I've been in my fair share of dark and creepy places as a low light photographer. Whether it's down at the Giant's Causeway in the middle of the night, with the brooding basaltic cliffs soaking up what little light there was, in a darkness so thick and tangible you feel you could reach out and touch it. Or whether it's half way down the steps beside Dunluce Castle, standing there alone for over an hour in the thick blackness doing time lapse footage, trying desperately not to imagine the worst with each noise I heard.
And it's the imagination that's the worst in times like those. I'll have to say that by now I've kind of got used to it, and it doesn't give me the heeby geebies the way it used to.
But I have this recurring thought that pops into my head every once in a while. Night photography involves having the shutter open for a while. What would happen if, once the camera had finished taking the shot and I looked at the screen, I saw something (someone?) standing there that I hadn't seen while taking the photo...?!?
Clearly such imaginings are the result of too many horror movies when I aas young. But it's funny how, in these moments of heightened awareness, these thoughts come unbidden into your mind. You might think such scares might put me off dark locations. Not a bit of it!
And so I found myself at the famous roofless church at the Poisoned Glen in Co Donegal the other night, close to the midnight hour. My nephew, Stephen, and I had just finished hiking up nearby Errigal for a sunset shoot. The skies were clear, the stars were out, and there was only one place I wanted to go after the hike.
I've been at this church before, but only during the day. So, as we drove down to it, it was with initial disappointment that I discovered a dirty big street light just outside. Light pollution can be the bane of much night photography and I thought the whole thing would end up being awash with orange light from the lamp.
But, we were here anyway, so I got up and did a test shot. The settings were the classic night photo settings I use:
- wide open aperture to get as many stars in as possible (in this case f/2.0 in my Samyang lens for the Fujifilm system)
- 30 second shutter speed (long enough to let light in without causing star trails to appear)
- ISO 3200
- White Balance at around 3000 K (I set it here to try to counteract the orange glow that would come off the light)
And it turned out that the street light really added to the mood. It side lit the church and didn't seem to stop my camera from picking up the myriads of stars above.
I got Stephen to go into the church and do some light painting with his powerful head torch and took some more shots.
Then I went inside too. The pattern of light and shadows was very cool, as the light from the street lamp shone in through the church windows. I tried a shot and then had an idea: what if I were to light paint the inside of the church too? With my white balance set so low, the light would surely take on a blue hue and would contrast nicely with the oranges form the street light. Blue and orange are complementary colours and so the whole thing could look well. Thirty seconds later and my vision appeared on my camera screen in front of me. And I was pretty pleased.
An eerie idea
Then I had an idea. One of the cool things about low light photography is how you can play around a bit during the long exposures. Anything that is not in the shot for 100% of the exposure will.appear as slightly transparent. We were in a dark, eerie church; light was streaming in from the windows, creating cool patterns on the ground. And I had a nephew with me. These were all the ingredients I needed to create a creepy image that would confront and exorcise my night time fears!
I positioned Stephen carefully at the start of the light patch opposite the nearest window. With a 30 second exposure, I needed him to be standing there for around 20 seconds, then for him to dash over to join me, before I quickly light painted the building in the last few seconds to give it that blue colour. So Stephen adopted a creepy pose, I pressed the shutter button, we enacted our plan, and hey presto!
I must say we were pretty pleased with the result. And, laughing an joking at the outcome, we packed up to leave.
As we wandered through the graveyard back to the car, I was telling Stephen about my sometime recurrent fear of seeing something appear after I've taken a photo. We laughed. But, at the same time, those tell tale hairs on the back of my next started to stand up again. And I definitely didn't look back over my shoulder on the wy out...!
Ghost busted on April Fools!
It just so happened that the next day was 1st April. And, although it was planned, it turned out I had the perfect image for a wee April's Fool joke on my Facebook page for the next morning.
Of course, it didn't take me long to be ghost busted, but it was a good bit of fun nevertheless. And if you want to try something similar if you do any low light photography, hopefully this will give you a few ideas. Its amazing what you achieve with a camera, a crept location, a torch, and a nephew
Actually, the nephew is optional. But some company is highly recommended. Oh, and make sure you've got Ghostbusters on speed dial...!