Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
The way light plays across any object – be it a landscape or a living thing – always endows it with a certain uniqueness. Because a scene is lit in a certain way at midday today does not mean it will be lit in exactly the same way at midday tomorrow. That, to me, is one of the great joys of photography.
When I was about twelve years old, I had an old Box Brownie in a leather case. Late one evening, I once saw a full moon playing across the surface of a pond, so I picked up the camera and shot the scene.
Weeks later, when I had finally finished the twelve-exposure roll and my Dad had it developed for me, I was completely downcast. As I studied the little black-and white prints, I could not understand how my splendid shot of the moon and its own reflection was nothing but lots of inky blackness, a little white dot for the moon and a pencil-thin spear of light across the bottom of the picture instead of the wonderful shimmering reflection I had seen.
Looking back on it now, I guess that single experience, that single shot, is the sole reason I enjoy using my camera in very low-light conditions. Balancing the constant equation of shutter speed, aperture and focal length can still be a testing experience – but hell, it’s great fun. And on a digital SLR, it’s a huge advantage to be able to review your image instantly and re-shoot it if you’re not satisfied.
I’ve photographed this scene across the Yarra, looking towards Princes Bridge, several times. I’ve shot it in pre-dawn blackness to capture reflections, I’ve shot it under clear blue skies, I’ve shot it under grey, moody skies. A river is a wonderful thing to photograph, because it mirrors light, it mirrors conditions and it mirrors everything around and above it.
I was walking across the pedestrian footbridge last week when I noticed the way the early-morning sunlight – just as the moonlight caught my attention all those years ago – was dancing across the water like some lean, incandescent lightsabre. Naturally, I had to stop and get my camera out. I had a 70-300mm lens with me, but I shot it with the versatile 18-125mm lens instead.
Why did I shoot it vertically instead of horizontally? It all depends on what you’re trying to highlight in the shot – and in this case I was able to capture the shimmer in the middle of the frame, with just one span of the three-span bridge and the giant ferris wheel in the background.
So don’t be afraid to use your camera in any weather. You just never know what sort of light you’ll be blessed with.