I recently had the privilege of photographing Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus.
It has a really intimate, friendly and warm feel to it and this is exactly what I wanted to capture, whilst showcasing their excellent new buildings, which I think are architecturally innovative and beautiful.
It took 12 hours over five attempts and I’m not going to lie, it was cold!
Photographically, it was a real technical challenge. If you imagine that most scenes have a range of light from the darkness of shadows to the brightness of artificial lights or the sun; the human eye does a brilliant job of seeing most of this light – about 30 stops for the technically minded – whereas the camera sensor can only see about half of this. This is why, if ever you shoot a sunrise or sunset, the foreground often turns out overly dark, or you’ll wash out the sky entirely.
Usually, you can control this dynamic range with the use of photographic filters (specifically a graduated neutral density) but this isn’t always practical, for example when an important part of the subject breaches the horizon. The lights from the building windows make it even more complicated.
The other option was to take multiple exposures and combine them. This is a popular technique called High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and believe it or not, the HDR debate rages on. The purists say it’s a crass and unrefined approach, whilst the enthusiasts argue it’s a legitimate photographic technique which can capture stunning results and is no different to the darkroom approaches adopted by revered pros for decades.
I see both sides of the argument…but as a rule, it’s not for me. I really revel in the art of perfecting the shot in-camera with the use of filters at the time of shooting, whilst doing as little in post-processing as possible. It’s a personal choice. Had I have lost too much detail in the highlights, I would have had to change my mind on this and adopted some technical wizardry, but in the end, I was just about able to get the balance right and capture enough detail across the board.
There was a third option, to completely cheat and just wait until the sky brightened; this would have narrowed the dynamic range and made the whole shot easy to capture, but in doing so, you’d lose the warmth of the building lights and the whole atmosphere of the photograph. So in the end, it just came down to good old balance.
There was a final complication; on four occasions, the weatherman promised me clear skies but he lied, and an overcast sky killed the shot before it had even started. Unfortunately, you quite often can’t tell that for sure until you’re by the sea, the mountain, or on this occasion, on a roof!
But that’s just landscape photography for you, you’re entirely reliant on the weather giving you what you need no matter what you’re shooting. Sometimes this means returning to a scene again and again until you’ve got what you need, or settling for “good enough.” Two of the most important skills in landscape photography are patience and persistence.
Anyway, an interesting and challenging assignment which I really enjoyed and I genuinely feel privileged to have been able to enjoy this very unique view which only a select few will ever get to experience. I’m really happy with the shot too.
I also miss wiping sea spray off my lens and watching the sun rise out of the ocean, so my next shot will definitely be a seascape!