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A break in the storm | Story Behind The Shot #1

The photo I’m presenting today, shot during storm Ciara, is the one that made me think about starting this Story Behind The Shot series.
The story is not dissimilar to the one I narrated in a previous post. But it didn’t occur to me back then to make it into regular episodes. Starting today, this will also be a topic of my newsletter (to which you should subscribe here).

Here is the story behind the shot…

Story Behind the Shot - A break in the storm
Fujifilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF 10-24mm (at 24mm) | F/11 | ISO 200 | 120 seconds | Velvia
Accessories: Gobe polariser + Lee Big Stopper ND10

Prologue: Storm Ciara

In early February 2020, wind storm Ciara hit the UK. Nothing like the tropical storms or typhoons you see on American and Asian TV (and that made me change my travel plans). But still tough on this land. London was hit by very strong winds and pouring rain for three days.
This is where the story behind the shot begins.

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Preparation

On the third day of rain and wind in London, I’m working in my studio, editing images and finalising some presets for my store.
From the window next to me, I see the light brightening up ever so slightly. So I turn my head, and I notice a tiny opening in the grey clouds wall. Nothing that could make anybody believe the storm was over, but enough for me to start thinking about the sunset.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve been here before. I know that after some dramatic weather, there’s always a chance for an epic sunset.

And a landscape photographer has the moral duty to always go out when a chance presents to them.

There’s not much time, less than an hour before the sun goes below the horizon. So I pack my bag and check where I could rush for a good alignment. Considering the sun’s position, the nearest point of interest is from Tower Bridge looking towards the Shard.
It takes half an hour or more to get there from my studio via public transport.

Waiting

So, I’m at the bus stop. While I wait, the wind keeps changing the mood in the sky frantically. The opening in the clouds comes and goes, and I’m about to give up when I see everything turning dark again. There’s storm Ciara; what am I thinking?

But then, I’m already out. I might as well just go, and if nothing happens I’ll come back using the same bus ticket.

So the bus arrives (I lost another 5 minutes waiting), and I head towards Tower Bridge. And while on the bus I look at the sky and the incredible happens. The sun appears, casting a shiny gold light onto everything it touches, which makes for a striking contrast against the dark sky.
This would be a fantastic series of photos in any genre: cityscape, architecture, or street photography… The light is simply glorious.

And I’m stuck on the bus!

But I get there. I arrive at Tower Bridge and start walking towards the North side.
To my right, I see the last fading breath of a rainbow over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf… That too must have been amazing (and if you were there and took photos please share them). But I can see it fading away, so I stick to my plan.
Although, it’s very late.

Tower Bridge on the map, Story Behind The Shot

The One shot

I reach my spot and start unpacking my tripod and camera. Unfortunately, my viewpoint is too low, and the sun is already hiding behind the Shard. But it’s still casting its light, and the clouds’ colours are just beautiful.

I quickly decide on the composition. I have my Fuji 10-24mm on, and I’m happy with using it. The clouds to the right are almost gone and to the left there’s the Tower Bridge wall, therefore, I can’t frame further down there. So I shoot vertically and focus on 3 simple elements: clouds, City Hall and Shard. I zoom in to 24mm to remove any distractions.
Clouds are moving very fast… I decide my best option is long exposure. This way, I can get a stripe of colour in the sky, flatten the water and emphasise my subjects.
I put the ND filter on, set the time to 2 minutes and press the trigger.

At the end of the 2 minutes, the clouds have moved away, so there are almost none left in my framing for another shot. I look at the camera, and, frankly, I’m pleased with the result.
One thing I couldn’t spend time on was checking the direction of the clouds, but they just went where I wanted them to go.
Which is cool because there is no second chance 🙂 One shot. That’s it.

I pack again, return to the bus stop, and return home.
Half an hour later, it’s pouring rain again.

update

I was asked on Instagram how I chose a 2 minutes exposure.

My Fujifilm X-T2 is a mirrorless camera with an electronic viewfinder. This means that the image it receives is always “looked at” by its processor in real-time. What I see in the camera is a close-enough rendition of the final image. Therefore, I can play with the settings and instantly visualise the image that I will take.
With DSLR cameras, you see what your naked eye sees, so you’re left to guess. I haven’t used a DSLR in many years, and I know they now have Live View, but I’ve been told it’s still not the same experience.

Epilogue

So this was the story behind the shot. Again, this is my advice to trust your gut feeling and go out if you believe you may have a chance at a good photo.

Now, the winds from storm Ciara were still blowing strong when I took the photo, which is less than ideal when you shoot a long exposure. So the end result was a bit shaky, and I had to recover some details with Shake Reduction in Photoshop.
Possibly, TopazLabs SharpenAI may achieve a good result too.

I only made two changes to the photo. I lifted up the shadows on the buildings because, while exposing for the sky, they ended up too dark. And I brought the highlights down where the sunlight was too harsh. Luckily, the dynamic range of the X-T2 is so broad I didn’t lose any detail.

I’m going to try to print it as well to see if this is good enough. On screen it seems to work, and it got some great feedback on social media.
It’s still not in my Instagram feed, but I may publish it, even only to promote this post. We’ll see.

(And I published it indeed… 😊)

The gear

Here are links to everything I used to shoot this photo:

Fujifilm X-T2 – https://amzn.to/3bvvjwJ
Fujinon XF10-24mm F/4 – https://amzn.to/37ozOFW
Gobe Polariser (3 peak) – https://amzn.to/2wg0qw4
Lee Big Stopper ND 10 – https://amzn.to/2SpZXA0
Lee filter holder – https://amzn.to/2wiFZ1H
Manfrotto Pixi – https://amzn.to/38rPqtN
Panoramic head – https://amzn.to/2HiiUOG


I hope you enjoyed this story, and I would love to hear your feedback.
Like I said, I plan to make this a regular thing, and I’ll look at some of my most popular photos to talk about the story behind them.

I’m thinking about making this Story Behind The Shot a fortnight publication.
Make sure to subscribe to the newsletter so you won’t miss any episodes.
You can do it here.

Cheers!

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