Three trips to London just to get one image right: I hope it was worth it!

Unless they’ve been living under a rock, it would have been difficult for anyone in the UK to miss the fact that the Olympic Games took place in London recently and that Team GB and Northern Ireland (Team UK surely?) did rather well.  In true British style, many of us (myself included) were deeply cynical about many of the decisions made by the Olympic organisers (I still think that the ticketing was a mess, and that sponsors got a little too much brand exclusivity for their money) but, as the medals came flowing in, our positions softened and the nation came together as one in a way that I honestly don’t think I’ve seen before.  Strangers spoke to one another in the streets (where I live in rural Buckinghamshire that’s normal – at least on weekdays when the commuters are at work – but not in London) and the universal common denominator of comment was no longer the British weather but the success of Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Katherine Grainger or one of the many other athletes who have become household names this summer.

Less broadly publicised (although the Mayor of London Presents website is a good resource) were some of the surrounding events taking place in London during the Olympic (and Paralympic) Games and it was purely by chance that I attended a London Bloggers Meetup for a photo walk along the Thames taking in the light shows on many of London’s landmarks.  Actually, I didn’t really manage to attend – I started out with the group but, because I’m a photographer first and blogger second, I fell behind, missed the boat and ended up on my own photo walk (I still got a set of photos that I was pretty pleased with). Except for one of them, showing the Union Flag projected on the side of the Houses of Parliament, which looked OK in camera but was pretty awful when I got it loaded into Lightroom.

I know a bad workman blames his tools but that image is really fuzzy on one side – spoiled by my 24-85mm f2.8-4D lens which seemed good when I used to shoot on film, or on a cropped-sensor DSLR (my old D70) but which has shown itself to be very soft around the edges (especially at zoomed out and at wide apertures) since I switched to a full frame D700. Nikon say this there is nothing wrong with the lens (they still charged me a chunk of money to service it though) but Ken Rockwell also found it lacking in sharpness in his review so I’d have to say it’s a design “feature”, not a “bug”.

A return trip to London a couple of days later with my family (sans DSLR and tripod but with my Coolpix P7100) gave me another go, which was better, but the P7100 just doesn’t have the low-light performance of my DSLR. With a couple of trips to the Paralympic Games planned (as well as a photography weekend coming up in North Yorkshire), I decided to splash out on a new lens (Nikon 50mm f1.4D) but only had one opportunity to shoot the projections on Parliament again.  The original Olympic show ended with the Olympic Games, but a re-worked version is currently running for the Paralympic Games, except that I’m busy at the weekends, and it’s not on this week because Parliament is in session. That left me with two possible evenings to try and get the shot and, as Amazon delivered my new lens so quickly, last Wednesday I was back in London for a wander around Westminster, culminating in lots of night shots on and around the Thames. This time I think I nailed the shot (I hope so anyway!) but it took two hours (8 viewings of the projection on a 15 minute loop) before I was confident I had the image(s) I wanted in the bag.

The final problem is that, when shooting the projection, the clock face of “Big Ben” is just too bright and the highlights are burned out. Unfortunately, the minus one stop exposure that suited the projections onto Parliament was not enough for Big Ben – and that needed to be underexposed by closer to 4 or 5 stops. Thankfully I was able to take two images in the few seconds during which the Union Flag was projected onto Parliament, grabbing shots at -1EV and -4EV (both at an aperture of f4 and using the same focus point). Then, working in Photoshop, I layered the two images, with the darker one on top, and created a mask to hide all but the clock face of Big Ben, allowing the main elements of the -1EV image to show and the composite image to be correctly exposed.

Union Flag on the Houses of Parliament/Paralympic Projections (9)

This is the resulting image and, although a wider angle would have been preferable (as would have been twilight rather than a pitch black sky), I can’t have everything, the weather was kind to me, and I’d rather have a sharp, correctly exposed, image!

Leave a Reply