Vanishing Act

I am not a morning person. In fact, I am the kind of guy who looks forward to that extra hour of sleep on the weekends and certainly dreads waking up in the wee hours when forced to take a morning flight. This poses a bit of a problem when it comes to photography. Not only do I miss out on the opportunity to take a decent picture at sunrise, but also miss out on the only time of day when one can avoid crowds at a famous tourist attraction.

The former, I can’t really do much about. It is no coincidence that I take most of my pictures at sunset. For the latter however, there is a surprisingly simple solution. The key to this David Blaine-style trick is the camera’s shutter speed. Slow the shutter speed enough (upwards of 15-20 seconds) and anything that is moving within the frame, will not get recorded on the camera’s sensor. It is that easy!

Here is a picture of the famous Louvre Museum in Paris. It was a busy Wednesday afternoon at the museum and swarms of people were wondering around the plaza near the famous glass pyramid entrance. Eager to take a picture, I decided to mount my camera on a tripod and closed my aperture down to F14. This gave me a meter reading of 25 secs – long enough to make everyone not standing still, disappear!

Louvre - 1920c

Shot with my tripod mounted Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F14, at 25 sec.

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Water under the Bridge

Here we are, ready to bid farewell to yet another year. Around the same time last December, I remember reminiscing back at 2013 and being horribly disappointed about how the year had turned out – both economy-wise and at a personal level. It certainly was an all-time low but the eternal optimist in me always knew that once you hit rock bottom, things can only get better.

Thankfully they did. For me, 2014 was certainly a much better year. It was a year of self reflection and new beginnings – both personally and professionally. I’ve managed to fulfill one of my life long dreams by driving across the US and I’ve made an important career move, which will present me with new challenges and opportunities in the new year. Most important of all, both my family and I are in good health. That’s certainly all one can ask for.

So let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, full of happiness and health for you and your loved ones. If 2014 didn’t treat you as well, then cheer up, aim high and let this year’s bad memories flow away, like water under the bridge. See you all in 2015!

Water under the bridge - 1920c

Shot with my tripod mounted Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F13, at 2.5 secs using my B+W ND 3.0 filter.

Protaras Pier

March was a relatively short month work-wise, as we were lucky to have 3 back to back national holidays fall on Mondays. Unfortunately however, the first 2 of those long weekends were spent by most people (including myself) at home, glued to our TV-sets, following minute by minute updates of the events that have taken our economy back a good 40 or so years. Unable to see a minute more of yet another incompetent politician being interviewed on TV, I decided to get out of town this past weekend and seek an outlet from this really depressing environment.

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself gear in hand walking down the Sunrise beach boardwalk in Protaras. To my excitement I saw this pier extending into the sea, and without a second thought I started setting up my tripod to take the shot. The outcome is the following image, the result of a 4 minute and 10 second exposure! Luckily, the people on the pier were not standing still so they were not recorded as part of the image. On the downside, the heavy dust in the atmosphere at sunset completely masked any movement of the clouds.

Shot with my tripod mounted Canon 60D, Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens, at ISO 100, F16, 250 secs. For this shot I mounted both my circular polariser and ND 3.0 lens to effectively get a 12-stop reduction in my shutter speed.

Protaras Pier - 1920c

Long Exposure – Taking the shot

Continuing from my last post on Long Exposures, here is a picture of my actual set up (taken with my smartphone camera), and the final result. One of the problems with using a 10-stop ND filter is that there will inevitably be a slight distortion in the temperature of the picture. This can be overcome by shooting in RAW and fixing the White Balance during post processing, which is what I did in this case. I also made a slight adjustment in contrast to arrive at this end result.

Set up:

Set up

Final shot:

Petra tou Romiou - colour - 1920c

On a side note, the large wave I was talking about, came out 5 secs after I took this picture, so you can see how close I was to disaster!

Shot with a Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 100, F22, 30 sec exposure using an N 3.0 B+W solid filter.

Long Exposure – First attempt

This past weekend, Daria and I decided to spend the weekend in Pafos. I thought this would be a great opportunity to head to Petra tou Romiou (the famous birthplace of Aphrodite), photograph some rocks and give the “Long Exposure” technique a try. I wasn’t planning on getting any great shots – if anything, this was going to be an educational trial run to figure out how to properly use my 10-stop ND filter.

For anyone not into the photography technical jargon, the purpose of a solid ND filter is to slow down the camera’s shutter speed, allowing the photographer to capture movement. So if your camera’s speed reading is for example 1/100 sec, placing a 10-stop filter on the front of the lens (which looks like a black piece of glass), allows you to slow down your speed by 2^10, giving your therefore a 10 sec exposure for the same aperture.

Below is the result of my first attempt. In this case I managed to get a 40 sec exposure time, which ended up completely blurring the water to the point where it came out looking like mist. I can’t say I am ecstatic with the picture content-wise (afterall this was a technical exercise and less so a creative one), but if anything I have some key takeaways for next time I give this a try:

  1. You must have patience…and a lot of it! Since this particular filter is a solid black piece of glass, the only way to dial in the right camera settings, it to manually focus before putting on the filter, take a reading, do some math to figure out the final shutter speed and then screw on the filter.
  2. You need to have a lot of motion going on to make this worthwhile. Unfortunately the weather was pretty good (yeah photographers are weird this way), so there were no clouds in the sky. Moving clouds and water make great elements to photograph using this technique.
  3. If you have someone with you, make sure they are patient too! Yeap, enough said about Daria! 🙂
  4. Watch out for the waves! That might sound like common sense, but I am almost fell for that one! I placed my tripod really low in a dry area on the pebbles, but at some point a huge wave came out and almost swept my gear. I managed to get my feet completely soaked, but at least the camera and tripod get to see another day.

Needless to say I will give this technique another go. Anyone know where I can find a pier or a lighthouse here in Cyprus?

Long Exposure 1st attempt - 1920c

Taken with my tripod mounted Canon 60D and Canon F2.8L lens at ISO 100, F22, 40 sec exposure (with B+W ND 3.0 solid filter).

Exploring Astro Photography

I was invited a few weekends ago to join a couple of astronomy enthusiasts up in the mountains (Amiantos area) for some night-sky watching. After recently having read a couple of tutorials on star trail techniques, I was itching to give it a try.

For this first picture, I located the North Star (Polaris) just before it got completely dark. I set my camera with my Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens on my trusty tripod and took a couple of pictures to make sure my composition was correct. After being satisfied that I had everything where I wanted them to be, I set my camera to Manual mode and dialed my settings to ISO 400, F2.8 with a 30 sec exposure. What followed was an excruciating hour and a half, where I manually took 140 consecutive pictures using my remote cable release (guess who just ordered an intervalometer!). These images were later stacked together using a simple freeware program I downloaded from www.startrails.de and then imported the image into Photoshop for some minor touches (contrast and sharpness).

The second picture was taken facing South East – same settings, slightly less painful shooting procedure as I only took about 75 images. 

Overall I must admit that I am pretty happy with the outcome. Key takeaways from this exercise however are:
1) A trusty intervalometer (though not a must) is definitely good to have. You just set it and then hide in your car with a warm cup of coffee while it’s doing its job. It’s not very costly (30-50 euros will get you a decent one), and it can be used not just for astro photography but for time lapse videos as well.
2) Dress warm! I completely underestimated the weather that night. Even though it was the end of May, temperatures up in the mountains can be as low as 5-6 C during the night. A warm jacket and a pair of gloves are definitely a must!