Meeting Strange Men in the Park After Dark…

 

“Honey, do you mind if I go to the park after dark on Saturday and meet up with a load of men I met on the internet?”

My wife just laughed at me, but I suppose she is getting used to the crazy things this hobby of mine leads me to do.

Anyway, a group of photographers from around Yorkshire were going to meet up on my patch, so I thought I would tag along and see what was going on.  Meeting shortly after sun set (which is pretty early at the moment) we had arranged to group in the car park, and I was among the first to arrive.

I was surprised by the number of nighttime dog walkers, dogs geared up with small flashing lights on their collars and walkers carrying fluorescent tennis balls and throwing sticks.  There were also a fair number of night joggers who didn’t seem to glow quite so much.  The only other category of people out that night were the men with cameras, of which I was a member.   After introductions and waiting to allow time for others to appear we headed out across the dark fields, away from the lights, dogs, walkers and runners.

Wire wool in use at the Folly
Wire wool in use at the Folly

It was particularly foggy that night (it had been foggy all day) and we wondered if this would be a hindrance to the images we were about to shoot, or if it would add an interesting element.

As it turned out it was a hindrance.   Aside from the cold damp that was permeating our clothes and backpacks, it also resulted in the misting up of many lenses and added to the challenge of getting sharp shots.  It had also rained heavily recently and as we headed downhill the ground became more of a bog and I began to wonder if we had blundered into the nearby lake.  On the plus side there wasn’t any moon out, so it was particularly dark and the skies were clear; offering a brilliant view of the night sky rarely witnessed so close to a large city.

We had set off, primarily with the aim of light painting.  This is a form of long exposure photography that I had only briefly played with before.  It did mean my tripod saw some usage after languishing at the back of a wardrobe for probably a year or more.   Our first location was a folly in the style of a ruined medieval gatehouse, which makes for a particularly impressive focal point.  Although it was my first time doing location based light painting, several of my companions were more experienced and began to bring out all kinds of home-made paraphernalia, ready to light up the landscape.

Once we had our camera’s ready, tripods firmly cemented into the mud, one of our party headed out towards the castle with whisk and wire wool in hand.    The wire wool is stuffed into the hand whisk before lighting it and spinning around the head, creating a very impressive explosion of sparks.

As we were using long exposures (I used bulb mode and just held my glove over the lens to act as the shutter) I decided to try to show some of the many stars that were out that night.   It quickly became apparent just how much light pollution there was, although it was difficult to see with the naked eye.  The majority of shots came out with a bright orange glow, the reflection of the street lights and nearby city, so needed significant colour “correction” in post processing.

Light painted bandstand in the park
Light painted bandstand in the park

This was probably the best shot I got from this location.  There were many other toys brought out, but the I struggled to capture anything I was happy with and the encroaching fog misted up my lens and ruined several shots.

After a while we headed off to the bandstand which we had passed earlier; within which there was what seemed to be several families having a barbecue?!?!

I decided to take some more natural looking shots, lighting the bandstand with a single torch, but shortly after out came the wire wool again.  Alongside this were a selection of wheels, hoops and light-sticks, but I think I ultimately preferred the simpler shots with a single light feature.

Band Stand and Wire Wool
Band Stand and Wire Wool

By this point it was getting late and many were beginning to feel the cold, so several of our group headed for the warmth of home.  As I rarely get so much time to dedicate to photography I decided to persevere and a few of us headed over to what would be our final location, an old public drinking fountain.

We had burned the last of our wool so we focused more on creating orbs and domes with the equipment the others had brought. I was able to contribute my LED video light, which we covered with a red gel to light the interior of the structure.

Light orb in the drinking fountain
Light orb in the drinking fountain

 

The group then set about creating the globes you see in these images, the full spheres being known as “orbs” and the half circles “domes”.

Orbs are created by getting some fairy lights and taping them together in a bunch.  This is then attached to a larger wire (and battery pack) and swung around in a circle.  If the “orb maker” then rotates on the spot it will create the characteristic globe shape in the final image.  This is slightly more difficult than it sounds as the lowest point of the “swing” must hit the same point on the ground with each rotation; not easy in the dark and with a wet, slippy stone floor.

The domes are a result of some more sophisticated craftsmanship.  This one made from a wheel with lights attached at equal distances around the circumference.  From the centre of the wheel a rod extends to hold the it at an angle when left on the ground (this particular one had a clever mechanism to allow the rod to be extended, increasing or decreasing the resulting “hole” at the top of the dome as desired).  To create the dome shape you simply push the wheel around it’s central rod a number of times to form a circle.  This requires some fancy foot work as we calculated we needed at least five full rotations to create the dome, and the person pushing the wheel had to keep moving to prevent the light falling on him for too long and end up being included in the final exposure.

I think this resulted in my favourite light effect and ultimately best image of the evening.  My colleague pointed out the reflection being created in the wet stone and we recomposed to try to make the most of it.  I could just about keep the rear columns being illuminated by my LED video light, but our battery power was quickly dwindling and shortly after we decided it was probably sensible to head home.

Light dome beside the drinking fountain.
Light dome beside the drinking fountain.

I had a good time that night.  It was great to be out despite the cold and it was much safer as part of a group.  Future plans to meet again have been discussed and I’ll be sure to attend where I can.  I also learnt some new skills and, as is always the case, there is plenty of opportunity to improve on these.  I might even have a go at making my own “dome” if I get time over the winter months.

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