Three Students Join Bob Barclay To Capture The Famous Blackpool Illuminations Gemma Padley Reports

WHEN we think of Blackpool, the famous tower and glitzy neon lights spring to mind. Yet every year from late August to November, the streets of this popular seaside town are even brighter, as the Illuminations come to town. Launched in 1879, eight arc lamps were originally used to create 'artificial sunshine', but today more than a million lights make up the six-mile waterfront display.

Hot on the heels of our Blackpool Fireworks Reader Masterclass in AP 25 October, this month's challenge sees three BA photography students from the Blackpool and Fylde college ditch their tripods and use a 50-200mm zoom lens to capture the famous Illuminations. Our competitors will be working with slow shutter speeds and a high ISO, so they will need to watch out for noise. Bob Barclay is on hand to help the photographers

Left-right: Gemma, Dominic, Bob, Anneka and Alex choose the correct ISO, aperture and shutter speeds. All three will be using Samsung GX-20 DSLRs and the winner gets to take one home.

There are many interesting techniques to explore using a zoom lens. First, you can get up close and personal. 'I'll be encouraging our photographers to include people in their images for impact,' says Bob. 'The human eye sees a wide vista,

AP's expert

BOB BARCLAY worked as a top Fleet Street photographer for more than 30 years, but left photojournalism in 1998 to set up his own studio and photography business in Surrey. During his career, he has covered numerous news assignments in the UK and abroad, and got the very first picture of the QE2 as it brought troops home from the 1982 Falklands War.

Born in Scotland, Bob worked for a Scottish news agency before moving to London in 1968. He has worked for 'The Daily Telegraph', the Press Association and the Express newspaper group, and still freelances for a number of publications.

To see Bob's images, visit www.robertbaitlay

The big wheel is a focal point along Blackpool's sea front

1/15sec at f/4,150 400

The big wheel is a focal point along Blackpool's sea front

1/15sec at f/4,150 400

I wanted to be as creative as possible. It was a question of looking for lights with a good mix of colours ®

Dominic Lansiquot

Age 22 Lives Preston, Lancashire Occupation Full-time student Photographic interests Candid street photography

'I wanted to be as creative as possible, but I found it difficult putting theory into practice. At college it's easier because you're not working at night and you are using a camera that you know. I found panning with the illuminated trams difficult, because they're impossible to catch! They get brighter as they came closer and you only have a split second to judge the exposure and focus the image. Focusing was difficult in the dark and you have to be careful to get the right shutter speed to avoid blurring the images. I also struggled with depth of field. I changed my ISO quite often because what worked for one shot didn't work for another, and I played with the colour temperature, too. Some areas along the route had more lights than others, so it was a question of looking for lights with a good mix of colours.'

Dom captures the Illuminations in a swirl of colours to produce an abstract-looking composition 1 /30sec at f/4, ISO 800

Bob says

Dominic was very independent and I was impressed by the way he worked. If he noticed something interesting, he would quietly slip away. He was confident when approaching people and had a very good photographic manner. Dom planned his images carefully and played around with his compositions. I liked his artistic approach and his use of colour is very creative. I chose the swirling colours image as Dom's best picture because it captures the Illuminations in an original way. It is quite abstract, but it shows that Dom was looking for unusual compositions. I can't think of a better way of creating an abstract picture of the Illuminations. His big wheel image is more traditional. There is a good sense of movement and the shine on the wheel really adds to this, but the composition is spoilt by a messy foreground. Dom has come in close, but his shooting angle could be better The colours are brighter when you face the wheel and less intense as you move round. At this angle, Dom loses a bit of intensity, but otherwise he has done a great job.

Dom captures the Illuminations in a swirl of colours to produce an abstract-looking composition 1 /30sec at f/4, ISO 800

You can use longer shutter speeds by leaning against street furniture Isec at f/4, ISO 100

Cropping the image focuses attention on the subject

You can use longer shutter speeds by leaning against street furniture Isec at f/4, ISO 100

Bob says

Anneka's approach was very technical. She was great at focusing in manual mode and her images are meticulously focused, which is one of the hardest things to get right in night photography. Some of her early images were a little underexposed, but her later pictures compensate for any misjudged exposures. I liked this street scene on the left because it captures the heart of Blackpool, especially with the tower in shot. It is well exposed and includes many details. The string of blue lights breaks up the yellow, and it is an interesting camera angle. Anneka's other image is let down by the composition The light in the centre is a bold focal point, and she has captured people looking at the camera, but there is wasted space on the right. If Anneka had concentrated on the left-hand side of the picture, this would have been a stronger image.

Anneka Goodyear

Age 21 Lives Pelsall, near Birmingham Occupation Full-time student Photographic interests People, especially studio portraits

Catching people in their element is easier with a longer lens because you don't have to snap and run!

'I loved using the GX-20, although I struggled with the different settings at the start. After Bob's talk I had lots of ideas, but took time to work out what I wanted to get across. There was plenty of traffic so I made sure I included both the cars and Illuminations in my images. I wanted to capture the vibrant colours so I moved further down the waterfront where there was a wider range of coloured lights. I hadn't used high ISO speeds before, but I enjoyed experimenting with different ISO settings. I did feel my pictures could have included a little more movement, though. I loved zooming in to pick up details and was impressed by how close you can get. Catching people in their element is easier with a longer lens because you can spend time composing your shots without having to snap and run!'

Cropping the image focuses attention on the subject

Anneka adds human interest by including people in her image

1/15secatf/4, ISO 800

By tilting his camera, Alex produces a less common viewpoint 1 sec at f/4, ISO 800

EG I enjoyed experimenting with long exposures to capture the light trails. I tried to reflect the fun and movement as people jumped on and off the rides 99

Alex's winning image freezes the action while still conveying a sense of movement 1/20sec at f/4, ISO 800

Bob says

Alex likes to tilt his camera, which produced some interesting angles. He used colour as the subject, but sometimes found it difficult to get his exposure right. Some of his images are slightly overexposed and occasionally the whites lack detail. But he has a strong eye and wasn't afraid to experiment with different colour combinations. Alex's winning picture of the waltzer above is stunning. He did exactly as I asked - it is colourful, and captures movement and human interest. This is not easy to do, especially at slower shutter speeds. Alex has managed to freeze the girl on the ride and the text on the posters is readable, too. His range of colours is fantastic and the girl in the bottom left-hand corner is a wonderful touch. The bus image below shows speed and is a great example of long exposure. The composition is slightly let down by the person in the frame and some of the highlights are a little overexposed, but otherwise it is a cracking image.

Alex Worsley

Age 19 Lives North Lincolnshire Occupation Full-time student Photographic interests

Fine art, landscapes, cinematic/narrative photography

'I thought the task was going to be a lot easier than it was! There weren't many people, which was frustrating, but we gave it our best shot and all produced some great images. I enjoyed experimenting with long exposures to capture the light trails, especially with the big wheel. I tried to reflect the fun and movement as people jumped on and off the rides. Getting the right exposure and ISO was tricky. I think I used ISO 3200 at one point. Shooting handheld was a challenge and changing the settings in the dark was especially tough. I switched the camera to vivid saturation at one point, which increased the contrast, and I also tried different white balances like cloudy and tungsten. I found this particularly affected the colour of the lights on the road.'

By tilting his camera, Alex produces a less common viewpoint 1 sec at f/4, ISO 800

1 Experiment with different ISO speeds

Take the same shot at a slow and fast ISO speed, and compare the difference in quality

2 Find a shutter speed you are comfortable with

Most people can handhold at 1/30sec, but use lampposts, cars or trees for support

3 Don't be tempted to use flash It will light up the foreground too much and draw attention to you

4 Keep an eye out for abstract compositions

Try tilting the camera or zooming in to liven up a shot. Experimenting with different angles may lead to some exciting and unexpected images

5 If your camera has an image stabiliser, use it

You'll be able to handhold at slower shutter speeds and avoid camera shake

Yellow lights twinkle in Bob's image l/25sec at f/16, ISO 200

Reader Masterclass Every month we set three AP readers an assignment over the course of a day. Each participant will use a 14MP Samsung 6X-20 DSLR fitted with a Standard 18-55mm zoom, though Samsung supplies other lenses for specific subjects. The person who takes the photograph judged the best picture of the day will win a Samsung GX-20 with an l8-55mm lens, worth £700.

If you would like to take part, send a letter, including your age, photographic interests and daytime phone number, to: Reader Masterclass, Amateur Photographer, IPC Media, Blue Fin Building, 110 Southward Street, London SE1OSU or email us at

Thanks to Samsuig for providing all the readerc taking part this month with a Samsung 6X-20 kit and Samsung SO memory card. The Samsung GX-20 is a 14MP DSLR with advanced features, great handling and high image quality, aimed at the enthusiast photographer. Visit AP test score 85% (24 May 2008).

In conclusion...

Yellow lights twinkle in Bob's image l/25sec at f/16, ISO 200

PRODUCING creative, exciting and technically strong images at night is no easy task. Our competitors had only their imaginations and a 50-200mm lens to interpret the Illuminations in an original way - and all this on a camera they had never used before. Bob wanted bold, colourful images showing the diversity of the lights and an element of human interest. Unfortunately, it was a mid-week night so the crowds were a little thin on the ground.

Composition was key, as were exposure and accurate focusing - all tough to get right in the dark. 'Night photography is tricky because there are many factors to think about,' says Bob. 'I didn't want too much dark sky or street furniture such as streetlamps and traffic lights. I was looking for well-focused pictures, with colour, passion, and a touch of art. I think they managed it marvellously.'

The photographers weren't afraid to go off exploring, Bob notes. 'As the students got used to the cameras they started looking for eyecatching shapes to include in their images. Panning was a challenge, but it takes practice. It is particularly difficult at night because you can't see what you're focusing on.'

The main challenge was coping with the coloured lights. The overall light was very yellow, with few reds and blues, so the competitors shot from zany angles to compensate, or made a feature of individual lights. As for shooting at high ISO settings, 'A few images may have suffered from noise if enlarged to A4, but most weren't grainy,' says Bob.

The students were told to be aware of overexposing, although a few overblown highlights were inevitable. 'Capturing detail in the whites isn't easy, but by checking your screen you can adjust the exposure as you go,' explains Bob. 'Despite a few small errors, all three produced some great images. They were adventurous and bold, and that's what photography is about.' AP

Tlxinks to Blackpool and the Fylde college Visit www. for details

In our next



We visit the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday for some powerful portraits See AP 13 December (on sale 9 December)

The image that won Gary Eastwood the title of Landscape Photographer of the Year 2008. Barney on a jetty in December, Hove Beach, East Sussex Canon EOS 5D, 24mm, 1/50sec atf/8, ISO 200

Above: Anatole Sloan, 1st prize. Classic View, Youth

Nikon D300, 18mm, f/9

Above: Anatole Sloan, 1st prize. Classic View, Youth

Nikon D300, 18mm, f/9

Below: Gary Waidson, 2nd prize, Classic View

ß' The quality is so high that you can't tell the difference between amateur and professional entrants^

IT is his enthusiasm for landscape photography that makes Charlie Waite Britain's statesman on pictorial perfection, so it is not surprising that the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, now in its second year, was Charlie's brainchild.

With £ 10,000 cash as first prize, visions of prestigious success have professional and amateur photographers alike desperately searching for that elusive winning image.

With a hectic schedule of photography, workshops, books, exhibitions and the competition, it's easier making an appointment with royalty than nailing Charlie to his throne for ten minutes. Yet through his project manager Diana Leppard we have hurriedly arranged a breakfast meeting in central London. I let him demolish scrambled eggs and brown toast before I fire away with my questions.

Charlie begins by telling me that more than 45,000 people visited the exhibition last year and that he expects numbers to double this year. 'Landscape photography

' Diamonds has an immense appeal to the masses, aren't forever. It transcends all language and cultural Loch Dochard, divides,' he says. 'People get a great deal of Scotland', Simon joy from the landscape. It is the feel-good Butterworth, 1st factor that oozes from the land and the prize, Classic View sea. Your reaction is that you either like it or Canon EOS 5D, you don't. But it's not reactionary like some 33mm, 1 Osecs photojournalism that will shock', at f/22, ISO 50 Charlie tells me that the quality of this year's entries, some 20,000 over eight categories, is higher than last year. 'There's lots of humour, and many classic landscapes, as well as seascapes and a good selection of urban studies,' he says. 'The quality is so high that you can't tell the difference between amateur and professional entrants. Amateur and pro are rubbing shoulders with each other all the time'.

Charlie also tells me that this year's entries are more imaginative than those of last year, and that 60-70% of pictures involved the sea. 'Historically, landscape photographers are naturally drawn to the sea to contemplate and meditate. It is a simple scene that consists of three blocks, the sea, the sky and the beach', he says, before describing the new entries. 'As each picture came in I could see the loving attention that had been bestowed on each image. Well-constructed photographs where the photographers had obviously gone back time and time again to get the picture right.'

He also has words of comfort for the authors of the not-so-technically-good images: 'You can look at a picture that is unsharp and not technically perfect, but which has incredible power. You don't then say, "This has really affected me emotionally, but now I'm going to undo that because it's technically bad". There comes a point where a photograph is wonderful irrespective of whether it is blurred or not up to scratch

'But at the end of the day, landscape photography is a broad form - it's "outside".'

One of the biggest problems, he explains, was the sheer number of images taken at the six or seven ever-popular UK locations

'Hope Valley, Derbyshire', Pete Bridgwood, 1st prize, Your View

Canon EOS-IDs Mark II, 70mm, l/250sec at f/11, ISO 100

Hdr Howard Kingsnorth

Above: Howard Kingsnorth, 2nd prize, Your View

Nikon D2x, 14mm, l/250secatf/2.8, ISO 100

Left: Jamie Russell, 1st prize, Your View, Youth

Pentax 1st DS, 55mm, f/19, ISO 1600

SS The judges brought

Living the View

Nikon D2x, 50mm, 15secs at f/2.5, ISO 200

their own individual bias to the elimination process®

Below: Connor Matheson, 1st prize, Uving the View, Youth Canon EOS 400D, 24mm, l/50secatf/22

The judges

Charlie Waite

Landscape photographer Valerie Singleton Presenter & travel writer Damien Demolder Editor, Amateur Photographer John Langley Manager, National Theatre Monica Allende Picture Editor, Sunday Times Magazine Tracy Hallett

Editor, Outdoor Photography Jasmine Teer Manager & art director, Britain on View Nick White Epson UK

that have produced such classic images. 'We had hundreds of stunning shots, but realistically we can't have an exhibition made up solely of locations such as Durdle Door and Glencoe. All I can say is that the judges brought their own individual bias to the elimination process, and that all tastes and styles were appreciated.'

Charlie checks his watch and I feel my ume is expiring, but he's talking about his passion and not even time is going to stop him rattling away. 'Photographers are influenced by what they see in photographic magazines, and it's difficult to tell them to stay away from iconic locations,' he says. 'But there are entries that have reached into parts of Britain that aren't so iconic. There could be a place down a lane near you whose status is suddenly elevated, or a little unknown dirt track in Sussex that is graced by light or action and caught by a camera.'

With digital manipulation allowed this year, organisers have noticed a huge increase in HDR images. 'There's good and bad HDR and, as this is a current trend, we found an awful lot of images were overdone,' explains Charlie. 'The judges had the right to reject a picture if they felt it was over the top'.

As the waitress comes to collect our plates, all that is left is to talk about is the winning image, 'Barney on a jetty in December' by Gary Eastwood (see page 26). 'It's an unexpected surprise. A delightful, hugely entertaining, lovely image,' enthuses Charlie. 'It will be controversial to a degree, but it stirred the emotions of the judges and was a clear winner,' AP

'Gardening at first light, Devon', Jason Ingram, 1st prize, Living the View Nikon D2x, 19mm, l/8secat f/8, ISO 100

JK Visit Wales \'f Croeso Cymru

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