in focus

juggling numbers...

hengistbury head, pre-dawn

I think I will always prefer sunrises - for multiple reasons.

The air is so much clearer and cleaner, especially when at the water's edge. The quality of light is usually so much crisper. Both of these probably due to the lack of pollution that we humans haven't been able to churn into the atmosphere yet.

I also quite like the thought of me being the only person (or certainly one of only a few) to witness the event. For those who know Hengistbury Head, there is a good number of beach huts behind where I'm stood to make this image, with manyhuts exhibiting signs of overnight occupation. Yet I appear to be the only (concious) human...

Sunsets you can watch the weather progress through the day and then make that yay or nay decision later on. Sunrises don't give you that option, and are "in it to win it" events. For those of us who are paranoid about missing them, this usually results in being onsite well over an hour before sunrise which, in this instance, meant a stupid o'clock alarm call (and I was awake before the alarm went off).

What I really like about sunrises though is the rarity of me coming home with the image I had in mind. Now that might sound a rather odd statement, but when the clock is ticking and the sky is constantly changing and not always doing as predicted, you have to think fast and adapt to what's in front of you - which is a kind of pressure I enjoy!

While waiting to see if the weather lived up to the promised forecast, I started looking at cloud movement, light levels, tide etc. It was a pretty calm morning, so I needed to stretch the shutter speed to smooth out the sea and add some interest to the dark clouds.

Time for a long exposure!

Having tried various compositions, I settled on this view and liked the grass leading to rock leading to soon-to-be smooth water, with a wonky marker basket and a distant Isle of Wight.

Having balanced the exposure with a neutral density grad filter and removing any sparkle from any wet rocks and the sea, I slid the Big Stopper into the filter holder. If you've never seen a Big Stopper filter, it's like a square of welding goggle glass that's so dark you can barely see through it (and nor can most cameras which throws another issue into the mix).

Before sliding the Big Stopper in, I took a meter reading at my default f/11 ISO100 settimgs and switched to Manual. I knew the resultant exposure would be beyond any preset camera timings and would have to hold the shutter open.

The reading gave me a shutter speed of 1 sec. When you add in the light loss of 10-stops from the Big Stopper, plus another stop for the Polariser filter, we were now looking at an exposure time of 34 minutes!

That wasn't going to work a) I'd miss the sunrise which was about 20 minutes away, and my battery would probably give up the ghost.

Dropping to f/8, and so allowing double the light in, I was down to 17 minutes - still too long. Doubling the ISO to ISO200 halved this, but I needed shorter still. Moving to ISO400 gave me the 4-minute exposure you see here (captured at 5:28am).

As the light levels rose, I was juggling ISO values and aperture settings to try and capture other versions, but 4 minutes gave the most pleasing result and an image I'm very happy with - it's just nothing like the colourful sky reflected in the smooth surf with some rocks on the edge that I'd gone for - and I'm really happy with that :)

If you've ever been on a workshop with me, you'll know my preference for 'traditional' aperture values of f/5.6, f/8, f/11 etc to double / halve light levels. When doing the same with ISO values, it's really easy to juggle these shutter speeds in your head. Yes, there are Apps, but simple doubling / halving allows you to enjoy the view and not stress over a phone...

Exposure information: 240 secs at f/8, ISO400

Filters used: 0.6 Medium Neutral Density Grad, Circular Polariser, Big Stopper (10-stop) ND.


To see a larger version of this image, please click here.


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