Join me on a "Photo Rally"
01 Oct, 2017

Join me on a "Photo Rally"

Being a member of Hedensted Fotoklub has always provided me with a lot of learning and a great social network. Especially a Photo Rally is an excellent photographic challenge where creativity, time pressure, gear experience and competition meets. A Photo Rally is an internal club competition where 2 persons have created a challenge for the entire club to compete against each other.
The creators are also the judges, and the challenge is to complete a series of images based on subjects and any number of restrictions set by the creators. These restrictions is completely individual for every challenge, and can be anything you can think up for a series of images (fx: Must use flash, only 50mm, only one shoot per subject and/or out of camera jpeg without editing).

Follow me on this challenge held on September 28th to get a grasp of what it's all about:
Note: If you want to see the images in higher resolution and detail, you can see them in my gallery entitled Photo Rally 3 - 2017

The organizers asked us to meet up at Vejle Harbour at 19:00 hours to have our subjects and restrictions handed out. The competition starts at 19:10, and if you're late you're out.
The challenge was to create 6 images based on 6 different subjects and return to base no later than 20:45. This time there was very few restrictions as:

  1. You could take as many photo's as you wanted
  2. You could take them in no particular order
  3. We were free to go or drive where ever we wanted.
  4. We had 2 weeks afterwards to edit them is which ever way we wanted

The subjects were:

  1. A detail
  2. No subject restriction (Use of flash required)
  3. Mirror/Reflective image
  4. Something with Color
  5. A building
  6. Light (From a building/streetlight or such - but no Flash)

"A Photo Rally is an excellent photographic challenge where creativity, time pressure, gear experience and competition meets"

My initial thoughts on the challenge:

YAY!! I'm generally a very slow starter, and I can easily spend and hour before anything remotely creative starts to seep into my brain. So only six subjects and few restrictions certainly plays into giving me a little leeway to get started. With 1 hour and 45 minutes available you need to prioritize your time, and being a slow starter I cannot spend time on driving where i'm not even trying to "picture" things in my head based on what I see. So I chose to walk into the city towards the center which I knew would take me by the train/bus station and a mix of office buildings and residential areas. That way I would start seeing potential motives right away. Another thing to keep in mind was that sunset was at 19:00 hours, so we had a bit of the blue hour, and then it would be completely dark. So any images that needed daylight or "fast" exposure needed to be taken first.
Since there was no requirements to the order in which the images should be taken, I decided to simply go with the flow, and see what I would meet. I did have a building in mind for subject number 5, so I took that out of the equation right away. I deemed no subjects in need of daylight, so I chose not to focus on getting images right away, and instead attempt to get my brain slowly into the "zone".
To understand the background leading me to make these descisions, let me just refer you to the "How I work as a photographer" section of my About : So who am I? page.

You should know I sometimes make a major part of my image in post processing - not by altering (add/remove) - but by cropping, adjusting sharpness, colors, shades and highlights. Mostly I have no idea how the image will end up, but by the Thumbnail on the camera screen I can somehow judge if it has potential, and then post processing will show me if I really have a good image. I don't know before then....

"You should know I sometimes make a major part of my image in post processing - not by altering (add/remove) - but by cropping, adjusting sharpness, colors, shades and highlights"

On to the challenge:

After about 40 minutes of completely hopeless wandering and inspiration less shooting with absolutely nothing to refine upon, things started coming together. I hit the train station where my OCD like need to have clean lines and symmetry is better addressed. Usually getting a couple of shots that satisfies this need, gets the rest of me going and I start to see opportunities.

Subject number 4 - Something with Color

I got intrigued by a blue gradient light in a "HAL9000" like manner, and after a couple of shots I decided to get really close and make a very soft and nice blurred background by using a big aperture. Even though it could be done handheld I selected a low ISO and hence a tripod to ensure the cleanest image possible. I composed the shot so it could be used for both subjects 4 and 6. That would give me more options for the remaining evening :-)

The Original: Something with Color The Original: Something with Color

The main difference between what a camera sees and what you see, is how your eye dynamically adjusts the brightness of every object seen so that there's more details in the dark and highlight areas. The camera can only take a liniear measurement of the amount of light in the entire scene. The original is exposed to preserve details in the highlights and as a consequence my onsite experience of this motive is much brighter and warmer/colorfull than the camera image because of this exposure selection. But my Nikon D810 is amazing at allowing for recovery of details in the shadows without introducing noise, so taking the shot like that allows me to recover shadow details to the level of how I saw it at the scene.

The Final image: Something with Color The Final image: Something with Color

This didn't need much post processing apart from adjusting the lights to a "human experience" level - So lifting the shadows and adding a bit of clarity and contrast did the job.

Subject number 3 - Mirror/Reflective Image

The next subject sort of fell into my lab on it's own, as I'm really into lines and symmetric compositions, and stumbled upon a staircase on my way back from doing the first image. It has both lights that reflect/mirror off the wall, and the staircase itself is almost 2 mirrored half's.

The Original:  Mirror/Reflective Image The Original: Mirror/Reflective Image

Actually it's pretty bad work out of camera in terms of composition (I had VERY little space and no flip screen), and the scene is a classic and it's been done a million times. But I kept believing, and I selected a long exposure on my tripod defined by a very little aperture to make the lights blossom and giving me a proper sharpness throughout the scene.

The Final image: Mirror/Reflective Image The Final image: Mirror/Reflective Image

I tried to apply some of my experience based refinements on this one (All within Lightroom's capabilities). So after a bit of cropping and adding a lot of clarity for punch, I de-saturated a few colors, which gives the image a more aggressive photoshop'd look - in this case for the greater good :-)

Subject number 6 - Light (From a building/streetlight or such - but no Flash)

Now time was starting to crimp my style with about 50 min left, and I knew I had a 15 min walk ahead of me. So the pressure was rising, but luckily I had an idea about doing a long exposure at the bus station for subject number 6, and that would be on the way to the building I had in mind for subject number 5. So - to the bus station!

The Original: Light The Original: Light

I did a long exposure to get a really good quality light and a very clean image (no ISO noise) - a wanted side effect in this case is the blurred people which I think adds life to the image. Also, a small aperture was needed to make sure the lights would blossom (sun star) properly.

The Final image: Light The Final image: Light

This required a modest amount of cropping that I could not do on scene by moving myself, as it would place me and my 50mm lens in the middle of the road. Other than that it only really needed the "human experience" adjustments to bring detail to the underexposed dark areas, and then some clarity and contrast.

Subject number 5 - A building

Next up was the building I thought of from the beginning. I didn't have a "finished picture" in my head, but I remembered the interesting upper part of a building that could be interesting. Luckily the lights were still on inside like it used to be so I could bring out the details. I had quite a challenge to position myself to make the picture work, but in the end I succeeded - only to have it start raining right before my exposure....

The Original: A building The Original: A building

I wanted to bring in a bigger part of the building with it's interesting brickwork and signs, so I composed it and made a long exposure for the highlights (to retain detail inside the building where the lights are on). I wanted no ISO noise and I needed a small aperture to make the lights blossom. So a 30 sec exposure at ISO 64 it was. On site it looked fine, and knowing my D810 I was confident there was still plenty of detail in the dark areas even though I would probably have to push it about 4 stops.

The Final Image: A building The Final Image: A building

What I did not plan for was a rain drop sneaking onto my lens in the lower dark areas. Once I started recovering the details it became very visible and ruined the shot :-( So I was forced to crop the lower part of the image away, and focus on the interesting upper part. In the end it didn't ruin anything, as there's a lot of great details and compositional items in that part alone. I had to hit this image a little more aggressively in Lightroom with lots of clarity, some contrast, quite a bit of shadow recovery and some de-saturation to give it that "muted" color look i love. I'm pretty happy with how this turned out in the end.

Subject number 1 - A detail

With the rain coming down hard now and time running out, I started to panic a bit. There was no time to explore too much other than walking the planned return route and look for options. On my way i spotted a leaf lying on the cobblestones, and thought it might make an acceptable subject number 1 (a detail). Not exactly what I would do if I had more time available, but it would have to suffice for now.

The Original: A detail The Original: A detail

There was so many subtle details in the motive, but really really bad lighting. So I used the sharpest aperture my lens had and ISO 64 to avoid any noise. It brought out the details, but unfortunately a little part of it is a bit soft, because the wind moved it about during the long exposure. With time running out, I had no time to give it a few more tries.

The Final Image: A detail The Final Image: A detail

Only minor adjustments for Shadow detail, clarity and color saturation was needed to finish this image. A minor crop was applies to remove the leaf on the left hand side from disturbing. In some ways I could make it even more interesting in black and white, but honestly, the delicate, subtle strange green colors from the bad light has actually grown on me. I did brush the leaf itself with a slight exposure gain, to make it stand out from the background.

Subject number 2 - No subject restriction (Use of flash required)

The last subject was now to be done en route and with only 5 minutes to spare. Honestly my mojo had just about left me here, and seeing the fountain I thought maybe a bit of flashlight fun in the green water, could make for an interesting image. I was wrong...

The Original: No subject restriction (Use of flash required) The Original: No subject restriction (Use of flash required)

I tried to expose the image to show the details in the fountain, and with a depth of field for sharpness across most of the water (and bottom of the pond). I then made it a 30 sec exposure with low ISO, and walked behind the fountain and manually fired the flash 3 times into the water (out of direct sight). I had no time to make several retries and refinements, so this is what I got from my efforts.

The Final Image: No subject restriction (Use of flash required) The Final Image: No subject restriction (Use of flash required)

Adjustments can only get you so far, and this is clearly a situation where it cannot salvage the image. The original composition, motive and overall image is simply to poor to become interesting. I removed as much of the reflections as I could in Lightroom, and then cropped and adjusted for contrast, shadow detail and clarity. But I’m still no where near happy with this image.

With time running out I sped up and power walked to the meeting area, where I joined the others for a nice cup of hot coffee and a some pastry. A great evening with a challenge that once again showed me, that I’m a slow starter. I simply need a bit more time to get started and work on each subject if I want the results to improve. But I really like these challenges - they emphasize your weaknesses and allows you to work on them.

If you want to see the images in higher resolution and detail, you can see them in my gallery entitled Photo Rally 3 - 2017

I hope this little insight into one of our club challenges, could inspire you to challenge yourself and perhaps some friend in a new way.