As many of you know, I spent the last week of January in London, and what many of you probably don't know is that I LOVE London. The people, the food (yeah, I said it. The food in London has really become fantastic and we had some great meals) and most of all the architecture. I love the buildings. Each and every one of them look like they could be the focus of a beautiful photo. I love how you could go into a Starbucks (not that I did) and it could be housed inside of a thousand-year-old building. I mean the Starbucks I often go to near my office is in a building that's nine years old. So when I found out I'd be going to London, I made sure to pack in a way that would allow me to bring my photo equipment. I even got a new bag for the trip that would allow me to bring everything I needed for photography but in a smaller bag. I went with the Lower Pro Runner 200 AW Backpack and I'm really glad I did. It's the perfect size for my camera and the three lenses I wanted to bring, which included the honking 70-200 2.8, which as you might now, is a pretty big lens. After the lenses there's still room for some extra batteries, the charger, memory cards and a case with some filters. It's a great bag for traveling and I highly recommend it. Not too big, not too small... just right.
Anyway, let's get to the photo. I chose this photo today because I have received a lot of questions about it and, frankly, it was a bit of a challenging photo to take.
To be honest, I thought pictures of the Parliament building and Big Ben all pretty much look the same. From this distance, there isn't a whole lot of options for shooting the building. You can just get Big Ben, or get the bridge and the clock, or part of the building and end with the clock, but I've always wanted to have a few good photos of this building. Ever since I first visited London, I wanted to come and get this shot and this was my opportunity. So, even though I didn't love the creativity needed for this shot, I really wanted the photo.
To make it a little different, I decided to make a panorama. For more info on how to make a panoramic image like this, type "pano" in the search box above and my previous blog posts on the subject should come up. Anyway, I decided to shoot a pano. Now, in order to get the soft, silky water I knew I was going to have to use some pretty long exposures which means having a really good tripod is a requirement. I took 7 photos, all overlapping by about a third and took them vertically to allow for the most leeway when using Photoshop to put them all together. If you shoot horizontally, you have less photo at the top and bottom to work with. When you use a good tripod, this is less of an issue since you're pretty much staying on the same horizontal plane, but it's still a good idea. I shot in manual mode so my camera wouldn't change the exposure if one image was a big brighter or darker than the others. If I shot on Aperture Priority, I'd run the risk of having different exposures for one or more of the photos, and when you try to stitch them all together you'll run into problems. Problems that can be fixed, but it's harder than it needs to be. So I shot each photo at 25 sec at f/18 and ISO 100. To get the 25 seconds I had to use a ND filter because it was already too bright when I took this shot. For this image I used a 10-stop ND filter from Hoya and it worked like a charm. I chose this exposure to have the shutter open long enough to make the water look soft and creamy but also so I didn't have the aperture closed down all the way to f/22 to maintain maximum sharpness.
Some people asked how I got that soft even blue sky. Well, this photos was taking at around 6:00 in the morning, so the sun hadn't come up yet. This is what we call the blue hour, which in the morning is before the golden hour and makes for really interesting and beautiful photos. I think photos look really sharp and clean at this time. 30 minutes later, the light totally changed and looked like this photo below.
So now the question is, if I was taking 25 sec exposure, how did I get that boat to be so sharp? At 25 sec, it should just be a blur whizzing by, right? So did I take a fast exposure of just the boat and use Photoshop to put it in? Nope! Wanna know the secret? Okay, but don't tell anybody... the boat wasn't moving. It was anchored right there in front of the building. Worked out great, huh?
After using Photoshop to stitch all the photos together and then to add some contrast and sharpness, erase a few dust spots on my sensor and clean-up some of the ugly scafolding that you can see still on the left of the photo... Voila! You can see the final image above and I really dig it. I've waited a long time to get it and it was totally worth it. Of course half the fun is getting up early, taking photos, then walking to the Borough Street Market for breakfast and coffee. It's amazing how much a hot cup of coffee can improve your photo taking abilities on a freezing cold, London morning.