Durham by night - photography tips
Posted: 23 Sep 2009
Durham – by night owl
Photographer Steve Highfield takes a walk on the dark side round Durham City.
Like the writer Bill Bryson before him, Steve Highfield took one trip to Durham – and fell in love.
That first experience moved the world-famous author (and, later, Chancellor of Durham University) to describe the place as a “perfect little city” in his book Notes from a Small Island. Steve recorded his new-found passion in a different way – on camera.
He took the famous views of the cathedral and castle in a different light to the more accustomed shots of tourism brochures as well as some glimpses down less familiar dark alleys.
Steve, a metal worker and welder by day, said: “I didn’t want to just take ‘record’ shots – there are plenty of those and many are tremendous – but what I was after was a completely different mood.
Achieving an atmospheric feel is not straightforward, though.
“Night-time photography is totally different to using natural daylight,” says Steve. “You have to use long exposure times and it can get very technical. Calculating the light available and dealing with tungsten light are just some of the issues. But, for me, the results are worth the extra effort.”
To view more of his images, check out his website:
How to take top-class shots yourself
It’s not vital for aspiring snappers to invest in costly equipment.
Steve says: “You can make great photos with a simple consumer point-and-shoot camera, or take lousy shots with the most expensive Nikon. It's not the camera that makes beautiful images; it's the photographer.
“With a little knowledge and a willingness to make an adjustment here and there, you can squeeze better photos out of the smallest digicam.”
1. Direction of light.
Shoot when the sun is low in the sky, either in the early morning or late afternoon. The colour of the light is warmer and reds and yellows are stronger which generally gives a more pleasing effect.
Use auto exposure to your advantage. In most modern cameras the default metering system is 'centre weighted average', which means that, although it takes an average reading of the whole scene, it takes more notice of what is in the middle of the frame.
If your main point of interest is not in the centre, put it there temporarily while you focus and take your light reading, then move the camera whilst still holding the button halfway down and compose the picture the way you want.
3. Cluttered images.
In photography, less is often more. Before pressing the shutter-release button, ask yourself what you first noticed in a scene that made you want to take this photo, then try to isolate whatever you saw, without including too much in the scene.
4. Use a tripod.
Especially for landscapes and macro shots, it's best to use a tripod. It reduces camera shake and it slows down the picture-taking process, which means you have more time to concentrate on the composition.
Take lots of photos and experiment. Experiment with different settings – lighting, object position, white-balancing settings – to get different colour temperatures, exposures, depth of field and more.
6.Use proportion: the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds is a way of describing where to place focal points in a photograph. If you are taking a portrait, the obvious area of interest is the person's eyes. If you are taking a landscape it could be a tree in the foreground. Don't put the areas of interest in the middle of the photograph. Photographs work better when they are off-centre.
Compose your photos for added interest. Use strong lines within the composition to lead the viewer’s eye into the shot, such as a path or road, to a focal point.
Try to find something to add foreground interest in wider scenic views such as a plant or rock. Try turning the camera on its side for portrait format pictures or tilting it to add drama.
8. Get up early…
…to capture a deserted beach or local town. Holiday destinations change character when no one is around and you can take home some different photos of a well-known location even if the weather is bad. It changes the character of a place. If you are at the coast and the weather turns stormy you are in luck: crashing waves and dramatic skies make for awesome images.
9. Sunglasses polariser
If you really want to add some punch to your images, then get a polarising filter. It is the one filter every photographer should have handy for landscapes and general outdoor shooting. By reducing glare and unwanted reflections, polarised shots have richer, more saturated colours, especially in the sky. If your digital camera can't accommodate filters but you have a pair of quality sunglasses, then take them off and use them as your filter.
10. Assess your photographs
Do an honest assessment of your shoot. How could you have improved it? Did you have a game plan and how did that play out? What would you do differently? Also, don't forget to congratulate yourself for what went right!