The best laid plans of mice and men as they say. As photographers we often plan the hell out of shoots only to find our plans lie in ruin when we arrive on site. Very often this is because of the weather, rain, dull light and wind can all contribute to making us feel very negative about a shoot. Sometimes however perseverance is the key, to coin an oft used phrase, Keep Calm and Carry On.
A couple of years back I did a travel photoshoot of Ghent and Bruges in northern Belgium. Both gorgeous cities, the shoot was in early September. This is often a fine time of the year for photography in the northern hemisphere. Indeed my three days in Ghent were perfect, great light, beautiful locations and some fine beer to boot. Arriving in Bruges, just 30 minutes north, the weather had changed. It had become overcast, dull and very uninspiring. Still, I went ahead with my planned shoot and this is how it panned out.
My chosen location for the my first Bruges shoot was one of the iconic ones. The junction of Rozenhoedkaai and Braambergstraat overlooking the Dijver Canal. This location gave a beautiful view of both the Belfry of Bruges in one direction. In the other, the Church of Our Lady. Both are great looking shots and with a camera on a tripod you can simply pan between the two as the light changes to suit. The problem was the light.
The weather was not bad, but the light was. It was that mid to low dank overcast that often covers northern Europe making even black and white shots look poor. I had arrived late afternoon. On Saturday's this means thousands of tourists all vying for space in the limited corner to shoot the same scene. Having found a good spot, I waited for the tourists to vacate it and firmly planted my flag there, aka my tripod.
Of course many of you who shoot with tripods, will know that far from keeping people away, they are tourist magnets. Soon I was surrounded by people not only trying to line up the same shot as me on their iPhones but also interrupting me and asking me to take their photo. Combined with the dull light I was beginning to feel quite negative about the whole thing. As I only had three days and the weather had the possibility of livening up, I persevered.
Getting the Shot
The plan had always been to shoot from late afternoon, through the golden hour into the blue hour. As mentioned the late afternoon was pretty dull and uninspiring. The golden hour was very much the same, the overcast blocking any golden sunlight that might have been around. Towards the end of the golden hour though, there was a sudden break in the clouds in the direction of the Belfry. With the camera locked off, I started to shoot 5 image, 2/3rd stop brackets. The sky was still dull but by using a graduated 3 stop ND, I was able to punch out some of the late golden hour colour into it.
As the sun finally dropped, the light slipped into mediocrity once more until the lights on the buildings began to come on. One by one, the different buildings starts to take on an attractive look. At the same time the evening sky started to drift into a beautiful deep blue. The scene was set for a nice picture at last. I kept the camera locked off on the tripod, with the exact scene I wanted and simply fired away 5 shot brackets every 30 seconds as the blue hour turned to night. You gain an instinct for images that you know are going to work, even if on screen they looked nothing special. The last 20 minutes of the shoot had all the hallmarks of a good shot but I would not truly know until I got them into Lightroom.
I travel light and so my kit was minimal. The main camera was a Fuji X-Pro 1 and I was using the beautiful XF 14mm f2.8 on it. It was mounted on a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod whose weight benefits were nullified by a quite heavy Manfrotto ball head. In reserve and handheld for other shots was a Fuji X100s. Images were shot in both RAW and JPEG, the latter giving me a decent preview for the post production.
The shoot was finally edited once I got home using Lightroom. Virtually none of the early shots were that great. However with some manipulation and selective editing, several of the late golden hour shots looked great. As I thought the blue hour shots really worked and one or two in particular have gone on to produce very good sales for me.
The moral of this story, light can change and if your time is limited don’t give up, a great shot might be just minutes away.
If you would like to see a detailed rundown of Jason's editing of this image that has gone on to be of his best sellers, then there is a special on his video tutorial until Monday. Grab it here while it lasts.
Hi Jason ,
my name is Filip and I wanna ask you a few things if I may. I’m no pro, but I’m learning.
How did you enhance the only yellow light or only blue light in the last two photographs? I think it’s a great focus of it.
And did you stand there all day and part of the night so you could capture the building in its full spectrum ?
Best regards, Filip.
The colour was enhanced mainly from the white balance tool but using a few other tricks too. I was at the location for about four to five hours in total. The camera was set up on the tripod all the time but fortunately there was a wall to sit on so I did not have to stand all the time
Jason, your photos are beautiful and your post processing is incredible. One question regarding white balance, when taking in RAW, do you use auto white balance and adjust in Lightroom? Some photographers I know shoot in Kelvin scale . They say that light and balance is more realistic. Please give me your opinion.