Last night, I visited Canary Wharf for the Winter Lights Festival, where there are over 30 spectacular light installations and interactive light art to see – and of course photograph. I’ve been once before, a couple of years ago and got some interesting shots, some of which you will find on this site.
This year there seemed to be even more installations. Though the downside from a selfish photographer’s point of view is that the event is getting busier. On the up side, adding people into photographs can provide a good impression of scale.
The challenge for me was to get some night time shots of the lights. Some of the installations lent themselves better to photography than others. This was either because of the location, their position, their size and the number of people crowded around blocking the view. Also, some were more interactive or moving and so would have been better suited to video.
The other challenges I hadn’t really appreciated until it was too late to really do something about them were;
- flicker; although unseen to the human eye, some of the lights flicker which means they can appear “off” if using a reasonable shutter speed. Reducing the shutter speed reduces the chance of recording an “off” state, but increases the chance of blur if you are unable to use a tripod.
- colour casts; although the human eye is good at removing colour casts, the camera is not always. It can get confused on auto-white balance. In some instances, to my eyes, I was seeing vivid colours that the camera caught as entirely different colours. Time didn’t allow me to experiment to see if I could correct this. I had hoped that I could do this in Light Room once I had downloaded the images, but that has not been the case.
The impacts from flicker and colour casts were only noticeable on a couple of the installations in any case. It was interesting to note many smart phones getting in a real pickle with very strong amber colour casts – I am not sure why they bothered!
In the majority of cases I set my camera to manual, keeping the speed up to 1/125, a 5.6 aperture and let the ASA auto “float” up to 8000. I only used my 18-300 Nikon lens. This meant that I could hand hold where I couldn’t really use a tripod. I did occasionally go for some slower settings (2.0 seconds) with a tripod. This was when I was photographing outside where in some instances I wanted to blur the the movement of people against the lights. Although because of the crowds, this wasn’t as successful as I had hoped.
Given the number of people milling about, in most circumstance I took what I could. To get a clear shot without people was very difficult. So in the end I looked to include them into the shot. This meant a different mind set and of course waiting for someone to do something interesting with the installation to enhance the photograph. Using the 18-300 Nikon lens meant that I could stand back from the action and zoom in to crop the shot as desired.
I’ve uploaded a few images from the night. Most of them are can be found here.