The life of a dirty low-light photographer…

Did you know…

The word “photography” is a combination of the Greek root words “photo-,” meaning “light,” and “-graphia,” meaning “writing” or “drawing.” Thus, “photography” literally means “writing or drawing with light.” (Source: https://www.reference.com)

That’s all very well, and most of the time there is more than ample light to play with during a shoot and it’s simply a case of identifying whether it needs diffusing (softening), shaping or controlling in some form. However what happens when there is very little light? How do us photographers cope with with night-time shoots, indoor events and a general lack of the bright stuff? Below are a few low-light shots from various assignments and a little explanation of how I utilised my dirty low-light skills!

Working with what you have

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This shot was taken during a charity event in a beautiful but very dimly lit cathedral (St. John’s College, Cambridge). In such sacred buildings, flash and artificial light are forbidden and it is simply a case of working with what you have. Tripods and slow shutter speeds do not work when shooting moving subjects (such as public speakers photographed here) and so I needed to be able to have a shutter speed that was fast enough to freeze the animated actions of the speaker above. Luckily my professional camera has a sensor that still produces high quality images at extreme settings and I could utilise this to help increase the shutter speed and get the shot needed. It’s a little “grainy” but this small amount of digital noise (the term we use for grainy images) is a lot better than a blurry under-exposed image that didn’t capture this charismatic gesture. For me, capturing the moment, mood or brand of the subject matter is the most important part of my job and in such extreme settings sometimes a compromise has to be made.

Looking for the Light 

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At times, even in the darkest of buildings, there are little spots of light that can help the subject to pop out from its surroundings and create a shot with real atmosphere. By exposing just for the brightest part of the image in a dimly-lit scene (known as spot metering), professional photographers are able to allow darker items in the shot to fade into the background and draw the viewers’ eye to the main focal point. The shot above from Acanteen’s Halloween event is a perfect example of how exposing for a small part of the image helped me to produce a sense of atmosphere and intrigue that communicated the story of the occasion.

Adding Artificial Light 

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For many events that take place in the evening, it is essential that I know how to use artificial light quickly and in a manner that flatters the attendees and performers. An external flash (known as a speedlite) is perfect for such occasions as I can pop it on to my camera and move around the venue and take shots quickly and without interrupting or slowing down proceedings. This flash is unobtrusive as it is never aimed directly towards the subject and is perfect for corporate and social occasions that need a little extra lighting. Sometimes there is only stage lighting to work with, but I love being able to mix my artificial light with the ambient lighting in the room. Doing so can create vibrant and colourful images that will help the event organisers to promote future events to potential new attendees.

Finding a Story in the Darkness 

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This shot is actually from my personal street photography portfolio, but it’s a great example of how light can be used to tell a story, set a scene or entice viewers to ask questions. Here I used the light in the shot to draw the viewers’ eye into the scene, but used the lack of details in the people’s faces to create a sense of the unknown. What is being said? What might happen next? We will never know but it makes us as viewers stop and think.

Therefore low-light isn’t always bad news and low-lit images can work well if you are looking for shots that force your clients to ask questions and spend those extra few seconds engaging with your promotional material or website.

So there you have it – a little insight into how I work in low-light situations. Sometimes low-light means a bit of extra kit, sometimes it means a bit of compromise but one way or another I can light up even the darkest of rooms (photographically speaking at least)!

Have you tried any low light photography? Let me know in the comments section below.

Until next time, have a great week.

Ross

Ross Willsher is a social (weddings and portraits) and commercial photographer based in Chelmsford and covering Essex and London, who is passionate about creating images as individual as you are.  His work can be viewed at www.rosswillsherphotography.co.uk / www.rosswillshercommercialphotography.co.uk 

facebook.com/rosswillsherphotography | @RWillsherPhoto | instagram.com/rosswillsherphotography | www.linkedin.com/in/rosswillsher/

 

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The life of a dirty low-light photographer…

Stronger Together – Photographing Colchester Military Wives Choir

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One of the most exciting things about becoming a professional photographer is never knowing who you are going to be asked to photograph next. This year alone, my work has introduced me to creative yoga instructors, passionate charity workers, dedicated business owners and a whole range of groups and individuals whose stories I am privileged to capture through my lens.

One of the most inspiring group of people I have had the pleasure of working with on a number of occasions this year is Colchester Military Wives Choir. Each time I have worked with the ladies I learn a little more about their talent, their passion for singing and the support network that they provide for one another. Following their successful performance at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester earlier this autumn, I chatted to their chair, Helen O’Neill to find out a little more about this talented group of ladies.

 

Tell me a little bit about the history of Colchester MWC – when was it established and how has it grown in members and stature since it commenced?

Colchester Military Wives Choir was established in July 2012. Since then it has earned a formidable reputation with a string of concerts including appearing at the House of Commons for three consecutive years to mark Remembrance Day, a sell-out joint event with the Band of the Parachute Regiment at St Botolph’s Church in Colchester and a joint concert with Men2Sing at Chelmsford Cathedral. 

In 2013 the choir was invited to take part in the Canadian Military Tattoo, along with the Corps of Drums of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, which was staged at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton Ontario.

In 2014 the choir was also represented at the War Horse Prom, an event commemorating the start of WW1. This endeavour involved being part of a BBC television series culminating in a sell-out performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

In 2015, the choir was privileged to be asked to sing the British and US national anthems at a sell-out NBA basketball game in the O2 Arena in London. As well as performing in front of a sell-out audience, the game was also live on television in both Britain and America. 

Later in 2015, our ladies were also invited to take part in West End Heroes at the Dominion Theatre in London. The show united some of the country’s top military musicians in a dazzling display of show stopping numbers, and also included special performances from top west end musicals. This particular event raised money for the charity Help For Heroes. 

2016 started with a bang for the choir, when we were invited to perform on stage with Lulu. Lulu and her brother recorded a song which was re-written specifically for the military wives and serving members for the military. It was an amazing experience for our ladies singing on stage with Lulu.  

In November 2014 and 2015, the choir staged an evening at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester where it performed to a full house. In September this year we performed two concerts at the Mercury theatre, which allowed more people the opportunity to see us, and as always we had a great time entertaining our local audience.  We are also fortunate and proud to support local charities at this annual event.

The choir is part of a growing network of Military Wives Choirs across the forces community worldwide. Currently the choir has approximately 40 members, including serving reservists, mothers of soldiers and of course military wives. The choir is fortunate to have the dedication and talents of Musical Director Mrs Sally Leung and accompanist Mrs Sharon Tidbury.

 

It is clear that the members of the choir are a very cohesive unit – how integral is the choir in providing a support network for the military wives?

 

Our ultimate aim is to be a support for the military community within our area, and to reach out to women and families in a similar situation.  We are a group of ladies who enjoy singing together, and because of our common bond, are able to support one another in the unique challenges we face.
Your repertoire seems very eclectic which is great – who decides on the songs that you perform? Are there certain songs that members of all Military Choirs need to learn and how often to you collaborate with other MWC?  

 

Yes, we do have a large repertoire, and we work hard to learn new songs every year, in order to both entertain our audience and challenge ourselves.  We also perform core military wives choir songs, and these songs are an integral part of our repertoire which our audience expect to hear.   We have also been very lucky to perform alongside other military wives choirs, both at local and international events. Our choir members and musical director have input into the songs we learn and perform.
You have had a very busy year – what have been your highlights of 2016?

 

As stated above, performing twice this year at our local theatre here in Colchester has been a real highlight for our choir.  We do enjoy performing around the UK, and the wider world, however there is something very special about performing in our home town.
This year the choir was also represented at Carnegie Hall, New York, and amongst other songs performed a new composition by Paul Mealor, who wrote the number one song Wherever You Are.  This was a wonderful experience for all those involved.
Your performance at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester was exceptional? Why did you choose the Mercury Theatre and was the concert in aid of any cause or charity?

 

We very much enjoy entertaining our local audience here in Colchester, and for us, the Mercury performances are a real highlight of our year.  This year we were delighted and honoured to support Colchester and Tendring Women’s Refuge at this particular event.

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I was delighted that you contacted me to once again to photograph the event, can you tell me why having professional photographs taken of the performance was so important to you? 

 

We are absolutely delighted with the photos you have taken of our ladies, and for the patience and professionalism you have shown in helping us create these wonderful memories.  Having you present at our rehearsals and at the concerts meant that you were able to capture many special moments for us, which we greatly appreciate. 

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Finally, what is next for CMWC? What can we look forward to before Christmas and into 2017?

 

We are a very busy choir, and Christmas will be an increasingly busy time for our ladies. Among other events, we will be performing with The Braintree Male Voice Choir, at Braintree Arts Theatre on Saturday 3rd December. We are also performing at Colchester Town Hall on Thursday 15th December for a charity event organised by the Mayor of Colchester, so there are still opportunities for people to hear us this year. Please see our website for further details of our performances, http://www.colchestermilitarywiveschoir.org.uk/ 
Many thanks to Helen O”Neill and Colchester Military Wives Choir for their participation in this blog post. I can guarantee that if you do go and see the ladies perform, you will not be disappointed.  Please visit their website (above) for more information. Alternatively you can contact the choir by emailing colchester@militarywiveschoirs.org.  The choir also has it’s own Facebook Page –  facebook.com/ColchesterMilitaryWivesChoir/ 



Ross Willsher is a social (weddings and portraits) and commercial photographer based in Chelmsford and covering Essex and London who is passionate about creating images as individual as you are.  His work can be viewed at www.rosswillsherphotography.co.uk / www.rosswillshercommercialphotography.co.uk 

facebook.com/rosswillsherphotography | @RWIllsherPhoto | instagram.com/rosswillsherphotography

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