Night Work

I don’t often photograph the Tower of London, but it would, I thought, a nice background for a picture, something that says ‘London’, and I went to the protest being held outside the Tower against the European Custody and Detention Summit being held there hoping to use it in my pictures.

Unfortunately the protest was taking place in the early evening and this was November. There were groups at two locations, one on Tower Hill, where there was a view of the Tower behind the protesters, and a second down below Tower Bridge, where there wasn’t really a much of a view of the bridge and the Tower was completely out of sight.

I’d taken two light sources with me, the Nikon SB800 flash, and a cheap LED light, the Neewer CN-216, which has an 18×12 array of small LEDs  – 216 in all, hence the model number. It takes 6 AA cells, which adds considerably to its weight and will just about fit in a large jacket pocket. The flash, with only 5AAs is a little smaller and lighter.

Knowing it would be dark, I’d also packed the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and the two pictures above were both taken using this on a Nikon D810. I had the camera on shutter priority and both images were taken at 24mm, using the camera in full-frame mode at 1/50s and f2.8  – but there the simiilarities end. One used the flash at ISO 1,800 and the other the LED light at ISO 6400. Though it seems bright, those LEDs don’t really put out that much light.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which was which. The differences are easier to spot on the 7,360 x 4,912 pixel images, but after processing – including noise reduction – in Lightroom was less than I expected, and looking through the whole set at full screen size my guesses as to which used flash and which were LED where often wrong.

Both are relatively small light sources and so suffer similar problems with light falling off at roughly the square of distance, and I worked a little more ‘head on’ to groups than usual when I could to avoid too much having to dodge and burn in Lightroom.  One advantage of the LED was that I was able to hold it at arms length from the camera – much trickier with flash – and see the results of angling it away from closer subjects. The higher ISO I used with the LED meant that ambient lighting contributed more to the LED lit images and probably I would have been better using ISO 6400 with the flash as well. But I was worried about image quality, though it turns out I need not have been.

Increasing the ISO to 3200 for the wider group, taken with flash and using a Nikon 20mm f2.8  at 1/30s, f/2.8 on a Nikon D750 gave a good balance.

Down below Tower Bridge there was a little more light and I used the flash very little, relying on the LEDs for most pictures, though in some areas there was enough light from the street lights to make them the main light source.  The view of Tower Bridge in some of the pictures isn’t instantly recognisable.

I did have a few problems with fiddle fingers, and working in  S – shutter priority – mode does mean you get underexposure when you push the control dial in the direction of higher shutter speeds. With flash too the exposure drops – though with Auto FP High Speed Sync you no longer get just a fraction of the frame exposed. Fortunately Lightroom can cope with considerable underexposure if – as I do – you shoot RAW images.  And ISO settings don’t really have a great deal of meaning.

In low light conditions you also get problems with slow shutter speeds and subject movement, as well as camera shake. None of the lenses I was using has image stabilisation but it would have been of little or no help. But you do need to make a lot of exposures and to have a little luck.

More pictures of this protest by the Reclaim Justice Network which includes prison activists, refugee solidarity groups and anti-arms trade campaigners against this trade fair for  major arms companies, security companies, prison builders, and others profiting from expanding and privatising the criminal justice system at Custody Summit at the Tower.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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