Skywalk! by Stephen Ball

As anyone in Gibraltar will know, it's been a very exciting week with the opening of the Skywalk by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) himself, along with some Stormtroopers and the Chief Minister.

However, this blog starts last year - back in July in fact when I was asked by Bovis-Koala to take some photos of the newly finished Skywalk.  I suggested that we do a sunset shoot, given that the Skywalk lights up at night and I knew it would look stunning against a Mediterranean sunset with the unmistakable ridgeline of the Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

So, one warm balmy July evening I headed up to the top of the Rock with my camera gear about an hour before sunset.  I got in to position on a slightly higher rocky outcrop just behind the Skywalk, and carefully set up my camera and tripod and looked for a compelling composition.

As usual, I was shooting with the Nikon D800 and, for this shot, i used the wide-angle Tamron 15-30mm lens to capture the whole scene.  After a few test shots, it was clear that there was a big dynamic range across the scene from deep inky shadows to the bright LED lights of the Skywalk, plus the light still in the sky.  I quickly decided that I needed to take an HDR image (High Dynamic Range) and took a shot at what the camera thought was 'normal' exposure.  I then took shots at 1 stop and 2 stops under exposed and 1 stop and 2 stops over exposed so I captured everything from the darkest darks to the lightest lights.

All of the images were then blended in Photoshop to arrive at the final image you see below.

This was a very exciting project and I really enjoyed capturing this image.  It was also an honour and a privilege to meet Mark Hamill at the official opening and I would like to thank Bovis-Koala for inviting me to the event.


Photography in all weathers.... by Stephen Ball

As anyone who lives in Gibraltar will know, last week we had some very windy weather, with the worst of it on Mon 29th Jan.  Gale or severe gale winds caused some major disruption locally, along with damage to some properties, both residential and commercial.

However, while most people were sheltering from the storm, as a photographer I knew it offered the opportunity for some dramatic photography.  So, around lunch-time on the Monday, when winds were hitting their peak, I set off down to Europa Point with my camera bag and tripod.  Conditions were quite severe when I arrived, with curtains of spray lashing across the car parks and with the wind so strong it made just opening the car door physically very difficult.

I managed to make my way up to a slightly more sheltered vantage point with a good view to the South and the lighthouse.  By this time, the sea was an angry cauldron with frequent waves and spray lifting right up the cliffs below the lighthouse and then over the top as the wind caught them.

I was shooting with my trusty Nikon D800, with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens attached.  I had to brace myself against the wind as even with the excellent VR image stabilisation on this lens, the wind was really buffeting me.  For settings, I was shooting at ISO200, focal length 70mm and aperture f/8.0 which gave me a nice fast shutter speed of 1/1000 second.  This, together with the lens VR system, allowed me to get a sharp, in focus shot.  While I certainly wouldn't want to submerge it in water, the Nikon D800 has excellent weather sealing, along with the lens, which was important given the amount of spray in the air.  Every so often, a larger wave would send water crashing over my vantage point and I had to keep putting the camera under my jacket to avoid the worst of the soakings.

The image was processed in Lightroom, with some final tweaking in Photoshop, and is a dramatic reminder of my time at Europa Point on that Monday and the sheer power of Mother Nature.

So, although your number one priority must always be to stay safe, it doesn't necessarily mean that all photography is off limits when the weather is poor, especially given that some of the most dramatic images are taken in 'bad' weather.



Star Trails by Stephen Ball

I've been meaning to take a 'star trail' photo for some time and haven't got round to it, but the other day I had a practice from my home terrace, using the view across Ocean Village.  I was slightly unsure as to whether I would get a good result as most advice around star trail photography recommends that you find yourself a nice dark location with as little light pollution as possible.

I started off by taking a 'base image' of Ocean Village which I took at 'blue hour' (that period of around 30 minutes starting approx 15 mins after sunset).  The image was taken on a tripod and the tripod remained in the same position for the star photos which followed about an hour or so later once the sky was sufficiently dark.

The base image was taken on my Nikon D800, with Tamron 15-30mm lens at 15mm, ISO100 and f/11, with an exposure time of 15 seconds.  Once dark, I then took a series of approx 100 images back-to-back, each with an exposure of 20 seconds.  For the star photos, I opened up my aperture as wide as it would go (f/2.8) to let in plenty of light and upped the ISO to 200 so that the stars would be visible.  As a result, the buildings and lights of Ocean Village were hugely over-exposed on the star pics, however that wasn't a concern as I had taken my base image at blue hour (properly exposed) and knew I would be blending this with the stars later on in Photoshop.  As the camera remained on the tripod in the same position, there was no problem blending the images as they were already lined up and I simply needed to create a mask to blend the over exposed buildings with the buildings on the base photo.

All of the star photos were loaded in to Photoshop as a series and then blended automatically to provide the star 'trails' showing the movement of the stars in the hour or so I was taking photos, due to the rotation of the Earth.

It's a clever way of combining astronomy with photography and gives an extra dimension to what would be just an ordinary night time shot. I have put the final image below for you to have a look at.

Ocean Village Star Trails

Light trails... by Stephen Ball

This week's blog is about night photography and, more particularly, light trails.  Many photographers take photos at the start and end of the day, around sunrise and sunset, when the light is at its best.  However, go slightly beyond sunset and you reach 'blue hour' - that period when the sun is below the horizon but there is still some light in the sky which often turns a deep blue or almost purple in colour.  Combine this with some twinkly lights coming on in buildings and you have the recipe for some great photographs!  The name 'blue hour' is a slight anomaly as the period only lasts around 30 minutes or so in reality.

The other evening, we had good conditions and so I headed out just before sunset to find a spot/composition for some 'blue hour' photography.  I set up my gear on a tripod (essential for long exposure photography) just opposite the roundabout outside Casemates.  This gave me a great view of the Rock and Upper Town and with plenty of twinkly lights appearing as blue hour neared.

As the light was dropping quickly, I needed a long shutter speed to allow the photo to be properly exposed.  As I mentioned, the camera was on a tripod (I use a Manfrotto 055 with Sirui K-40x ball head) as I wouldn't be able to hold the camera still for the 15 seconds or so shutter speed.  The other benefit of low light, long shutter speeds and traffic is light trails!  The roundabout outside Casemates is always busy with traffic and over the course of my 15 second exposure, quite a few cars would pass with their lights on.  This leaves some great patterns or 'light trails' on the picture but it's a case of trial and error to get the best patterns - I took around 30 photos and picked the best one afterwards.

The pic below was shot at ISO100, f/16 and 15 seconds exposure with the Tamron 15-30mm wide angle lens.  This was then processed in Lightroom.

So, why not grab your camera and tripod and head out for some blue hour light trails!  Please post your best light trail pic in the comments below.

Sailing! by Stephen Ball

I was out on the water at the weekend (Sun 17th) to take some photos for a Client who runs a Sailing School in Gibraltar.  They have 3 yachts and we had all 3 out in the Bay on Sunday morning for the photo shoot.  It was a beautiful morning - clear blue skies and a light breeze.  Sea conditions were fairly calm and the visibility was pretty good thanks to a nice Westerly airflow.

As usual, I was shooting with the Nikon D800, with the Tamron 15-30mm wide-angle and Nikon 24-70 lenses.  The bright sunshine allowed me to shoot comfortably at ISO 100 or 200 and, with apertures of f/5.6 or f/8 in general, I was getting a nice fast shutter speed (around 1/1000) so that there was no motion blur in the pictures given that the yachts were moving.

We took a number of shots of the other 2 yachts as they went through their paces in the Bay.  Eventually, there was enough wind for one of the yachts to hoist a fantastic red, white and blue Spinnaker or 'cruising chute' sail which looked fantastic against the azure blue sky.  We positioned the boats so the Spinnaker was well lit by the sun and with the iconic Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

We also took a number of shots for the Client's website, including photos of the other yachts with the crew sat along the side, plus yachts at anchor and displaying the correct 'at anchor' black ball, along with some internal shots of the yacht interior.

While we were out in the Bay, we were also treated to a free dolphin display - there were plenty of dolphins playing around our boat and I've attached a shot below along with a few of the sailing shots for you to see.

All in all, it was a fantastic morning and I would like to thank Clive and Olly at Jolly Parrot Sailing ( ) for looking after me so well.

Night Photography by Stephen Ball

This week's blog is about night time, long exposure photography.  We were out on Saturday night and, when we left the restaurant, there was a fantastic moonlit Levanter streaming from the Rock.

Never one to be without a camera, I had my trusty little Nikon V1 with me, plus a small gorilla pod mini-tripod.  Walking home from the restaurant, we found a couple of good angles to capture the whole Rock and the Levanter.  I set up the V1 on the tripod and managed to secure it to a fence and checked the composition.  All looked good so it was time to set the exposure.  I was shooting at f/9 and base ISO (100) - this gave me an exposure time of around 25 seconds.  As I didn't have a remote shutter realease, I set the self-timer on the camera so it took the picture 5 seconds after I pressed the shutter.  This gave plenty of time for the gorilla pod to stabilize after the shutter was pressed in case it caused any vibrations.

The images were shot in RAW as usual and were run through Lightroom for some post-processing.  I had the cool off the White Balance slightly to take the orange edge off some of the lights and also lifted the shadows to bring out some of the darker detail and dropped the highlights slightly.  Some noise reduction was applied as lifting shadows does tend to introduce some noise to photos, especially when shooting with a smaller sensor camera as I was rather than the usual full frame D800 DSLR.

I've uploaded a couple of the images below - the long exposure time gives a nice 'smoothed' look to the Levanter cloud.

Check back next week for another blog!




Finalist! by Stephen Ball

There's exciting news for this week's blog - one of my photos has made it to the final of the Royal Meteorological Society's annual 'Weather Photographer of the Year' competition, run in conjunction with the Royal Photographic Society.  This year, the Royal Met Soc received around 2,000 entries, with 45 images making it to the final, one of these being mine!

The image was taken last July, from the top deck of the Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Ocean Village, Gibraltar.  Some intense thunderstorms had drifted North from Morocco and I wanted to get a good vantage point as the skies were starting to look very interesting as I headed out.  By the time I got up to the top of the Sunborn, the skies were looking very interesting indeed and, soon after, the shelf cloud featured in my photo appeared, draped across Ocean Village Marina like a horizontal tornado! I was shooting with my Nikon D800 as usual and shot this very wide at 15mm, f/11 and ISO100.  I wanted to get as much of the sky in as possible as it was really spectacular, but also wanted to include some of Ocean Village etc to give it some context.  Some big fat raindrops were also starting to fall, sending the hotel guests running from the top sundeck, however I managed to find a spot with some shelter overhead so I could keep shooting - I didn't want to have to go inside and shoot through the glass in a window as this can affect your image and cause reflections etc.  It was quite a tricky shot as there was a high dynamic range across the scene....from dark cloud to some very bright areas of diffused sun.  I didn't know how long the shelf cloud would last so didn't have time to try a lot of settings and had to get the shot as best as I could.  Some post processing work in Lightroom allowed me to recover some of the brighter highlights and also to straighten the lines/angles as the picture was taken with the camera not level with the ground given my elevated position - this introduces convergence, depending upon how much the camera is moved from a level position.  This was particularly relevant for this image as it was taken with the ultra-wide angle Tamron 15-30mm lens, at 15mm.

The competition has attracted interest across the media - I've put a few links to media coverage below:-


The winner will be chosen from the 45 images in the final, with the announcement to be made on 20th September.  Fingers crossed!

Cardboard Boat Race! by Stephen Ball

I had an interesting shoot on Saturday - a Client had asked me to take photographs of this year's Ocean Village Cardboard Boat Race - always a fun event and always well attended.

I scoped out the site early in the morning and noted that the floating office adjacent to the pontoon would be ideal as it would give shots of the boats on the start line with the crowds behind, plus the boats going past me mid-race and also a clear view of the boats at the far end as they turned around the marker buoy.  I met my Client just before noon and, as luck would have it, the floating office was where the press area had been set-up.

I had 2 cameras with me - a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, plus a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.  As the D7000 is a DX format crop sensor, this makes the 70-200 a 105-300mm lens so was great for the close-up shots.  It was good to have the 2 cameras as the action was fast paced and there simply wasn't time to keep changing lenses on the one body.  Settings wise, I was generally around f/5.6 (to give reasonable depth of field as I didn't want to completely blur the background and lose sight of all the spectators) with ISO200 to help keep the shutter speed high to freeze the action.

After the races and the prize giving ceremony, I headed round to the foam slide and the water slide where all the kids were having a whale of a time and I managed to get some great action shots with the foam and water flying everywhere.

I've put a couple of pics below of this great event.

Foam Slide
And they're off!!