Tag Archives: silhouette

Working with northern light

For many here in the northern hemisphere, the summer is a challenging time photographically. With the sun almost directly overhead throughout these longest days of the year it becomes necessary to adjust the body clock significantly – early starts and late finishes to work with the best the light has to offer become the norm in a search to avoid harshness.

Head further north and the sun barely sets (if ever once you get deep inside the arctic circle) and then that magical light lasts for much longer and it becomes necessary to switch the body clock around completely and work through the night while resting in the day.

After a brief hint of this (known locally as the ‘simmer din’) when in the Shetlands in late June, I headed to northern Finland earlier this month to work with some of their resident predators, among the hardest mammals to find in Europe. While it is wrong to call wolves, wolverine or bears strictly nocturnal the fact is that the night-time hours are when they are at their most active, especially at this time of the year when it still offers enough light for them.

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Blog-2Wind the clock back just a few years and both these images would have been unthinkable in terms of their clarity.  They are both shot on ISO 3200 and in the case of the wolf image (photographed at approaching 1am) it still only generated a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second!  The wonder of modern digital SLR’s really does allow good quality images to be produced even in these twilight hours.

In days gone by these sorts of low level light conditions would have meant experimenting with slow shutter speeds in a search for creativity, and this is an approach that I have to say I do still enjoy accepting that these images of a wolf gliding through the boreal forest or wolverine scampering along a log are not everyones cup of tea.

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The Wolverine captured in the rich warm light of earlier in the evening is probably much more to peoples taste but the motion blurred effect still appeals to me more.

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When given the chance though, on the very last evening of the Natures Images trip I was running, to work in a site I know well and throughout the evening given a much earlier arrival time of the bears there that night, the chance to really experiment with the late evening and night-time light was one that I really enjoyed.

First of all there was the classic rich warm almost red glow to the light that comes in the last half an hour before it finally sets.

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The low light also gives a opportunity to play with under-exposure to emphasise the highlights it creates as well.

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When the sun has literally just set there often remains a hint of residual pink on the elements at the top of a scene as well, such as these trees.

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When a couple of young bears came around the side of the hide then the opportunity for even more classic back-lighting and silhouettes was presented.

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Once the sun had finally set and the Finnish equivalent of the aforementioned simmer dim took over, it was back to the 3200 ISO as subtle whips of night-time mist curled around the edges of the pool.

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An amazing night, a highlight of the summer so far, and a reminder that when it comes down to it in this game it is always all about light – and, of course, just how you work with it.

A Happy Half Dozen

Although I didn’t realise it at the time I think I had some withdrawal symptoms last summer.  It was the first summer in over a dozen years that has not involved at least one days visit to a Puffin colony.  I had made a trip to one in the early Spring to find them in a snowy setting  but the summer itself was bereft of their company although they were never far from my mind as the last stages of The Secret Lives of Puffins book came to fruition.

Well I am just back from nearly 2 weeks in the Shetlands and one of my favourite colonies on Fair Isle, and I have well and truly had my Puffin fix once again and although time is brief as I head off once again tomorrow to the boreal swamps and forests of Finland, I have just had time to process a happy half dozen of my favourite images from the time I spent there.

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I am not short of images of these charismatic birds, and their characteristics are forever to be found on all the social media sharing sites at this time of the year so it is hard to find “different” images of them for sure, but one aspect I have been consciously looking to work on this year is rather than the uniform defocussed background long lenses bring is rather to look for one where different tones and the resultant shapes can compliment the subject such as the image above and below.

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As for the rest of the images in this necessarily brief post – well they are what they are and hopefully reflective of some of the further approaches I try to adopt to working with the well photographed: they also helped make sure that the withdrawal symptoms are no more!!

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A lesson in light

It seems that this is turning into an admin and preparation month: books to write, processing for commissioned projects to complete, and a couple of new projects and different dimensions to long-standing hides locally gradually getting in place and which will hopefully make the effort worthwhile as the autumn and winter finally arrive.

In amongst times though I’m still trying to catch up on some old unprocessed material from southern Africa last year and in the process found a folder from an ultimately enjoyable evening spent photographing Quiver Trees in southern Namibia, and a good and salutory lesson it proved in terms of both the importance of and the patience needed to wait for good light.

Quiver trees are an almost iconic landmark to be found when travelling in the northern Cape and southern Namibian region, although they are not actually trees.  Rather they are a member of the Aloe family and goth their more common name from the fact that their hollow branches are traditionally used by Bushmen as quivers for their arrows.  They survive in this arid region by a combination of a white reflective outer coating to their trunk and branches and leaves that act as storage units for what rainfall there is in the wet season.

We arrived at this unusually large collection as the afternoon was coming to a close and much to my initial disappointment a thick bank of cloud (the first we had seen in days) had rolled in as the day drew on meaning that although the setting and the magnificent plants were inspiring things just weren’t as I had hoped for.

Of course, as in all genres of outdoor photography, patience and the right light are the key to everything and I could see a thin band of clear sky on the horizon to the west so it was a question of sitting and waiting and hoping to be rewarded.

When the last rays of the days sun finally burst through the narrow window about an hour later the difference to the scene was simply stunning by comparison.

If ever a lesson were necessary to remind me of just how important light is this was it, and of course the presence of the cloud, a curse earlier, was now a blessing providing even more drama to the skies and the chance after the sun finally gave up the ghost for the day (it does drop ever so quickly here) to take full advantage of the colours created by silhouetting the trees, the last of these images being my personal favourite from the whole session.

When I eventually manage to get away from the shackles of the office to start the side of the job I love the best with camera in hand, unearthing this folder and reliving the emotional roller-coaster of the afternoon is a great reminder of the continued need for patience and working in the best light to do any subject justice, even as dramatic a one as these remarkable plants.