Victorian Light

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Copper Domes. Parliament Building, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 340mm, 1/500 sec, f/6.7, ISO 500.

During our trip to Vancouver Island, my friend and I spent a late afternoon and the following morning wandering around the inner harbor area of Victoria, the capitol city of British Columbia. Being the provincial capitol, there was a parliament building, and it was stunning. The image above gives a taste of the ornateness of the façade. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go inside, but even so the exterior and the surrounding grounds kept us busy and happy.

I am always on the lookout for contrasting warm-cool lighting and there were plenty of opportunities here. Shooting through an opening in this arcade at the side of the building beyond exploited the difference in the light. The background is one side of a relatively narrow space between wings of the building. Consequently, all of its light is diffuse—and very blue—light from the open sky. The front of the building that comprises the foreground is clearly not in direct sun—it is probably still in the shadow of a building—but there is obviously enough indirect sunlight bouncing off of things nearby to give a warmer color to the light. The light in both foreground and background is very soft and there are not deep shadows anywhere as is typical of scenes in the shade.

The foreground and background are blended from two exposures. For simple two-exposure shots like this, I typically focus on the foreground and move the focus point to the background but don’t refocus. Then I take the first picture (still focused on the foreground), press the AF-ON button to focus on the background, and take the second picture. This reduces the movement between the first and second image if I am hand-holding. Obviously, if I am using a tripod, this is easier. (Honestly I do not remember whether I used my tripod on this image or not.) But if you do a good job of keeping the camera from moving between shots, even hand-held, the software (Affinity Photo in my case) will not have any trouble fixing the minor differences.

Columns and Arches. Two-image focus blend. Parliament Building, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 140mm, 1/90 sec, f/8.0, ISO 500.

This next image also exploits a warm-cool contrast. In this case, the afternoon sun is reflecting off a high window and casting a relatively warm spotlight on this single column in a long row.

Pillar of Parliament. Parliament Building, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 90mm, 1/125 sec, f/9.5, ISO 500.

In addition to warm-cool contrasts, I also like to look for reflections. While this next image has a nice contrast between the sunlit buildings in the background and the parliament building in the foreground, I think it is the reflection in the window that gives the image the strong focal point that it needs. Also, it is bright enough to overpower the background buildings as being the most important thing in the scene, which would otherwise be those rather ugly buildings. So, the image has a brightness hierarchy of window-buildings-dome-tree and that should be the viewer’s tendency to follow when they explore the image (although they might ignore the tree altogether).

Old and New. Parliament Building, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 85mm, 1/90 sec, f/9.5, ISO 500.

On the following morning, I was able to capture a different kind of reflection—more of a glare, actually—off of the banners hanging from those same background buildings. There is very little color in this image, just a pale blue sky and pale gold reflections. I think the fact that the reflections also emphasize the folds in the banners also give some nice visual interest.

Signs of the Times. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 310mm, 1/2000 sec, f/8.0, ISO 500.

Leaving the immediate area of the parliament building and wandering the city streets, it was easy to find images that juxtaposed sunlit and shadowed areas. Cities often have a lot of visual clutter down at street level, but by using a long lens, I was able to isolate this little piece of the overall scene higher up:

Wakeup Call. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 400mm, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500.

This next image is similar, with the foreground building sunlit and the background building in shade. I particularly like the decorative shapes along the vertical corner of this building. The angled sunlight helps them stand out in several ways: they are bright, they are warm, and the shadows on and next to them accentuate their shape.

Brickwork at Humbolt and Gordon. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 74mm, 1/1000 sec, f/9.5, ISO 500.

I don’t spend much time in cities proper, but when I do I always find it fun to wander around with my camera. They are visually dense and, as such, what I would call a target-rich environment.

Next week I will report on my attempts to capture the famous fairy tree.

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6 responses to “Victorian Light”

    • Thank you, David! I really did appreciate the architecture. It’s nice when a place goes to the trouble to build something that is nice to look at; that’s not always the case.

  1. Excellent reasoning and wonderful collection of striking photographs!
    Especially the cool and warm relationships!
    Bravo to you Jim.

    • Thank you, Charlie! I’m a sucker for the warm-cool thing; I’m going to have to find a few new tricks.

  2. Brickwork at Humbolt and Gordon: works really well in the contrasting light. The whole set offers some delightful warmth and shadow.

    A little ramble:
    Interesting that for the Humbolt image your settings were 1/1000 sec, f/9.5, ISO 500. (There’s another image at 1/2000 sec.) Was a fast shutter speed something aimed for, or was your starting point the aperture? Perhaps we have moved on from the days of aiming always for ISO 100 – my OM-1 default is ISO 200.

    • Well, Rob, the truth is I was being lazy. Base ISO on the Z8 is 64, so that gives the best performance and, like all cameras, it slowly degrades from there. Except, the Z8 uses a dual-gain setup on its sensor that kind of gives it a second base ISO of 500. So, ISO 500 is actually better than ISO 400 (but not as good as 64). So, if 64 isn’t going to get the job done, I usually switch to 500, which is about 3 stops faster. When I was doing things like the tulips discussed last week, I wanted the higher ISO for the faster shutter speed. ISO 500 is good enough that I just wasn’t worried about about it for these cityscape shots and left it be as I went in and out of shadow. The 3-stop difference would have dropped that 1/1000 second to 1/125 but in the shadows it would have been more like 1/15. I was just enjoying not having to worry about it, that’s all.

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