Tug boats in harbour at night,Tim Story

Latow Photographers Guild

When we hear a photographer talk about the planning and preparation that went into the creation of an image, we are likely to envision photography done in studios, planned interior shots or maybe a trip to a far off country. Indeed these types of photography require planning and preparation of the subject matter, but most photographers stay closer to home, shoot outside in available light and go looking for subjects to capture when they have time. Will planning and preparation help under these circumstances? Absolutely!

The tug boats are docked in the same area of Hamilton harbour 52 weeks of the year. How much planning is required to capture a subject this large, mostly stationary and easily accessible? How hard can it be? Unlike photography done under controlled conditions, I have little to no control over the elements for this image. Weather conditions, direction and type of lighting, subject placement and subject availability are out of my direct control. By understanding the impact all the variables will have on the final image will greatly increases my odds of capturing the image I want in an uncontrolled environment.

I wanted to capture the tug boats with a mood not normally seen by the thousands of people walking by on the Waterfront Trail every day. I decided a night shot would meet this challenge. For this type of night shot I am totally dependent on manmade lighting. I began to regularly visit the site after dark to see what lights were on and how they illuminated the subject, if at all. It was crucial the lights attached to the boats to be illuminating for the final image, so I turned to the people managing the tug boats I had met during the previous winter months. With some carefully worded questions I had an approximate date when the boats might be worked on at night.

I wanted the lights from the boats to be captured as reflections on the water, so winds have to be 5km or less in speed or the reflections will be lost in the ripples. Too much wind will also cause the boats to bob up and down resulting in a blurred image with the long exposure times used for night time shuts. All of the variables will have to come together the week on May 6-12, 2012 when they “might” be working on the boats It has been two weeks since I started planning and preparing for the actual moment and I haven`t even taken a picture yet!

Remember the only physical control I have over this image is the time of day I can visit the tug boats. It’s my planning, research and understanding of the photographic variables that will capture the image I have envisioned during the week of May 6-12. Finally at 1:36am on May 12 all of the variables came together, the lights were on and the entire bay was calm.

In the end it took roughly a month of patience and planning to capture the image I envisioned. Most of the time in the field was only minutes per visit to better understand the scenes variables with most planning being done from my  home. So yes, planning and researching your next photograph when you have limited time to spend in the field will show in the finished image.

The image was captured on a Nikon D800, in 14 bit RAW, at 200mm, f8, ISO 400 with a 6 second exposure on a Gitzo tripod, mirror locked up and the shutter was activated with a cable release.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at tstory@shaw.ca