Tag Archives: light

The Many Faces of Lake Moogerah

I discovered Lake Moogerah by accident. I was driving towards Warwick, a city located southwest of Brisbane, when I stumbled upon this magical place. Since then, I have been camping and taking photos of the location. The spot never disappoints. I would always find something new every time I visit.

For the past two weeks I have shot Lake Moogerah twice and I could not help but wonder how quickly it changes. There is no better way to show that than by giving sample shots of this beautiful place.

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That’s Lake Moogerah during sunset when the sun is just kissing the horizon. A few minutes later, the warm light is replaced by fiery clouds:

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If you stayed until it gets dark and waited for the moon to rise, you’ll get warm light again. This one is when the moon is just above the horizon:

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At close to 11PM when the moon is high above the sky, you’ll get much cooler colours and it looks something like this:

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Notice the stars hiding behind the clouds. ­čÖé

And that’s Lake Moogerah in four shots.

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Mood Swings

Today I decided to photograph the same location but with different elements in the shot just to see how the mood changes from one frame to another. I find it interesting to see how light and human figures affect the feeling of a location.┬áThese shots were partly inspired by Joel Meyerowitz’s book “Cape Light”.

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N00bism #3

Hello world! This the third post of the N00bism series. I hope that the previous articles made you think about your own approach to photography. As I have mentioned before, this series aims to discuss the common mistakes beginners, and to some extent, even experienced photographers fall into. These are the same issues that I have experienced and/or avoided and have observed in my constant interactions with photographers of different levels of expertise.

Without further ado, let me discuss “premature manual mode”.

I have already written an article about this macho manual mode, or M mode as most photographers call it. It’s ok if you shoot in “M mode only” but puhleeze, don’t brag about it. It’s not rocket science. You do not have to tell the world about it because those who actually know how to use it will find your bragging quite underwhelming or laughable.

Those of you who are just starting with this expensive hobby should avoid using M mode. Trust me. I have been there. Allow me to explain:

Firstly, you bought that very expensive camera for what? It’s expensive because it is intelligent enough to do most of the work for you. You are wasting your money if you do not put it to good use. It has full automatic mode for a reason. Even the most expensive of cameras have auto modes. Auto modes make your life easier so you can concentrate on things that matter.

For newbies, what matters most is making the shot. You can have the most perfectly exposed shot but if your composition sucks then your photo sucks. Period. Why burden yourself with the exposure when you can’t even get your horizon straight? Why fiddle with those buttons when your shot is so hopelessly cluttered? Why shoot in M when you do not even understand exposure in the first place?!!!

Do yourself a favour. Use that green square mode and learn about composition before anything else. If you can’t help touching those buttons then leave your multi-hundred dollar DSLR and use your mobile phone instead. Yes, even if the “image quality” is inferior. A clean, crisp, 36Mp crappy shot is still a crappy shot.

So when should you start using the M mode? If you think that a better exposure will improve a good shot. It follows that you know what a good shot is. It also follows that you know what exposure is. If you can’t get a good shot with your mobile phone, your DSLR won’t help either. Because a good shot does not depend on what camera you use. In fact, more complicated cameras would probably hinder you from making a good shot.

I won’t cover composition here. It’s not something that you learn by reading. Yes, there are pointers like rule of thirds. Google them.

I will skip to the topic of exposure because that’s all this crazy M mode does anyway. Sorry but I won’t even discuss the exposure triangle here. If you do not understand that concept then you should not even be thinking about M mode. There are millions of web articles that discuss it and I won’t bother repeating them.

How do you learn exposure? By understanding light. Understand that during high noon on a very clear day, you will have the greatest intensity of light that you would normally encounter. I said normally because you might want to shoot directly at the sun or capture an exploding atomic bomb. Anything else would just be varying intensities of lower magnitude. This high noon light is often called “sunny f16”. It simply means that the correct exposure for a subject under bright sunlight is f16, 1/ISO for a given ISO sensitivity. For example: f16, 1/100 at ISO 100. We usually “round off” the shutter speed to the nearest “whole stop”, which is 1/125 for the above example. An example of light with lower intensity is when your subject is hiding under a shade to avoid the harsh sunlight. In this instance, light intensity drops by at least 4 stops so your exposure would be f4, 1/125 at ISO 100. Sometimes I give it f2.8 just to be safe.

It’s not enough that you know the different light intensities. You should understand contrast as well. In the above example, if you want the subject in the shade to be properly exposed then everything outside that is lit by the sun will render as white. If you want to properly expose what’s outside then your subject will be barely visible under the shadows. In this example, no amount of screwing around with M mode will help you. The argumentative folks will probably say, yeah shoot at f8 then pull the highlights and push the shadows in Photoshop. Whatever.

You see that it’s not enough that you know shutter speed and aperture and ISO to warrant the use of M mode. Because if you do not undertand light you will end up screwing around with those knobs until your camera’s LCD tells you that you have lined up the exposure slider dead in the center. You are basically wasting your energy following what the camera is telling you. M mode has become the automatic mode for stupid people. M as in moron mode. Shoot in full auto instead.

So beginners, please learn to compose first before confusing your brain even more with M mode. And experts, there’s no need to brag about it especially if you are just lining up the sliders.

Stranded: a light and lens challenge

How many shots of a stranded boat can you make in 30 minutes?

This was the challenge for me today. I visited Scarborough with no real intention to shoot. I just strolled around trying to finish the roll of Kodak Gold 100 that I loaded in my Nikon FM3A two weeks ago. I also brought my Pentax K5 IIs just in case. It was still too early for a shoot when I arrived but the cloud formations looked like there was a potential for a burst of colours later when the sun sets. And so I went back to the spot where I shot a stranded boat before. That boat’s hull was leaking so there’s no way it’s going anywhere.

I arrived at the spot a bit early. The light was still ugly blue but nevertheless, I fired some test shots using my 10-20 lens. The clouds looked ok so I crouched low and took this frame:

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This is why you never shoot in bad light. It will suck no matter what you do. I was thinking that maybe later I can use the same angle when the sky turns red. I tried landscape orientation to compare:

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The low lying clouds have covered the sun so the light was flat. However, previous experience told me that this could result in sun rays if the clouds would break just a tiny bit. With my ultrawide angle lens, there was no way I’m going to capture both the boat and the sun in such a way that the sun would at least be large enough in the frame to be of significance. So I switched to my trusty, cheap Sigma 17-70mm.

How do you capture a big boat while at the same time make the sun appear larger in the frame? Lens compression. (If you do not understand how lens compression works, please read my article on “Understanding your lens”.) I stepped back about 30 meters away from the boat and zoomed in. By now, the sun was just above the mountains and well below the clouds:

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The shot above was taken at 70mm. At this zoom range, the boat could no longer fit in the frame. How I wish that the boat was turned about 45 degrees and not parallel to the horizon. Not only will the boat fit into the frame but the composition will look a lot better. Anyway, that’s beyond my control so I just shot whatever was available for me at that time. Here I thought that the sun was too bright for this backlit shot. I needed to make it smaller. So I walked towards to boat and shot wide at 17mm:

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So now I’ve got the sun much less intense, I’ve got light falling on the ripples in the sand and I’ve got reflections of the boat as well. But now I was desperate for a different angle. I walked towards the front of the boat for my 45-degree angle and noticed that there were houses and buildings in the background. That will ruin the concept of being stranded so I had to change my angle slightly. I saw the glasshouse mountains very far along the horizon and thought that they can be used as background and so I went for lens compression again but this time making sure that the whole boat fits in the frame. This was what I got after stepping back about 30 meters and zooming in to around 50mm:

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No sun this time but I have mountains for the background. Another advantage of this angle is that I don’t have blown highlights. The light is a bit flat though. Good thing that the clouds added a bit of drama otherwise the shot would have failed miserably. Compare this with the first photo. In the first photo you could barely see the mountains even if you squint. Lens compression does wonders.

Still determined to get the sun in my shot, I tried a weird composition. I positioned the boat to the left of the frame. Still zoomed in from a few meters got me this:

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Now I’ve got the sun plus light reflections on the mud puddle. Not bad, I thought so I tried shooting wider from the same position:

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I have deliberately placed the horizon on the upper thirds to avoid the bright sky that wasn’t covered by the clouds which would otherwise ruin the shot completely. This also allowed me to include more of the ground where rock silhouettes and water reflections add interestingness to the frame. I still find this composition a bit weird because the boat is facing away from the frame.

By now the sun has already dipped below the horizon. I wanted to shoot some more but something different. Who would have thought that mud would look this good?

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With that last shot I decided to call it a day.

A few very important lessons in this experience:

1. Not all landscape shots are wide. Medium telephoto and even telephoto lenses add variety to your shots. You need to understand lens compression to make full use of your (kit) lens.

2. Bad light is bad light.

3. Try backlit shots. They look good.

4. Zoom lenses do not make a lazy photographer. Those who say so are either ignorant or just masochist I-shoot-prime-only-because-they-are-megafast-and-ultra-bokeh pretenders.

There will be a next time…