Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Enjoying photography and dreams of the Northern Lights

Since Mr J gifted me a DSLR some years ago, I've known I'm only using a small part of its ability. Auto.
I have been on a photography class at Center Parcs (without said DSLR) where it all made sense, but nothing stuck.
As well as a few 'moving to manual' workshops as part of blogging conferences.
It all makes complete sense. But my brain as basically just responded with "computer says 'no'."
I got to the stage where I decided my brain could not balance the three fundamentals of a manual camera.

Being invited to a blogger session at Chapter Arts Centre for a Transun Photography Workshop was a fantastic opportunity which, in spite of a day's work in Birmingham, was grasped with both hands.

Transun specialise in holidays to see the Northern Lights, so ensuring people can capture their memories is a priority. And so the focus of the evening was around capturing perfect night light images.

Being able to take my camera along was the first bonus.
And, led by Simon from Iguana Photography, it was great to appreciate in real time how the settings changed, and what are safe options, and which can make maximum impact.

Speed, aperture and ISO are the three aspects which my brain has not been able to balance.
Although as neatly captured by Liska, evidence the penny dropped:

The session, focused on night time photography, allowed me to understand the benefit of shutter speed, the ability of the camera to capture as much light as possible. I also discovered from a practical outside session that leaving the focus on auto can work, but not necessarily, so if moving to manual it really is better to go wholeheartedly, and commit.

Fortunately for me, one who does not cope well with failure, this session got lots of quick wins to build confidence. From an indoor demonstration which, by playing with long exposure:
So with your camera adapted to these settings, you can take photographs (think November 5th!) like this:
And then, with positivity bottled, we went outside and tried to capture the Arts Centre, and (after quite a few attempts with my settings) I was proud to see how far playing with the three elements could take me:
 And then, Simon took us one step further in really appreciating the art of night photography:

And, I've walked away inspired, enough- when not photographing my children- to play with manual settings.
I remain a realist. I do not want to compromise photos of my children having experimented with manual settings.
But having the scenery we do on the Welsh Coast, and with Bonfire Night approaching, I really want to take the tips and hints gained and take my gradual steps to manual photography.

And so, what tips did I learn that I really would feel confident passing on? Hmmmm, here goes:

  • For night photography, use a tripod, or anything (pillar, post...) to offer balance rather than relying on your non-jittery hands.
  • ISO is usually the final consideration- play with aperture and speed first. 200 is a stable choice in the first instance.
  • Long shutter speeds will capture more light, but require steady hands.
  • The F.stop is your depth of field, which will get things in focus up front with blurry backgrounds, or get everything in focus, 2.8 gets you a good focus. Less gets the upfront things in focus, higher gets more in focus.
Thank you to Transun and Joe Blogs for organising the event, and to Simon for offering his tips and expertise.


  1. It was a really great session and I learnt a lot which I am desperate to practise again.

  2. If you want some local help then holla. Mr Williams aka Cariad Images aka fellow twin daddy!


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