Monday, October 10, 2011

Adventures in Photography: Photographing the Mayflower at Night

I recently participated in a night photography workshop in Plymouth, MA. It was time to brush up on my night photography skills and learn the latest tips and tricks from an expert. Lance Keimig is a renowned night photography specialist. He led us to the Plymouth waterfront on a mild night in late September.
After giving us some basic instructions on how to make great images at night, Lance set us loose to wander all over the waterfront and downtown Plymouth. I headed towards the Mayflower II.
The Mayflower is an icon of all that is Plymouth, the Pilgrims and the settling of this great country. It has been photographed millions of times. Even at night. Yet, I wanted to make a unique image that would stand out from the rest.
Fortunately, I had recently met one of the caretakers of the historic sailing vessel. He was a very kind gentleman and allowed me to photograph from a nearby dock that was usually off limits. This dock afforded me a unique angle from water level.
Of course, photographing at night from a dock, created a whole new series of challenges. Most night photography requires long exposures from 15 seconds to up to six hours or more. While the camera shutter is open, the camera must remain still and usually the subject needs to remain still as well. Any motion on the part of the camera or the subject will create blurs in the image. Sometimes the blur due to motion can be desirable. For my image of the Mayflower, I wanted everything to be tack sharp. The dock however and some of the boats in the foreground were gently rising up and down on the swells in Plymouth Harbor. A long exposure would not work.
With a few adjustments to my camera, I was back in business. I raised the ISO from 100 to 1600, gaining four stops of light. Then I lowered my f stop or aperture, from f8 to f 2.8, gaining three more stops for a total of seven stops of light! This resulted in a shutter speed of ½ second.
With some patience and careful timing of the waves, a crisp shot could be made. The trickiest part would be to time the shot to start at the height of the incoming wave. There is a brief moment at the top of a wave where upward motion suspends and you will remain still for a split second before descending with the wave. My goal was to make my images while I was briefly suspended at the top of each incoming wave.
In addition to correctly timing the waves, I made numerous images of the scene to insure that I had at least one that was sharp. Upon review at home, I found that many of my images were perfectly sharp.
Some of the workshops participants were surprised that I could make a shot at ISO 1600 with very little noise in the image. My camera is a Nikon D7000 which is fantastic for shooting at high ISO’s while keeping noise to a minimum. This camera is less than a year old. Many older cameras can not shoot as well at high ISO’s.

This Month’s Tip: Trying new techniques can help keep photography exciting. Night photography is a great way to see classic scenes with a fresh perspective.

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