I caught up with a friend of mine in Melbourne city and brought my camera with me just in case. Neither of us had any real plans for the day - he was going to capture some portraits and I... well... I was going to bring my camera to the city.
I figured that 'if I've got it here, I might as well use it' and decided that I would try to capture nothing but long exposure images. Not something I am used to doing in the city. I thought it would be a bit of fun. It was, and in hindsight, I stumbled across some compositions that I would like to revisit with more time. Setting yourself a challenge can give you some direction as a photographer in an otherwise crowded environment rife with hidden compositions.
The idea is simple. The execution is the fun part.
I feel that it's at this stage that I should mention that all of these images have had only a very, very quick retouch and were shot purely for the purpose of personal enjoyment/this blog. Most of the images in this blog were captured using a Nisi ND 1000 (10 stop neutral density filter).
I captured the below image of Princes Bridge while battling against busy crowds coming and going from the Hokusai exhibition at the NGV (which I strongly recommend). Every time I stop here and get out the kit, someone will stop and jam their face into the LCD screen to see the image before I even get the chance. Quality Melbourne quirks that make shooting the city a bit of a laugh.
There are a few things that I like about this composition:
- The obvious leading lines up the Yarra River
- The iconic Eureka Skydeck that dominates the skyline and creates a middle-ground that pulls the eye across the sky and into the tall buildings in the background
- The late afternoon sun lights up the riverbanks and pulls the eye through the image as well
Walking back from Princes Bridge towards the main CBD (conscious that there were portraits to be taken by my camera-wielding friend), we noticed that there was a temporary ice skating rink set up near Federation Square. Immediately, I sensed the opportunity to capture a long exposure of some elegant skating. Before we even crossed the road, the sun bouncing off the glass of Melbourne's office buildings took centre stage. I set up in the back corner of the taxi-rank outside Flinders St Station and captured only one frame. Again, I was looking for layers in this image that would pull the eye through it - the road leads to the right-turn arrow which moves into the tram and up the image to the buildings in the background. It's a simple shot but I think it's effective.
What made the frame for me:
- Trails from the passing trams
- Ghosting from a tram that came and went
- Gorgeous, bright reflections from the sun on the buildings
An added bonus of long exposing in the city is that you can complete eliminate people from your images. If I had've timed this differently, or shot multiple frames, I could've removed any light trails or ghosting effects and made the scene feel completely still and barren - something that can look quite haunting in b&w.
We went to the ice skating rink. We couldn't even get a look-in past the crowds in the area. I think most of it was the line for the hot Milo van, but it was more than we felt like battling against. Sparked by the want for coffee, I stopped quickly to catch a few passing vehicles looking down Flinders St. Exact same settings as the previous photograph - including accidental fumble on the shutter timer to go 1 second over but in a minute-long exposure, it isn't going to make too drastic of a difference.
What caught my eye:
-The light reflecting off the buildings opposite me
-The very drawn out vanishing point that allowed for a long vehicle trail without it dominating the scene
The next two are not images are not what I would usually capture but that's half the fun of shooting just for yourself and not for your body of work. After a quick refuel, we strolled through Degraves St and I stopped quickly to capture something that I felt was quintessentially Melbourne - the convergence of old and new, traffic and pedestrians, architecture and graffiti - you get the point. I followed it up with something equally as quintessentially Melbourne - a tram.
Why stop for this?
-Lots of horizontal lines that create layers in the frame
-The converging lines of the alleyway draw viewing down towards the person walking
-The person walking towards the camera keeps the eye in the centre of the frame and makes a great starting point to move around the image
This was the only image that I had a good amount of time to stop and wait for. So why?
-I like the way that the tram bursts through the scene
-It was a challenge to get a tram unimpeded by passersby - patience is a virtue in these situations
In recent years, Melbourne has had some great initiatives. We've added on-the-spot bicycles for hire, free transport via tram in the CBD, communal gardens, and free tour guides. The bright green jackets that they wear cause them to stand out for obvious reasons and I had a chance moment of a guide passing through my frame at the same time as a bright red car. It made for some pleasing complimentary colours to liven up an otherwise lacklustre frame.
For the next two images, I chose the colour version to feature in this blog as it fitted better with the rest of the set. For both, I have included the b&w and the colour image underneath to highlight how different the dynamics of the scene can become just by choosing to remove colour. I know my preference, but I'll let you decide...
What else was worth it?
- I love the arches along Chinatown (Lt Bourke)
- The subject is bold and stationary, it is the blurred movements of the rest of the scene that support it
Melbourne has no shortage of interesting buildings to photograph - ranging from the decadent to the ultra-modern. Personally, I really enjoyed trying to battle the crowds to photograph the timeless architecture of one of Melbourne's more prominent buildings, the State Library.
Compositionally, this image could be better and I could have repositioned to remove some of the buildings emerging from the Library. So... What worked?
- I like the convergence of the steps toward the building
- The statue adds a layers to the frame and a sense of grandeur
- It's a wonderfully symmetrical building and frames quite nicely, even in a lightning-fast set up like this
- Playing stop and wait with selfie-taking tourists is a good pass-time.. there are always some interesting poses
I ran into a plethora of difficulties along the way - people standing in front of the camera, traffic not moving when I wanted it to, struggling to find compositions while rushing through the city, and the list goes on. As I wrote at the beginning - the idea is simple enough, the execution wasn't.
In the end, I am happy with the images that I walked away with and I think that for just a bit of fun, and with the small amount of post processing applied, they've turned out quite nicely. This is something that I can see myself doing again in the future to continue exploring the city. The challenge was enjoyable despite the time restriction and I absolutely recommend this as a great way to experiment with filters if you are new to using them.
Below are some unused images, including some from later in the evening at Gertrude Street Projection Festival.
Go out, set yourself a challenge, shoot and enjoy photography.
Thanks for reading.