Just playing around the other evening while the holiday lights are up, trying a bunch of experiments. The raindrop on the lights was a subtle touch – while I’d like to do some shots against a nice layer of snow, that’s always an iffy thing at this latitude. I may annoy about half of the people in the country with this, but I was shooting in just a t-shirt (or is that tee-shirt?) Thursday night as I got this, and it was even warmer Friday. If it helps, The Girlfriend would have had at least a sweater on – it was 19°c (66°f) at 1 a.m.
The above shot required a little paying around; the soft globes are the neighbor’s lights across the road, rendered as round (and not hexagons) by using maximum aperture. They were significantly dimmer than the blue one of ours in the foreground, so this is a 1.3 second exposure, triggered with a long remote cord as I flipped the light switch so ours would be on for only part of the exposure. Any slight breeze would shake the wire and blur the closer blue one, and getting the right ratio of light levels was a timing thing, so I made several exposures. I even waited for a car to go past on the road, which would have painted some streaks across the bottom of the frame, but our road sees few cars at that time of night, and while I was waiting the neighbors shut their lights off for the evening.
I also did lots of other night experiments, but none of them turned out quite the way I wanted; getting the light balanced for night exposures can be tricky, and the LCD on the camera is only partially useful in that regard – it doesn’t give a very good idea of exposure levels, especially not subtleties. During this I was trying to figure out why some of the images seemed to be coming up blurred, almost in a fog, while others were sharp without changing focus at all, until I realized my breath was sometimes fogging up the LCD ;-)
Some of my ideas required sitting down on the wet front steps, or shooting from ground level out in the yard, which meant I got more than a little damp, and still had nothing to show for it. I tried again on Friday evening, but by then the gentle breeze had become raging winds and nothing was going to hold still for a time exposure, plus we no longer had the wet conditions that provided raindrops and shiny surfaces. So, they’ll wait for another time.
Which brings us to these images from earlier in the day Thursday. When light is getting this dim from heavy overcast, it’s definitely recommended that you use a tripod. I’m sometimes as annoyed over fussing with them as anyone else, so I wasn’t using one here, and thus this is the only frame of five that was sharp enough. Had I wanted a little more depth-of-field I would have been out of luck, or forced to use the tripod, but even then it might have been difficult, since my position in among several trees was not exactly conducive to the wide leg spread. My primary tripod is a model that can mount the center column sideways as a horizontal arm, allowing a bit more flexibility, but this doesn’t fix every problem; the weight of the camera limits how far you can extend without some kind of counterbalance, and the arm works strictly horizontally. Often it’s easier to simply shoot a lot of frames and hope I was steady enough in at least one of them.
A tripod would have been no real help with this one – it wasn’t the movement of the camera that was the biggest problem, but the gentle bobbing of the saturated plants in the breeze, so the “take lots of frames” technique was the only thing I could count on. In the foreground are the remains of the dog fennel plants, once towering over my head but now drooping from their age and burden of water, while in the lower background is one patch of pampas grass, still bright green but topped with their feathery gold fronds. The camera’s white balance for all of these was set for sunlight, which is essentially no compensation for the color of light. This keeps the blue-grey conditions accurate, which is what we expect to see with the rain; using Auto White Balance or the setting for overcast would have produced more neutral, warmer colors that reduced the atmosphere of the image.
When I selected the dripping tips as a subject, I shifted around a bit to see what background was going to work; I had the choice of open sky, bare tree branches, deep shade down below those branches, the lawn, and the pampas grass (not to mention a road and the neighbors’ houses, ruled out pretty quickly.) While I took a few different ones, this is the one that worked the best for me – there’s a hint of a hand reaching down, so the pampas grass had to represent an “object” as a target of the hand, which is another way of looking at the framing. Or you could just consider it as minimal interference between the dominant colors of the image, if that works. Any of these involved tiny shifts of position, and the belief that the background should work with the subject. The same holds true with both images above: the position of the lights at top required careful adjustments of the tripod, and the ivy leaves were specifically framed to extend across the corners, as well as giving a face-on aspect to the dominant leaf that used the short depth-of-field to advantage, preventing any part of it from going out of focus. The light angle also had to be a certain way to demonstrate the wetness of the ivy while not getting too much reflection that would wash out the colors and detail, something faintly visible in the third leaf. Even the dog fennel pic required finding a group of drops roughly in the same plane so the focus would be sharp for most of them, though one could also select a single drop to concentrate on, making it the focal point of the image by being the only sharp one.
But yes, hard work – exhausting, even ;-)