Archive for the 'Blue Hour Photography' Category

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It’s just a jump to the left …

Clifton Beach and Lions Head, Cape Town

… and another jump to the left. Or a skip if you prefer. If you got that right, you should now be facing 180 degrees from the view of the Twelve Apostles that I posted recently. I promised the about-face view and here it is. Pretty awesome, huh?

This view takes in the magnificent beaches of Clifton, numbered First through Fourth Beach, with Clifton Fourth being closest to the camera, and Lion’s Head in the background. At full moon you will see dozens of torches marking the route up Lion’s Head as hikers head up for a night time view. The Clifton water is very, very cold, and can drop below 10 degrees Celsius … come mid-winter the crazies gather here for the annual Polar Bear Swim. You would probably want to be our local human polar bear, Lewis Gordon Pugh, to really enjoy swimming here for more than a rapid squeal-inducing and instantly-numbing dip.

This photo, and the Twelve Apostles view, were both taken quite a few months ago, in the middle of winter on an unseasonably pleasant day. Now that summer has arrived and one would expect, nay, demand, that the weather be perfect, it is no longer cooperating at all, and I feel I must have wronged it somehow.

Every recent opportunity to spend the evening after work in this exact location has been thwarted by gale force winds. We’ve had barely minutes to contemplate the five sand-blasted nutters on the beach, and lone sad yacht with mast at 45 degrees, before conceding defeat and doing a runner back home for Star Wars and pizza. Perhaps a weather dance is required? Or the sacrifice of some G&T?

But I live in hope of better weather, and more chance to photograph here without having to lash down the tripod with all the tow-rope and industrial epoxy I can muster from my boot.


Before and After

This gives a great indication of how HDR can really get stuck into those under-exposed shadow areas and reveal all the detail and texture hiding in there. This was a three exposure bracket at -2, 0 and +2 exposure settings, combined later in Photomatix. The shots were taken just after sunset, during that blue hour when colours deepen and richen with the diminishing twilight. A tripod was essential with the low light conditions, and I used the lowest ISO possible to minimize sensor noise. Noise likes to accumulate most in the under-exposed parts of the image, and is amplified by HDR, so I keep the ISO set to 100, and applied noise reduction later to my preliminary HDR image as the first step of my post-processing workflow, using my personal favourite noise reduction Photoshop plugin, Nik Dfine 2.

Clifton Beach and Lions Head, Cape TownClifton Beach and Lions Head, Cape Town

The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay


Last time I showed you a favourite spot of mine at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Here is another Cape Town favourite, about 10 minutes from home in the other direction. When leaving home, the important decision making process goes something like this:

  • lazy afternoon? go to Kirstenbosch with a book
  • sundowner time? go and sit right on top of this rock with a glass of wine
  • bad weather? stay in and watch Barney Stinson do his thing

If you were a therapist, unless you were being tactful, you would probably say that this post is a slightly sad case of wish fulfillment. You see, we had planned to go and sit here yesterday evening after work to watch the sun go down and let the stress of the week wash off. We had popcorn, chips, gin, tonic, basically all the ingredients of a healthy meal, but the weather didn’t come to the party. The wind has been howling at gale force the last few days, so even standing here was quite tricky. I know, because we tried! But our endurance lasted about five minutes. Never mind, there’s always next week, and neeeext week (which is what we call the one after that in Cape Town, you know, the neeeeext one).

This view is of the Twelve Apostles, which is that range of buttresses looming over Camps Bay below. I’ve tried to count all twelve, but I’m not really getting it. It’s just after sunset, which is when you get that beautiful period of ‘blue hour’ when all the colors soften and richen. This is a three exposure HDR, taken on a tripod, and I was able to use the HDR technique to get a good exposure on both the foreground rocks and the sky. That’s Venus up in the sky, by the way. The image was a little softer off the camera than it ought to be, which puzzled me immensely, until I found I had done enough traveling with my lens that the front element was unscrewing itself. A whole day of puzzling and testing and googling, but the solution took 2 secs. In this case, I think the softness suits the soft light and tones.

If you turn 90 degrees from this view it’s just sea all the way to Rio de Janeiro, and another 90 degrees is an equally beautiful view of Clifton and Lion’s Head, but I’m keeping that for a future post. Stay tuned!

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