Archive for the 'Blue Hour Photography' Category

Dolphin Beach

Table Mountain from Dolphin Beach


Table Mountain from Dolphin Beach

After feeling bad that I was neglecting my bag of Lee filters, I managed to get outdoors and use them for the second time in one week.

It’s been pouring with rain in Cape Town the last couple of days, and roads are turning to rivers, but fortunately the day before the rain started produced a brilliant sunset. On a tipoff from a photographer friend that the clouds would be good, I left work a bit early and braved the rush hour traffic to Dolphin Beach with its picture-postcard view of Table Mountain. Man, it’s stressful to be watching the sun going down while stuck in gridlock traffic, trying to get to the beach in time. But I did make it in time, and spent a good hour and a half snapping away several hundred shots. Everything just calms down the moment you get your legs (and your tripod’s legs) in the water and see this view. What a great city to live in!

There’s something super relaxing about shooting with filters. When you’re choosing between several filters and combos, assembling filter holders and adapter rings, all while trying not to get sand and fingerprints everywhere, you just need to slow right down. Then, once your kit is all assembled and your composition chosen, its just a matter of shooting away as the light changes and making sure the sea doesn’t wash all your expensive kit away. Getting your filters right also saves a huge amount of time on Photoshop later, with less or no need to combine multiple images to get the exposure right. I must have only spent ten minutes processing this image later that evening.

This shot was taken after the sun had already gone down, all the dog walkers had left, and the magical blue hour had started. I enjoy the way the slow shutter speed blurs the water.


Slangkop Lighthouse

Slangkop Lighthouse, Cape Town


Slangkop Lighthouse, near Kommetjie, Cape Town

My wife Lorna and I took a drive out to Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie this weekend hoping for some good sunset photography. It was a fun drive through the beautiful Chapman’s Peak, watching the storm clouds over the ocean, but it ended up being pretty cold and bleak at Kommetjie with not much break in the clouds. Still, it was fun to experiment with my under-utilised Lee filters and try some long exposure shots. This one was a thirty second exposure in rapidly falling light, and blurred the clouds and water in an interesting way. These big glass filters are fiddly and slippery things, and I’m waiting to drop one on a rock. That will be a sad and expensive day.

According to my googling, Slangkop (‘snake head’) is the tallest cast iron lighthouse on the South African coast. It started operation in 1919 and is the fourth most powerful lighthouse in the country. I hadn’t realised that lighthouses could be pre-fab cast iron structures, and it was interesting seeing close up that what I had always assumed was a masonry structure was actually made of large metal panels.

I have a slight niggle. I took this shot during the beautiful ‘blue hour’ period, just after sunset, when the sky fills with rich and mysterious blue tones. But if I shoot in black and white, can I still call it a blue hour shot?


Slow Motion Dusk

Clifton Dusk

The evening star rising over Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa

I had some fun last week with my new neutral density filters. For those who don’t know them, they allow you to do a couple of cool things, and this photo features two different kinds. The first is a common or garden variety neutral density filter, which just looks like a sheet of dark grey glass. It uniformly reduces the light to the camera, allowing one to take longer exposures than normal. This shot was a several minute exposure which is why the sea is starting to smooth out and the clouds have become smudgey. The second kind of neutral density filter I used here is a gradient neutral density filter. This is a piece of glass where half is clear, and half is dark grey to reduce light. You position it so that the grey part is over the sky, and the change from clear to grey is exactly on the horizon. This lets you balance the exposure of the sea and the sky. If you don’t do it, you’ll find that the sky will overexpose and be too bright. It’s the old fashioned alternative to using HDR.

For those who care about the technicalities, I used a Lee 0.9 ND Filter combined with a Lee 0.9 Hard Grad ND. It was a 180 second exposure at f8. I had to photoshop Venus back into a dot shape, because it had turned into quite a light trail after that amount of time.

The photo was taken from the rocks at Clifton Fourth Beach on a chilly autumn evening. It’s hard to see, but the spikey edge to the dark rocks is actually dozens of roosting sea birds.

Kogel Bay at Dusk

Kogelbaai at Sunset


View of Kogel Bay at Dusk

After spending a relaxing day out at Rooi Els, a coastal village just beyond the corner of the mountain in the distance, we stopped at the very picturesque Kogel Bay for a sunset photo opportunity.

Kogel Bay has sadly been in the news recently for the tragic great white shark attack on bodyboarder, David Lilienfeld.

I’ve been curious for a while about how Kogel Bay got its name. Kogel is Dutch for bullets and musket balls and things like that. It’s been suggested that the early Dutch settlers at the Cape thought that the round boulders common on this stretch of coastline resembled cannon balls, hence the name Kogel Bay. I even read a description that suggested that the round boulders rolling around in the waves sound like cannon balls loose on the deck of a pitching ship, but I didn’t find any noisy boulders like that on the day I went.

Nor any sharks fortunately.


Before and After

No Photomatix was used in the making of this image. But even so this is sort of, but not quite, an HDR. I took two exposures, one for the sky and one for the rocks, and blended them by hand. This effectively expands the tonal range of the image like HDR does, but in a far more subtle and controlled way than Photomatix.

After that I used some selective contrast, saturation and sharpening to make the image pop.


Kogelbaai at Sunset (before)Kogelbaai at Sunset

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul


This is the world above Istanbul.

In the old city of Sultanahmet the streets are thrumming with tourists and markets and restaurants and vendors at most times of the day or night. This lively ground level is replicated up in the sky, where every hotel jostles to have the highest roof terrace with some view of the minarets and the sea. This roofscape is the world that tourists inhabit for breakfast and dinner and sundowner drinks, and perhaps reach a vague nodding acquaintance with their counterparts on the adjacent roof terraces.

This was the view from our particular terrace one beautiful dusk in autumn last year. That’s the Blue Mosque in the background, just a few minutes walk away. A benefit of staying this close to the Blue Mosque (apart from it being one of the great buildings of the world, of course) was waking every morning to the beautifully evocative call to prayer. There are apparently some 3,000 mosques in Istanbul and it’s quite impressive when they all start the call just before dawn. It makes you remember that you are somewhere very exotic and far from home from the moment you wake up each morning.

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