When the night has come …And the land is dark …And the moon is the only light we see
Stand by me, Ben E. King
This blog post follows on from yesterdays as it’s one of the images from Dinas Bran (or Crow Crag) castle that I was talking about. Obviously Dinas Bran is the Welsh, and original, name but I must admit to liking Crow Crag; I have no idea if the Welsh name translates directly to the English but either way is a great name for a castle, particularly one from the mid 13th century. As I said in the blog yesterday I have attempted to photograph Dinas Bran before with limited success. After two attempts I now realise that this is one of those rare occasions when an overcast day or an early morning is required as the castle is so close to the mountains that the sun sets behind that the sunlight in the afternoon is harsh and unforgiving, even when compensating for exposure. This time I got to the top of the peak where the castle is late afternoon, around 3.30 pm; even then the sun was still going strong. Being a lovely day there was a lot of people up there – walkers and photographers – but I decided to hang around and wait until the sun had finally disappeared beyond the mountains.
Once the sunlight has gone then time is of the essence. The sun may have disappeared but residual light still remains before it finally vanishes over the sea-level horizon. It is this residual light that enables you to take photographs at all during the magic hour or, to use a Middle English term, the gloaming. Isn’t language great? Gloaming is such an evocative word and fits what it describes so well. Here’s the dictionary definition:
gloaming [ˈgləʊmɪŋ] n
Poetic twilight or dusk
[Old English glōmung, from glōm; related to Old Norse glāmr moon]
For a 13th century castle this fits quite nicely, as does its description as ‘poetic’. Dusk is a great word as well (and the name of a much underrated album by The The), although ‘twilight’ is now saddled with far more sillier baggage. It may be a while before anyone can use the word ‘twilight’ again without conjuring up the world of fey, grey, bloodless, sexless, six-packed vampires.
As you know, it’s impossible for me to get too technical on this blog as I would quickly be exposed as not knowing what I am talking about but I would hope that it is now obvious to regular readers that you cannot take pictures in fading light without a) using a tripod or b) dialling the camera’s ISO number up really high.* For this image I used a tripod to ensure that no camera shake could be introduced and also so that I could shoot at a low ISO number. I do not have a particularly good tripod (that’s next on the list of expensive camera equipment I covet) but the cheap and cheerful one I do have is OK for the time being.
So, believe it or not, this picture was taken in the dark, the exposure lasting 8 seconds. This is why it looks the way it does. You can tell its dark as the street lights are on in the town of Llangollen below but the fading light has a really interesting effect on colours. The light hitting the camera sensor here is residual light still visible over the tops of the hills despite the sun having gone; in addition there is reflected moonlight – as I said yesterday the moon was out all day on Saturday and very, very bright despite only half of it being visible. The result of this is that the sky takes on those marvellous purple and blue tones and the grass is that mustardy green. This is the same technique I used to take my not-quite-award-winning picture of Chester cathedral. With that picture I just lucked out; I just happened to be there at exactly the right moment. This picture was planned and hopefully it shows. It also works marvellously well in black and white.
Here are a couple more images that I took at the same time; one has a nice little Star Trek vibe going on but without Joan Collins:
That’s it for today. Comments are very welcome (as always) as are requests for print quotes [shameless plug]
*Technical bit: The ISO number indicates how fast a camera’s image sensor absorbs light. Therefore, in low light, increasing the ISO number will mean that the camera’s ability to absorb light in the dark is increased. But there is a payoff. Increased ISO means increased noise (grain) in your images because to take a picture in low light the shutter needs to stay open for longer and, therefore, the slightest motion results in image blur. Put simply, when hand-holding a camera if the subject of your picture moves when you are using a slow shutter speed then they will appear blurred (assuming that is that you manage to keep the camera stable). If you don’t manage to keep the camera stable when hand holding then the entire photo will be blurred (also referred to as camera shake). So increasing the ISO helps to protect against blur but the higher the ISO number the greater the noise. Modern DSLRs are getting better and better at reducing grain at high ISO numbers when hand holding the camera but if you want true image sharpness then a tripod is the only way to go.