My wishlist for equipment is a wider angle lens for the Fuji to cut down on the weight and a Gorillapod to attach along the bridges and walls to eliminate the need for a bulky and heavy tripod. 

Exploring Norwich & Narborough

Narborough 

I belong to a Facebook group called Norfolk Countryside Photowhere people post their photos that have been taken in Norfolk on a wide variety of subjects, usually landscapes, animals and birds. I find it a good resource to discover new locations to visit and enjoy. The admin team had organised a meetup in Narborough for Saturday but due to the weather forecast it was delayed till Sunday.

Only been to Narborough to visit the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve which is known for the butterflies in the spring and summer. 

I'm still learning the Fuji camera so I decided to just bring this instead of the Nikon to get used to it more and also to keep the weight down and I definitely noticed the difference. Also not knowing the route this was going to be a scouting and socialising exercise. This was the first time I had meet this group so I was more interested in listening (i'm not much of a talker) and getting to know them.  

The only point of interest I saw was an old disused derelict watermill. Otherwise the usual farmland and trees are plentiful. Could be better in the summer with insects flying around. 

A map for this walk can be found on the Norfolk Trails website or click HERE for the PDF download.

Norwich 

As Saturday was now free I decided to visit Norwich to see a friend and to watch a film at the cinema, Night At The Museum 3 is worth watching. I intended to do a little street photography that would be a good subject to take advantage of using a smaller camera which is more discrete. However I just wasn't inspired and moved onto my preferred type of photography of architecture.

After going back to the car to off load some light shopping I started at the bridge near the cinema taking images interesting buildings either side of the river which I have done before. What was new to me was following the river around to Jarrolds Bridge passing by Cow Tower that I had yet to see. Considering how close it is to Jarrolds bridge that I have visited many times is just stupid.  This time I focused more on the materials of the bridge. 

By the time the film had finished it was close to sunset and decided to hang around till it was dark. For sometime now I have been wanting to visit Jarrolds Bridge at night as i've been told it lights up and I wasn't disappointed. 

On the way back to the car I decided to go by the Cathedral where I setup the tripod and took a series of images to merge into HDR later. What surprised me is when processing the image on the PC the camera had picked up the stars that I was not expecting and add to the final image. Normally stars do not show up when taking images in a city due to the light pollution.

The next part is a bit technical and can be skipped.

After using the Fuji I have noticed a couple of drawbacks compared to the Nikon. When doing bracketing to take multiple exposures to create an HDR image later I am used to the camera keeping up. On the Narborough trip I was taking images to stitch into a Panorama and often I bracket them. On the Fuji I was waiting for the camera to write to the card which isn't a slow card and I never had the same issue when using the same card in the Nikon so it is the Fuji not keeping up which was annoying as I take the sequence of images in burst mode to avoid using a tripod and remote control.

On the Nikon I set the bracketing option to take three images at +/- 2 stops whereas the Fuji only goes to +/- 1 stop which can be an issue. I would need to get a newer version that has the ability to use wifi and remotely control and take each image manually as changing the exposure settings. The Fuji is a bit fidley to change while taking a sequence of images. 

That being said the X-E1 with the 35mm lens is a fantastic camera, the image quality coming out is excellent and I just love using the camera. Once you know the limitations you can work around them.   

My Fuji X-E1

On Boxing day I went into the John Lewis store in the Outlet Mall in Swindon. This store, like many high street shops in this shopping center sells end of line or damaged stock, I quickly went over to the glass cabinet that displays various cameras.

Soon spotted a Fuji X-E1 and a 35mm 1.4 lens that had been discounted, The retail assistant suggested these were returned and therefore not sold at full price, both sold separately. Costing £237 for the body and £286 for the lens which is cheaper than second hand stock at London Camera Exchange, effectively buying brand new equipment with no missing parts at second hand prices. The X-E1 launched in September 2012 is an older model that has been replaced by the X-E2 and I would assume the X-E3 is not far behind.

I have been reading and watching reviews of the Fuji mirrorless lineup for sometime and only been hearing good things about them. The advantage of using this camera over my Nikon D7100 is a much smaller and lighter camera. The Fuji is not suited to fast action photography such as wildlife and sport, neither of which I photograph often and not an issue. I will still use the D7100 for my macro photography and where I need the more reliable auto focus in dark environments.

I Intend to use this camera in situations where I do not need my bigger and heavier D7100 such as family events and general exploring. The Fuji 10-24mm lens has jumped to the top of my wish list which is more suited to landscapes and architecture unfortunately it costs over £600 and it will be awhile before my budget allows for it. 

A feature that I just love is the inbuilt flash unit where you can "bounce" the flash light by moving the flash head with a finger while taking a picture that removed the shadow behind the subject which produced a more professional image.  To take a similar image with my Nikon D7100 I would need to use my flash unit that adds extra weight and cost more than the Fuji camera itself. 

From a couple of days use so far I have been impressed with the results. The image quality coming out of the smaller camera is just as good as the Nikon D7100 and the images are very sharp based on the image of the kitten (Click to enlarge).  I plan to have a lot of fun with this camera and I will share the results on this blog.