First of all I should say that it’s a location that I’m very familiar with so I could picture in my head how I wanted the photo to look before I went. This often isn’t the case and can sometimes be a stumbling block if you’re not familiar with a place that you’re going to take photos. A big part of photography is visualisation; trying to reproduce the kind of image you’re envisaging in your mind and have that image replicated in your photograph. Often you’ll see something in real life which will spark an idea and that’s great, if you take your time to have a look around a location you’ll always find something of interest. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t; it’s a skill which can be learned and will develop with practice.
Once I arrived I made sure there were no distracting elements in the composition I wanted (things like rubbish bins, anything lying on the ground which might not look good etc) and set up my tripod. The area I was in was very dark with some light spilling in from the quadrangles to the left and right of the picture, but the main light source here was the lights running along the ceiling at the centre of the picture, leading the eye to the bright light in the door just below the centre of the picture.
For this picture I wanted to have the elements perfectly symmetrical so I lined up my camera, set up the tripod low to the ground and angled the lens towards the ceiling. A tripod is essential in this shot as the light was so dim that anything taken hand held would either be blurry (long exposures result in blurring if the camera isn’t mounted on a tripod) or too dark to be used. I was using a wide angle lens which is great for architecture; you can get a lot of detail in the picture and the size of objects in the foreground and the extremes of the frame are exaggerated, making for an interesting picture. Many digital cameras have grids and guides which help you in lining up a shot if you’re trying to achieve symmetry or incorporating other rules of photography such as the rule of thirds. We’ll look at the rule of thirds in another blog, but lets move on to the settings I chose for this picture and why.
I wanted the majority of this picture to be in focus, so I chose F8 for the aperture. This allowed enough of the image to be in focus but the shutter speed to remain fairly low. I try to work mostly between F5.6 and F11 which allows a good balance between depth of field and the amount of light reaching the sensor.
Shutter Speed: Two exposures – 1 and 2 seconds
For this shot I combined two images; One to expose for the areas in light and one for the areas which are in shadow. There are a number of tools you can use to assist you in getting the correct exposure: Highlight warnings, the histogram or even just checking the image on the display (assuming it’s calibrated correctly). I often refer to the histogram for one exposure but because I wanted to expose two different shots, I relied on checking the image on screen to ensure the shadows and highlights were exposed correctly. I’ll talk about blending the two images shortly.
I always choose the lowest ISO setting I can get away with as this will produce the sharpest results. If you’ve got a tripod then you can have the ISO set to low values and let the shutter speed compensate for the lack of sensitivity. If I didn’t have a tripod and wanted to shoot something similar in the low light, I’d probably have to ramp the ISO up to at least 800 to get a result which looked sharp enough.
I ended up with the two images below which don’t look right on their own, but when combined give me the results I’m looking for.