Ian Mylam Photography
Ian Mylam Photography
Ian Mylam Photography
Ian Mylam Photography
Ian Mylam Photography

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Two Days in Dubai

I just got back from a very enjoyable couple of days in Dubai where the annual Gulf Photo Plus photography festival was in full swing. I met up with some friends there including David Nightingale and Bobbi Lane (a.k.a. “The Mistress of Light”), who were both instructing at G.P.P., and also Dubai-based commercial photographers and good friends Catalin Marin and Issa Alkindy. I also had the pleasure of getting to know Si Longworth, a British Army photographer based in Aldershot in the U.K. – a great guy whom I hope to meet again before too long.

Day 1 involved the obligatory visit to the Vista Bar (now known as the Story Bar), which was preceded by a an early evening drive into the desert with Issa, Catalin and Si. Issa once again kept us safe with his exemplary 4×4 dune-driving skills – he’s an Omani, so I guess driving in the dunes is in the blood.

While we were driving, I spotted this lone tree, and asked Issa to stop the car to photograph it:

Tree in the Desert - U.A.E. 2014  (© Ian Mylam)

Tree in the Desert – U.A.E. 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

There were several trees like this growing in splendid isolation in the dunes, but this one just spoke to me: I think it was the combination of the tree juxtaposed against the sweep of this particular dune which led my eye to the tree and then further up and left to the dune in the distance. Or maybe it’s just because it was the first one I saw. ‘Simplify the frame, and remove everything which is not part of the visual story’ is a good maxim for the photographer – fortunately, scenes don’t get much less cluttered than this. It was just a question of finding the right framing and focal length to make the composition work the way I wanted to. Initially, I preferred the monochrome version of the image as it was the lines in the frame which spoke to me rather than the colours…

Tree in the Desert - U.A.E. 2014  (© Ian Mylam)

Tree in the Desert – U.A.E. 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

…but I have come to prefer the colour version as I feel that the lush green of the tree strengthens the conceptual contrast of the unexpected burst of life against the barren aridity of the surrounding landscape.

The local guys told me that despite appearances the water table is not far below the surface in this part of the desert, which is presumably why trees like this can grow and flourish in the apparently inhospitable terrain.

My plan for Day 2 was to meet up with new buddy Si Longworth for a dawn shoot of the skyline of Dubai. However, the fog descended on Dubai overnight which quashed any hope of the skyline shoot – it would have been a white-out. The fall-back plan – which involved working with the weather rather than against it – was to get to the top of a tall building in Dubai courtesy of Catalin and shoot some dramatic images of buildings rising up through the fog. Unfortunately Catalin already had a commercial shoot scheduled which meant that he had insufficient time to meet me that morning. With both plans now dead in the water and having already reluctantly hauled myself out of my warm and comfortable hotel bed at 04:30 for the aborted dawn shoot, I tried to get back to sleep, and failed. I grabbed my camera bag, left the hotel and aimlessly wandered the streets of early morning Dubai watching the fog slowly lift and hoping for some kind of photographic serendipity to salvage something from my only day in the city with a camera.

I found myself in the Business Bay area walking along the side of an apparently visually uninspiring road I didn’t know when an image began to take shape in my mind based on the scene in front of me. It took me a while to find the right framing, and involved cropping the image to a square format to translate what I could see through the viewfinder to what I could see in my mind’s eye, but I eventually found the framing which had tugged at my subconscious and caused me to slow to a halt and break out the camera. I tried a few test shots before pulling out the tripod as I decided that some motion blur in the passing traffic might add some energy to the scene, and that necessitated a shutter speed which was too slow to comfortably hand-hold – this was shot at 1/10 of a second and a focal length of 22mm. I then realised that what I really needed was a yellow vehicle to pass by to echo the colour of the yellow lines on the left side of the image. So I staked out this spot for around twenty minutes waiting for a yellow vehicle to come by. A couple of times I saw a yellow vehicle approaching, but by the time it actually reached me, my view of it was partially blocked by other traffic. Eventually I got lucky: an unobstructed view of an approaching yellow van, and this image was the result:

Early-Morning Dubai, 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

Early-Morning Dubai, 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

I continued to work the scene and swapped lenses, replacing the 17-35mm zoom I was using for a 50mm prime lens in order to alter the perspective compression and give more visual weight to both the buildings in the background and the gantry visible in the centre of the frame. I walked closer to the gantry and made the following shot.

Early Morning Dubai II (© Ian Mylam)

Early Morning Dubai II (© Ian Mylam)

While I also like this second shot, I definitely prefer the first image: there is more dynamism in the first picture owing to the powerful diagonal lines created by the wide-angle lens; I love the tall building right of centre which I sacrificed in the second shot by walking closer to the gantry; and the bluer sky contrasts nicely with its colour opposite in the form of the yellows of the van and the lines on the road.

By around eight o’clock I was feeling tired; the sun was up; the temperature was rising, I was beginning to think about breakfast, and my photo backpack and tripod were feeling heavier and heavier. I had wandered some way from my hotel, so rode the Metro back, making the following two final frames along the way.

Dubai Metro, U.A.E., 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

Dubai Metro, U.A.E., 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

Dubai, U.A.E., 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

Dubai, U.A.E., 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

I used to dislike Dubai for its ostentatiousness and obsession with wealth, but I have come to love it – it’s a seductive mistress, like no other place on Earth. I appreciate its energy and architecture and feeling of excitement, and it always inspires me to make photographs.

Thanks Dubai – I’ll be back!

Close to Home

The Night Drive Home - Isle of Funen, Denmark, 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

The Night Drive Home – Isle of Funen, Denmark, 2014 (© Ian Mylam)

Like many photographers, I find it easy to get inspired to shoot when I’m travelling. And like many photographers, I often struggle to find something to photograph in my back yard. Familiarity is of course both a blessing and a curse. Because we know our own turf so intimately, it should give us an advantage in terms of knowing where to shoot, when the light may be good, when the weather is likely to be favourable, when something interesting may be happening in the area and so on. However, set against that is the fact that the very same familiarity tends to lead us to look without really seeing.

When I made this photograph a couple of weeks back, I was driving home from work. It was 01:40 in the morning, and I had been travelling for over 24 hours by planes, trains and automobiles: from Rio de Janeiro to London, then from London to Copenhagen, then on a couple of trains westwards across Denmark, and finally into my car for the final half an hour to my front door. I was running on empty having been awake for most of the journey; it was a bitterly cold Scandinavian night, and I was keen to get home to my family.

I have driven this stretch of road, a stone’s throw from my home, hundreds – probably thousands – of times before. As usual, I was looking but not really seeing – focusing on driving safely and on simply getting home. I don’t know what it was that first caught my eye, made me slow down and then finally stop the car, but for whatever reason, I began to see, and not just to look.  A timely reminder to me that if we can remember to really pay attention and be receptive, images are available to us literally any time and anywhere in the humdrum of our every day lives.

The X-Factor: Switching from Sony NEX to Fuji X

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens

The Sony Alpha NEX-7 and the Fujifilm X-E2 are both class-leading mirrorless cameras. Both are capable of producing image files of stunning quality; both are reasonably rugged, well-made cameras of a similar size and weight.

So why did I recently decide to sell my Sony NEX-7 and buy a Fuji X-E2?

My intention is not to give a comprehensive review of either the NEX-7 or the Fuji X-E2. There are other websites which do a great job of that already. My motivation for writing this post is simply to explain my personal reasons for making the switch between these two mirrorless camera systems. What is important to me may not be what is important to you, and for another photographer, the NEX-7 may be the better choice. So I am not suggesting that either of these two cameras is ‘better’ than the other – just better suited to me personally.

My perspective is that of a photographer who is used to using a full-frame SLR camera system and my expectations of a camera are inevitably coloured by that. I am prepared to make some compromises when moving from a large, heavy SLR body to a smaller, lighter mirrorless camera in return for the reduced form factor and weight – but the compromises have to be weighed carefully against the convenience and increased comfort of a smaller, lighter body: the camera still has to be up to the job.

Before I talk about pros and cons of the Sony NEX-7 and the Fuji X-E2, a little background.

I am a long-time user of digital SLR cameras. Around six months ago I bought a Sony Alpha NEX-7 mirrorless camera together with a Carl Zeiss Sonnar 24mm f/1.8 lens for the Sony ‘E’ mount. I also bought a Novoflex adaptor to enable me to use the NEX-7 with my Nikon prime lenses.

The idea behind buying the Sony NEX-7 was that it would become my primary travel camera, as hauling a full-frame Nikon dSLR plus pro lenses around the world on a regular basis was becoming tiresome. So a smaller and lighter mirrorless camera system seemed like the way to go – provided that I was convinced it could do the job.

Sony Alpha NEX-7 with Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar E 1.8/24 ZA lens (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Sony Alpha NEX-7 with Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar E 1.8/24 ZA lens

My intention was that the NEX-7 would augment, rather than replace, my Nikon dSLR gear. There was still to be a place for the full-frame Nikon dSLR in my kit bag: my thinking was that any photographic endeavour which didn’t involve getting on an aeroplane would almost certainly involve me shooting with my Nikon dSLR system as before. Additionally, any time I needed the better high-ISO performance, intrinsically shallower depth-of-field and wider angle of view of a full-frame sensor, blazing fast autofocus, or superior durability and weather sealing (generally in dusty, sandy, or wet environments – deserts, beaches, dust storms, monsoons, etc.), I would shoot with the Nikon SLR system instead of the mirrorless NEX-7 and accept the increase in size and weight.

So why did I recently decide to sell my Sony NEX-7 and buy a Fuji X-E2?

There are a number of reasons for deciding to switch – here they are, in no particular order:

Reason #1: Video Functionality

At the time of buying the NEX-7, I was sorely tempted by several of the Fuji mirrorless cameras. In fact, the only reason I bought the Sony NEX-7 instead of one of the Fuji cameras was because the video functionality of the NEX-7 is far superior, and I thought I would be shooting much more video than I am. Since I am shooting still images 95% of the time and almost no video, the main benefit of the NEX-7 to me is a lot less relevant than it was. My Nikon D800 dSLR produces video of stunning quality, and for on-the-fly video, I also have my iPhone 5. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be shooting much video with the NEX-7 after all.

Reason #2: High-ISO Performance

Although the Sony NEX-7 is touted as having good high-ISO performance, in practice I have been a little disappointed with this aspect of the NEX-7. High-ISO performance is important to me: I shoot a lot of images while travelling, often in low light, and don’t always have the option – nor want – to augment the light with strobes or flash. I am used to the excellent high-ISO performance of my full-frame Nikon SLRs, and the NEX-7 is noticeably worse in this regard – to be specific, I became very reluctant to shoot above ISO 1600 if I could possibly avoid it.

The lack of great high-ISO performance is doubtless owing to the fact that Sony have packed 24 Megapixels on to an APS-C sensor. What this means is that each light-gathering photosite has to be smaller owing to the higher density of photosites on the sensor, and this results in a lower signal-to-noise ratio which manifests itself as visible digital noise at high ISO settings. In comparison, the Fuji X-E2 packs a more modest 16 Megapixels on to the same size sensor, and the high ISO performance of the X-E2 is very, very good – in my opinion at least on a par with my full-frame Nikon D800 SLR.

I had heard that the high-ISO performance of the X-E2 was good, but it was only when I saw the image files on my monitor that I saw how good it actually was. I can shoot as high as ISO 6400 with very little degradation in image quality. I would much rather have a sensor with a lower Megapixel count and better high-ISO performance – I don’t care less about the Megapixel wars. On a full-frame sensor, 24MP is the sweet spot for me; on an APS-C sensor, 16MP is ideal. The Fuji X-E2 with its 16MP APS-C sensor thus hits the sweet spot – the Sony NEX-7 does not. I can’t help feeling that Sony’s choice of 24MP for the NEX-7 was a marketing decision driven by the desire to be ‘king of the heap’ and claim a higher Megapixel count at launch than any other APS-C camera. Not many photographic applications require a 24 Megapixel sensor; my Nikon D700 full-frame camera only had 12 Megapixels, and there have been plenty of professional jobs shot with the D700.  So give me the 16MP Fujifilm X-Trans CMOS II sensor any day.

Reason #3: Auto-ISO Functionality

On the subject of ISO, I was also frustrated by the Auto-ISO functionality of the NEX-7. The maximum ceiling for the ISO using Auto-ISO is ISO 1600, which means that when the light level drops sufficiently, the ISO hits the ceiling of 1600 and in Aperture-Priority Exposure Mode (where I am 99% of the time), the shutter speed starts to drop to the point where it is not possible to hold the camera steady and image sharpness suffers. For street photography, I use Auto-ISO a lot; I care a great deal about the aperture and the shutter speed as they have a significant impact on the aesthetics of the photograph – but as long as the image is not noticeably noisy, I don’t care very much about the ISO. Despite the fact that I was not particularly impressed with the high-ISO performance of the NEX-7, I’ll take a sharp but noisy image over a blurred image any day. In other words, the ceiling for Auto-ISO on the NEX-7 is too conservative – I would rather deal with the high-ISO noise than a blurred, unusable image – and I was missing shots as a result. The alternative is to switch to manual ISO which means that you may be shooting at a higher ISO setting than you need to in a fast-moving situation with rapidly fluctuating light levels, and end up with images which are noisier than they need to be – particularly relevant given the modest performance of the NEX-7 at high ISO settings.

Reason #4: Autofocus Speed and Reliability

The NEX-7 uses contrast-detect autofocus; the Fuji X-E2 employs a hybrid phase/contrast-detect autofocus system. The difference in plain English is essentially the following: contrast-detect AF is noticeably slower than phase-detect AF, and has a hard time tracking anything which is moving, or when contrast in the scene is low. Additionally, contrast detect AF systems can be easily fooled by scenes which contain specular highlights, leading the camera to think that something is in focus when in fact nothing is. The only advantage of contrast-detect AF systems is that they do not suffer from some of the focusing errors to which phase-detect AF is prone.

You can add phase-detect AF functionality to the NEX-7 by purchasing Sony’s optional, expensive and bulky LA-EA2 adaptor – but then honestly, why not just shoot with an SLR and be done with it? –the whole point of switching from an SLR to a mirrorless system is to save size and weight.

What I noticed in practice is that I was missing shots in a travel/street-photography environment with the NEX-7, even in good light with the excellent Carl Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 ZA Sonnar lens, on account of the autofocus speed. The Fuji X-E2 AF is by way of comparison much faster and generally pretty reliable, even in poor light. Not pro-dSLR-fast – but fast enough, most of the time.

AF performance – along with image quality, high-ISO performance and camera ergonomics – is vitally important to me, so this difference between the NEX-7 and the Fuji X-E2 is huge. If you are a landscape, architectural, interiors or portrait photographer, this may not bother you at all. If you are a street, wedding or event photographer and you like using autofocus, the superior AF performance of the X-E2 will enhance your ability to capture fleeting moments in a fast-changing scene.

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens

 

Reason #5: Back-Button AF and a Moveable Focus Point

Although the NEX-7 is by common consensus badly set up out of the box, it is highly customisable. The Fuji X-E2 is by default set up very well ex-factory, and is similarly very customisable. However, despite the customisability of the NEX-7, there were some annoying quirks which I could not circumvent. One example is the NEX-7’s implementation of what is commonly referred to as ‘Back-Button Autofocus’. When a camera is set up to use back-button AF, the AF is decoupled from the shutter-release button and assigned to a separate button, usually on the rear of the camera: hence: ‘back-button AF’. The advantage of separating AF control from the shutter release is that you don’t need to re-acquire focus each time you press the shutter button to take a photograph. As long as your subject hasn’t moved, the focus effectively remains locked wherever it was when you last focused. This makes for a much more responsive and fluid shooting experience, and I use this set up on my Nikon SLRs for everything I shoot from street photography to portraits to landscapes. Sure, there is no benefit to back-button AF when shooting landscapes for example, but it is easier to become familiar with one way of shooting which works for everything – that way, there is less chance of screwing up when you need to work fast because muscle memory takes over and you can concentrate on the light, composition and timing and stop thinking about the technicalities of operating the camera.

It is possible to implement back-button AF on the NEX-7; however, it is impossible to then move the focus point around the frame, forcing you to use the ‘focus-recompose’ method of shooting. The NEX-7 only allows you to move the focus point around the frame when AF is fully engaged: the back-button AF set-up on the NEX-7 requires you to effectively put the camera into manual-focus mode, and momentarily engage AF each time you press the AF/MF button. Since you cannot move the focus point in manual-focus mode, you cannot move the focus point while using back-button AF on the NEX-7.

In contrast, the Fuji X-E2 permits me to set up back-button AF AND move the focus point around the frame exactly as I would on my Nikon SLRs – the only limitation is the size of the focus point, which cannot be reduced in size as it can when using autofocus linked to a half-press of the shutter-release button. This can occasionally be limiting when trying to focus on a small area when shooting with a lens wide open e.g. focusing on your subject’s eye – and in this situation I switch to using the AF linked to the shutter-release button, or simply fine-tuning focus manually using one of the excellent manual-focusing aids.

This ability to move the AF point around the frame is the way I mostly like to use AF – I much prefer it to using the centre focus point and re-composing, as it makes for faster more fluid composition, and I find that I am less likely to miss the moment or screw up the composition in a changing scene. For example, trying to nail a panning shot rendering the moving object sharp and the background blurred is almost impossible with the focus-recompose method of shooting.

In short, the Fuji X-E2 supports my default way of working with AF; the NEX-7 does not. For some photographers, the above may not matter at all – for me it is a big deal.

Reason #6: Manual Focusing Aids

Both the Sony NEX-7 and the Fuji X-E2 offer aids to manual focusing. Both of them enable you to enlarge the area of the scene you are focusing on to check accurate manual focus, and both offer ‘focus peaking’ (where high-contrast areas of the scene in the Electronic Viewfinder – usually those areas which are in sharp focus – ‘sparkle’ to indicate that they are in focus.) However, I find Fuji’s implementation of focus peaking much easier to see than with the Sony NEX-7.  Additionally, the X-E2 offers an additional manual focusing aid – the ‘split image’ mode – which can be useful in certain situations, although I generally prefer the focus-peaking option.

Reason #7: The Lens System

The range of lenses available with the Fuji X system is already comprehensive and indicative of Fuji’s serious intentions with the X system, with a clear roadmap for future development. The Fujinon X lenses are beautiful to behold, with generally stunning image quality: sharp across the frame even wide open with excellent contrast, attractive flare characteristics, beautiful colour rendition and bokeh. Sony’s range of ‘E’ mount lenses for the NEX-7 is developing too slowly for my liking, although there are some good Carl Zeiss lenses available for the Sony ‘E’ mount. It is possible to use lenses from other manufacturers with the NEX-7 with adaptors, but then you are limited to using manual focus and also setting aperture manually – and giving up AF can be a big deal in some shooting situations.

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens

 

Reason #8: Manufacturer Responsiveness and Customer Care

Fuji’s responsiveness to the photographer community in terms of listening to feedback and releasing firmware upgrades to address deficiencies is refreshing and widely reported. That kind of responsiveness and commitment to customers is rare. Fuji really seems to be listening to its photographer user base, and the fruits of this collaboration are visible in terms of the development and enhancement of the Fuji X system. Fuji is releasing software upgrades to improve the functionality of older cameras in the Fuji X range, and not just pushing its latest cameras and encouraging users of its older cameras to shell out for the latest model. Sure, the end result of this is more brand loyalty, and in the long run undoubtedly more sales for Fuji – but if it continues to be sufficiently far-sighted as to look after its customers in this way, the company deserves to be successful and make a healthy profit from the Fuji X range.

There are also numerous reports on the web of photographers who have been looked after very well by Fuji customer service when they have had problems with Fuji cameras, even when the camera is not longer under warranty. This further underlines Fuji’s commitment to its customers, which is laudable.

I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Sony in terms of customer support, but Fuji really seems to be going the extra mile for its customers, and this is another factor for me in switching to the Fuji X system.

Reason #9: The X-E2 is a true photographer’s camera

My final reason for making the switch is less tangible than the others, but I am convinced of its veracity.

I have the inescapable feeling after shooting with both the Sony NEX-7 and the Fuji X-E2 that the NEX-7, while indisputably a fantastic little camera and a marvel of technology, feels like it was designed by a team of technicians. The Fuji X-E2 feels like it was designed by photographers. Or to put it another way: the X-E2 feels like a camera, whereas the NEX-7 feels more like an electronic gadget containing lots of impressive imaging technology. The X-E2 doesn’t have as many fancy tricks as the NEX-7, it doesn’t do video as well, it doesn’t have 24 Megapixels, it doesn’t have a tilting rear screen, it doesn’t have clever low-light modes like Anti-Motion Blur or Hand-Held Twilight, and the X-E2 user manual is a fraction of the heft of the NEX-7 manual – but the X-E2 simply handles the core photographic tasks brilliantly and its ergonomics are significantly better.

Unlike the NEX-7, the Fuji X-E2 is very well set up out of the box, with the ability to be further customised to the user’s needs. Every button is exactly where you want it to be. I tried playing around with the customisation of the camera, and after a period of experimentation, reverted to the way Fuji had set it up ex-factory as I found I couldn’t improve on it.

For my style of photography, the holy trinity of camera performance are image quality, autofocus performance and high-ISO performance – and you can add camera handling and ergonomics to that. In these four areas – which are really all I care about – the Fuji X-E2 wins hands down. The autofocus system is fast and reliable, the image quality from the 16MP sensor is nothing short of stunning, and the ISO performance is outstanding from an APS-C sensor.

That is not to say that the X-E2 is perfect – the perfect camera doesn’t exist. There are a few things which I would love to see Fuji address: for example, the ability to modify the size of the focus area used when AF is momentarily engaged with the AF-L button in manual-focus mode, or increasing the maximum flash sync speed from 1/180 sec. to 1/250 sec., or the addition of a tilting rear LCD screen. But these are things I can live with.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, for another photographer, the NEX-7 may be the better choice. If you want great video performance, if you want the resolution of a 24 Megapixel sensor, if you don’t need fast autofocus nor stellar high-ISO performance, or if you simply must have a tilting rear LCD screen, the Sony NEX-7 might be the perfect mirrorless camera for you.

There is no ‘best camera’ here – only what is right for you. At this point in time the Fujifilm X-E2 is the right mirrorless camera for me.

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens

 

Postcards from Chennai

I’m currently in Chennai, India, and shortly on my way home to Denmark, where I’ll be for the new year’s eve celebrations, before departing for Thailand on new year’s day. I didn’t get much time for photography on this trip, other than a quick stroll around the streets close to my hotel shortly before sunset, where I made a few portraits of local people.

Happy New Year!

Young girl - Chennai, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Chennai, India, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Chennai, India, 2013 (I© Ian Mylam)

Chennai, India, 2013 (I© Ian Mylam)

Woman with small child - Chennai, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Chennai, India, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Man - Chennai, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Chennai, India, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Young girl - Chennai, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Chennai, India, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Looking Back on 2013

As the year draws to a close, I have been reviewing the images I made in the last twelve months. Here are my favourite photographs from 2013.

The images selected here were made in Liberia, India, China, England, Scotland, Denmark, Bahrain and the U.S.A using a range of cameras: a Nikon D700 SLR, a Nikon D800 SLR, a Sony Alpha NEX-7 mirrorless camera, a Fujifilm X-E2 mirrorless camera, and an iPhone 4. Different places, different cameras, different subject matter – but what they have in common is that all were shot in 2013.

If there are any you particularly like or dislike – or if there’s one I’ve overlooked and should have included – I’d like to hear from you, so please drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Here’s wishing you a peaceful Christmas and I’ll see you in the new year!

Tree on a Ridge - Zion Natonal Park, Utah, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Tree on a Ridge – Zion Natonal Park, Utah, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

New Delhi Railway Station, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

New Delhi Railway Station, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Pier on La Jolla Beach - San Diego, California, USA (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Pier on La Jolla Beach – San Diego, California, USA (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

View from the cockpit during the descent into Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Descent into Chengdu – Sichuan Province, China (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Impressions of a Liberian Beach (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Impressions of a Liberian Beach (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Trees in Mist – Isle of Funen, Denmark (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Portrait of a street vendor, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Street Vendor, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Portrait of a street vendor, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Street Vendor, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Jutland, Denmark (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Empire State Building, New York City, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Empire State Building, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Taxi for the Peninsula – New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Manama Souk, Bahrain, 2013 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Manama Souk, Bahrain (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Young Boy, Mumbai, India, 2013 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Fishing Boat at Dusk - Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Fishing Boat at Dusk – Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Photographer David Nightingale on the Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Photographer David Nightingale – Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Shanghai, China (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Across the Huangpu River – Shanghai, China (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Boats at Dawn – Bahrain (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Trees in Mist - Zion National Park, Utah, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Trees in Mist – Zion National Park, Utah, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Dusk on the Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Dusk on the Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Self=portrait in a hotel room, London, England (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Self=portrait in a hotel room, London, England (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

John Hancock Building, Chicago, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

John Hancock Building, Chicago, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

New York Subway - New York, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

New York Subway – New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

An engraver in his work shop, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

The Engraver – Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Bicycle Rickshaw, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Bicycle Rickshaw – Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Sisters – Isle of Funen, Denmark (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Dusk falls over the Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Dusk falls over the Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

View South around sunset overhead the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, on the Nevada/Arizona border following an Eastbound take-off from runway 07L at Las Vegas McCarran Airport bound for London. Altitude around 17,000 feet (5,000 metres) The Arizona/Nevada State border runs southwards along the river visible left of shot. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

AIrborne Out Of Vegas – Nevada, U.S.A (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

399 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

399 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Porter, New Delhi Railway Station, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Porter, New Delhi Railway Station, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Nightfall over Jura - Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Nightfall over Jura – Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Boats and Jetty at Dawn – Bahrain (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Mumbai, India, 2013 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Jutland, Denmark (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Dusk falls over Craighouse - Isle of Jura, Scotland (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Dusk falls over Craighouse – Isle of Jura, Scotland (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

A bicycle rickshaw passing through Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Bicycle Rickshaw – Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Two Boys, Mumbai, India, 2013 (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Two Boys – Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Street portrait, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 

A Weekend in Dubai

Dubai from the Roof (© Ian Mylam)

Dubai from the Roof (© Ian Mylam)

I’m on my way home from Dubai tonight where I spent the last couple of days with the talented crew of photographers teaching at the Gulf Photo Plus FotoWeekend, including David Nightingale, Bobbi Lane and Bert Stephani, together with Dubai-based commercial photographers Issa Alkindy and Catalin Marin. It’s a great time of year to be in Dubai – the fierce heat of the summer has passed, and standing on the open-air terrace of the Siddharta Lounge with a drink in hand on Saturday evening surrounded by some of the stunning buildings which make Dubai so special, sparkling and glowing against the warm Arabian night sky, I was wowed by Dubai all over again. Dubai is not to everyone’s taste: ostentatious, showy, superficial and shallow are all words I hear people use about this city; but love it or hate it it is undeniably spectacular, never more so than at night.

Dubai from the Roof #2 (© Ian Mylam)

Dubai from the Roof #2 (© Ian Mylam)

Yesterday, Bert, Catalin and I spent a very pleasant few hours wandering around the Deira area of the city. We spent more time talking, eating delicious shawarma and drinking coffee than we did making photographs – however, we had a great afternoon, one that I will remember for a long time.

Man with Cart - Deira, Dubai, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Man with Cart – Deira, Dubai, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Four Men, Four Benches - Dubai, U.A.E., 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Four Men, Four Benches – Dubai, U.A.E., 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Three Men - Dubai, U.A.E., 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Three Men – Dubai, U.A.E., 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

 Pakistani Fish Trader - Dubai, U.A.E., 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Pakistani Fish Trader – Dubai, U.A.E., 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Vegetable Trader -Deira, Dubai, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

Vegetable Trader -Deira, Dubai, 2013 (© Ian Mylam)

 

Across the Huangpu River

Across the Huangpu River - Shanghai, China © 2013 Ian Mylam

Across the Huangpu River – Shanghai, China © 2013 Ian Mylam

Just a quick post from London to share this image of Shanghai, which I shot last week from the top of the Jin Mao Tower in the Pudong area of the city. This is part of the view looking west across the Huangpu River, while Shanghai was wreathed in a light autumn mist.

I returned from Shanghai last week and I’m now in London for a few days before I head out to Dubai on Friday evening to coincide with the end of the G.P.P. (Gulf Photo Plus) weekend, where I am hoping to hook up with some Dubai-based photographers I haven’t seen for a while together with David Nightingale from chromasia.

As ever, click on the image for a larger view.

 

Looking Up and Slowing Down

John Hancock Building, Chicago, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

John Hancock Building, Chicago, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Normally when I’m somewhere like New York or Chicago my thoughts invariably turn to street photography. There have been so many iconic photographs made on the streets of these great American cities down the years that it is the genre which automatically springs to mind whenever I am there.

However, on my last visit to both cities recently I resolved to pay a little more attention to the amazing architecture. Armed with a wide-angle lens, a tripod and some ND (neutral-density) filters, and inspired by some of the excellent long-exposure photography I have seen recently, I decided to slow things down and try to make some daylight long-exposure photographs. Normally when I make ultra long-exposure images, I do it because it is dawn or dusk, and the light levels just aren’t sufficient for an exposure with a ‘normal’ shutter speed measured in tenths or hundredths of a second. However. I’ve recently been playing with the technique of using ND filters to reduce the light entering the camera to the point where I can make ultra long-exposure photographs with exposures measured in minutes in broad daylight. I have made exposures like this of seascapes before, but I have until recently never tried doing this with architecture or with a cityscape.

For the image above of Chicago’s John Hancock Tower, the unfiltered metered exposure was 1/320 sec. @ f/9 and ISO 100. After applying 16 stops of ND filtration my calculated required exposure duration was around 3½ minutes at f/9 and ISO 100. I then further increased the exposure (more on this later) by lengthening the exposure duration to 4 minutes and opening up the aperture to f/8 giving the final exposure for the image you see above with the ND filters in place.

Although I am new to long-exposure daylight photography, I do regularly use a tripod, so many of the techniques required to shoot this kind of image successfully were already familiar to me. However, I discovered through my experience of shooting long-exposures in New York and Chicago that there were some additional points to remember to make this work successfully when shooting architecture in the way I did here. In case you’re also new to this and you’d like to try something similar, here are some of the things to think about when shooting long-exposure architectural photography:

1. Clouds are your friends.  Fast-moving clouds are your best friends.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s worth noting that there’s not much point making a long-exposure photograph if nothing in the frame is moving – although preferably not the buildings. If the buildings are moving, then either your tripod is not up to the job, or long-exposure photography should be the last thing on your mind right now. In an image like this, there has to be movement in the sky in order for the effect of a very long exposure to be visible. If the sky is a cloudless blue or it is completely overcast, admit defeat, put the tripod away, and go and grab a coffee, shoot something else, or use the time to do some location scouting. A sky with a good mix of fast-moving clouds and blue sky seems to work best in my limited experience as it generates the requisite interesting contrast in the sky.  Too much blue and the sky will be boring and featureless; too much cloud cover, and the sky will be similarly bland and boring with no contrast. You need a balance between white cloud and blue sky to give you some interesting streaks of motion-blurred cloud in your frame.

2. You need quality gear.

I am firm believer that having expensive gear is generally not necessary to make great photographs. However, this is one time when quality gear unfortunately really does matter.  To make a high-quality long-exposure photograph in a busy city, you will definitely need a sturdy tripod: trucks and lorries thundering past and office workers and joggers pounding the street mere inches from your trembling tripod legs may cause sufficient vibration to kill your image sharpness otherwise. Secondly, you need high-quality ND filters – there is no point having top quality glass on your camera if you’re going to put cheap, nasty, optically flawed filters on the front of your lens, and this is particularly relevant with this kind of photography since long exposures place particular demands on the filter material and manufacturing process. Making a 6- or 10-stop neutral-density filter which transmits light evenly across its surface and uniformly across the visible spectrum of light is apparently not easy, and unfortunately they therefore don’t come cheap. I use a carbon fibre tripod from Gitzo with a Really Right Stuff ballhead which soaks up vibrations, and neutral-density filters from Lee and Hitech. Singh-Ray is another top-quality manufacturer of filters, and they have recently released a 15-stop ‘Mor-Slo’ ND filter which I haven’t tested but which looks interesting.

3. Slow down and explore before setting up.

Once you have identified a building or which seems promising, don’t immediately launch into a frenzy of setting up your tripod. This is not shoot from the hip. The building isn’t going anywhere. There is probably no decisive moment; only – if the clouds and weather are fickle – perhaps a decisive twenty minutes. Walk around the building with your camera in your hand and frame up different compositions to identify whether they really work. Take time to find the best angle. Try different focal lengths. It’s time-consuming setting up the shot with the tripod and other accessories such as filters and shutter-release cables (see below), so make sure you’ve found your optimum location and angle before you break out the tripod and filters.

As photographer Greg Heisler says: “only stick a tripod under your camera AFTER you have decided your frame. Once the tripod is there, you stop moving around, you stop experimenting with possibilities and you’re stuck with a photo that might not be the best one to take.”

These kind of images are quite stark and minimalist, a simple compositional dance between the sky and the building. They need to work together – if you concentrate too much on one and neglect the other the image will fail. Both building and sky need to be interesting.

399 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.A. (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

399 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

4. Be thorough and meticulous.

Each exposure is going to take several minutes. It’s a real pain to complete the exposure only to discover you were shooting at ISO 3200, your focus was off or the lens cap was on (you may laugh, but looking through the viewfinder with the lens cap on is visually indistinguishable from looking at the scene through 16-stops of ND filtration. Ahem.) So really take the time to set up methodically and work slowly and systematically through the preparation for each shot to avoid missing something vital. Like the lens cap. Most of us don’t make these kind of long exposures every day, and some of the settings are not ones we habitually use, so lack of familiarity makes it very easy to screw up.

5. Use an external spirit level.

Many cameras these days have some kind of spirit level built in to the display so that you can see whether your horizontals and verticals really are horizontal and vertical. However, for a shot like the one I made here, the camera was on the tripod pointing straight up at the sky with the sensor plane parallel with the ground, and your built-in level is unlikely to cope with that. So invest in a small spirit level something like this one which mounts in the hotshoe of your camera – they generally allow you to level the camera in two axes simultaneously.  If you don’t – particularly if you are shooting with a wide-angle lens – you will have some unwanted distortion in the image that may be difficult to correct in post-processing. Added to which, any software correction involves bending the pixels to some degree and therefore degrades the quality of the image. Much better – and quicker – to get it right in camera at the point of image capture.

6. Remove any prophylactic filters.

When I am shooting in dusty or otherwise harsh environments, and also when I am transporting my gear, I normally keep protective clear filters on all my lenses. I use Nikon NC filters; many photographers use skylight filters for the same purpose. I have had three such filters smashed on the front of my lenses; in each case, the lens front element was unmarked, so I am glad that I had the filters on, as it’s much cheaper to replace a filter costing $80 than to repair or replace a lens costing up to $2,500. However, this is one occasion when you don’t need them; so remove them. You already have enough additional glass (or resin) in front of your lens in the form of stacked ND filters. The less additional layers of filtration on your lens, the better the image quality. Architectural photography is exacting, and to look good, the image needs to be technically flawless – or as near to flawless as you can make it.

7. Have your best disarming smile at the ready.

Composing an image like this is also hard work as you physically need to crouch under the tripod to see the LCD screen unless you have a tilting rear screen as fitted to cameras such as the Sony Alpha SLT-A99 or NEX-7. (Nikon and Canon, are you listening?) Be aware that crouching under a tripod in broad daylight outside a large building in a place like Manhattan tends to draw inquisitive looks even from such worldly beings as New Yorkers who are generally unphased by seeing crazy stuff on the street – and also from over-zealous building security guards – so have your best disarming smile at the ready.  In the United States, at least, the general rule is, as far as I understand it, that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs. Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises or land but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations. Whether you need permission from property owners to take photographs while on their premises depends on the circumstances. In any case, when a property owner – or building security guard – tells you not to take photographs while on the premises, you are legally obliged to honour the request. In practice, therefore, if you are shooting from the pavement (sidewalk) you should be OK, unless you are causing some kind of hazard or obstruction e.g. if there is insufficient space for people to safely pass. If, however, you step on to an area in front of a building which is private property and set up your tripod, as I did a couple of times in NYC, you may be asked to move on. Even if you are on public land and are not obliged to explain or justify yourself to a security guard, it simply doesn’t make sense in my opinion to inflame the situation. While making this shot from the sidewalk, I was asked by the building security guard what I was photographing. Despite being under no obligation to provide him with the information, I courteously explained what I was doing, and he left me alone after that. ‘Disarm through charm’ is a good motto.

Empire State Building, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Empire State Building, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

8. Checklist for a Long Exposure.

OK, so you’ve identified a great composition with an unobstructed view of the building or buildings. The sky looks great. The security guard is your new best friend. Time to break out the tripod.

When making the shot, I generally work according to the following sequence:

  • Place the camera on the tripod and fine-tune the composition I already identified before setting up the tripod. Make sure the tripod is as stable as it can be, and everything is tightened down nicely. If your tripod has a centre column, either remove it, or rack it down to shorten it as much as possible. A tripod with an extended centre column is significantly less stable than a tripod without a centre column, or with the centre column retracted. If your tripod has a hook underneath, hang your camera bag from it for greater downforce and therefore increased stability.
  • If your lens has Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilisation, turn it off now. It can actually introduce vibration when using a tripod, as the system attempts to cancel out vibration which is not present.
  • Make some test exposures without the ND filters to check what the correct unfiltered exposure is. The problem here is often that the dynamic range of the scene is naturally high: you are pointing the camera skywards, and the building will be much darker than the sky. So you need a base unfiltered exposure which that retains detail both in the sky and also in the buildings. If the contrast in the scene is too high, it may be necessary to make multiple exposures and blend them in post-processing (i.e. long-exposure HDR), as adding a graduated ND filter – assuming you own one – is unlikely to be able to do the job for you here, and you will have enough ND filters in front of your lens already. Fortunately, since the building is not moving, only the exposure of the sky needs to be a long exposure; the exposure for the building can be a regular unfiltered exposure. Using the camera histogram is essential, in conjunction with the ‘blinkies’ (the blinking highlight display showing you areas of blown highlights in your image when reviewing images on the camera in playback mode). Use the technique of ‘exposing to the right’ to maximize detail in the image and minimize noise without blowing out areas of the sky. It will definitely help to shoot images in raw format if your camera offers this option, since you will be able to capture a larger dynamic range of brightness in raw. Bear in mind also that the in-camera histogram and the ‘blinkies’ are both based on an 8-bit JPG file created by the camera from the raw file, not the raw file itself. As such, both may indicate areas of blown highlights which may not actually be blown once you view the raw file during post-processing. Experimenting with your camera to see how much of these putative blown highlights you can recover in post will help you to learn how far you can push the exposure to the right before the highlights are really blown and unrecoverable. Also, if your camera supports it, check the RGB histogram for the individual colour channels (red, green and blue), rather than just checking the histogram for the three colour channels combined. The reason is that the combined-channel histogram represents an average, and it could easily occur that one colour channel is seriously over-exposed while the other two are not. In the case of the sky, it is the blue channel which is likely to blow first.
  • Once you have your unfiltered exposure – e.g. 1/250 at f/8 and ISO 100 – use a long-exposure calculator (either a paper chart you can easily find on the Web, or a smart phone app such as ‘LExp’ which makes the job easy) to calculate the correct exposure with the ND filters in place. This is necessary, as the camera will not be able to meter the scene once you have the ND filters in front of the lens – it is way too dark. Ideally, you want a long-exposure somewhere in the range of 4 – 8 minutes. If you have several ND filters – I have a 10-stop, a 6-stop and a 3-stop – you can combine two of them as required to give a shutter speed in this target range. If the clouds are moving fast, an exposure at the shorter end of the range will be sufficient. You may need to make some test exposures to see how long an exposure is required.
  • To minimize digital noise, use your camera’s lowest ISO setting e.g. ISO 100. To maximize image sharpness, avoid the extremes of the aperture (f-stop) range. If you shoot with a low f-stop number (large aperture) such as f/2.8 or f/4, you may not have sufficient depth of field to have all or most of the building in acceptably sharp focus – and furthermore some lenses don’t perform so well optically when wide open, or close to wide open. If you use too high an f-stop (small aperture), although your depth of field will be high, the image will suffer from diffraction softness. The aperture you want will depend on the lens and the distance of the camera from the building, but in terms of the lens’s optical performance, somewhere around f/5.6 to f/11 would normally be ideal. A good rule of thumb is that the sharpest aperture of a lens is around two stops closed down from the widest aperture. So if you have an f/4 lens, then the sharpest aperture is typically around f/8.
  • Switch on your camera’s long-exposure noise reduction (NR). I don’t bother with in-camera high-ISO noise reduction, as high-ISO noise is in my view best removed in post-processing. However, there is no software that I have yet found which can do a better job than in-camera long-exposure NR. Unfortunately, it doubles the length of your exposure, as it makes a ‘dark frame’ of the same duration which it then subtracts from the normal exposure to cancel out the digital noise. However, this is still much quicker than spending a long time in post spotting your image to clean up all the hot pixels. (I know, as I learned this the hard way.)
  • Screw in the cable release for your camera so that you can trip the shutter without needing to physically touch the camera, or set up your wireless trigger. You will need a cable release or trigger which allows you to hold or preferably lock the shutter open for the duration of the exposure. Many triggers also have timers built in and can be set to automatically close the shutter again at the end of the exposure period.
  • Once you have calculated the correct long exposure – e.g. 5 minutes at f/9 and ISO 100 – switch the camera into manual-exposure mode, set your aperture to the calculated f-stop and check your ISO is also correctly set. You may need to tweak the f-stop or ISO slightly to bring the shutter speed into the correct range with the ND filters you have at your disposal. Then put the shutter speed on the ‘Bulb’ setting (with most cameras, exposures longer than typically 30 seconds are only possible at the  ‘Bulb’ setting).
  • At this point, I normally set the focus, switching to manual focus and using the camera’s Live View mode to zooming in to check focus is acceptable over the whole building, adjusting as required. Once focus is set, if you haven’t already done so, switch the lens or camera to manual focus to avoid inadvertently changing the focus.
  • If your camera supports it, switch to ‘Mirror Up’ shutter release mode. In this mode, the first press of the shutter (or shutter cable release) simply moves the SLR mirror up and out of the way. The second press actually opens the shutter. This minimizes vibration caused by mirror movement at the beginning of the exposure and maximizes image sharpness.
  • If you can close the eyepiece of the camera, do so now. Many cameras have a built-in sliding cover for the eyepiece to prevent light leaking into the camera through the eyepiece during long exposures. If your camera does not have this, carefully place a hat or a cloth over the top and back of the camera to do the same job.
  • Now carefully mount your ND filter or filters in front of the lens, being careful not to move the camera and change the composition or knock the lens and change the focal length or focus. Carefully check the filters to make sure they are light-tight around the edges. Long-exposure ND filters usually have a rubber or foam gasket around the edge to prevent light leakage which can spoil the image. I use the Lee system filter holder which works both with my Lee Big Stopper filter and also my Hitech Pro IRND filters. It’s easy to put the filters in skewed, only to notice this at the end of the exposure after wondering why the image is grossly overexposed.
  • Finally, make the exposure!

 

9. Other Points to Remember.

If you really get in to this style of photography, and find yourself regularly shooting with the camera pointing up at the sky, crouching under the camera all day is going to get tiring pretty quickly. In that case, you might like to consider using a field monitor for your camera.

You need luck with the cloud. Setting up takes a long time so make several exposures if you are not sure you’ve nailed the shot.

It may help to keep a blower brush handy. Because the camera is pointing directly – or almost directly – up at the sky, it is very susceptible to dust settling on the front filter during the exposure. If you are using a fairly small aperture, this may show up in your image. Check the front filter occasionally during the exposure and blow off any significant dust with the blower brush.

Even though you have hopefully ‘exposed to the right’ to maximize the amount of data you captured and minimize noise, you may find that you still need to add additional exposure time to correctly expose the image. I am not entirely sure why this is, although I have read that other photographers frequently experience the same thing. The exposure typically needs to be lengthened by 30-50% to expose the image correctly, as if the sensor is susceptible to some kind of ‘digital reciprocity failure’.

All long-exposure ND filters seem to introduce some kind of colour cast into the image. My Lee filter adds some warmth, whereas the Hitech filters – which block the light at the infrared end of the spectrum – tend to add a cooler blue cast. Either way the cast is easily removed in post-processing so it’s no big deal provided that you shoot in raw. If you shoot in JPEG the white balance is ‘baked in’ to the JPG file and correcting any colour cast is much more difficult.

 

I hope that you have found the above useful – if there’s anything you want to know about making these images that I haven’t covered, drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help. For a larger view of any of the above images, just click on the image.

This final image is not a long exposure, but I saw the Chrysler Building reflected in the glass façade of one of the buildings opposite, and thought it looked amazing…

The Chrysler Building, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

The Chrysler Building, New York City, U.S.A. (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 

Postcards from Mumbai

Just a quick post to share a few pictures – and some smiling faces – from the streets of Mumbai where I have been this week. Enjoy!

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Boy on a Train - Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Boy on a Train – Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

Colaba, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

A group of boys in the Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India (Ian Mylam/© Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

 

Postcard from Chengdu

Early morning in Chengdu, China (© 2013 Ian Mylam (www.ianmylam.com))

Early morning in Chengdu, China (© 2013 Ian Mylam)

A quick postcard from Chengdu, China, where I am for the next couple of days. I was out very early this morning wandering the streets – it was misty and raining gently, but was beginning to brighten up by the time I made this photograph just a couple of streets away from my hotel. Apparently, mist, cloud and rain are the norm here – Chengdu notches up 250 – 300 foggy, cloudy or rainy days each year, and as a result many Chinese liken Chengdu to London, my own city, which is probably why I feel at home already.