Behind the Camera: ‘Sun Pillar and the Skerries Lighthouse’ – Church Bay/Porth Swtan, Anglesey

Ideally I’d like nothing better than to be sat somewhere with dramatic scenery to catch every sunrise and sunset, and to then be on call 24/7 to record every visually awesome thing that Mama Nature delivers – if you know of a job opening like that, let me know! – but as it stands I have to be happy with catching what I can, when I can. And sometimes, things happen so fast that you have to rush to grab the camera and set up before that cool thing vanishes.

This is exactly what happened last night. I’d just come back from a walk – without the camera; sometimes it’s good to exercise the mind’s camera – and given how few clouds there were I decided to just sit back and watch the sunset.

And then Kat pointed out sun pillar. A sun pillar (you can also get a moon pillar, and even pillars created by artificial light sources) is an atmospheric optical phenomenon resulting from the reflection of the light by ice crystals present in the Earth’s atmosphere. So I run back and grab my camera bag, return, and then set up for some shots.

I had to work quick, as these sorts of things don’t hang about for long, so I chose to shoot a panorama consisting of four vertical shots. I wanted to capture the way the sun pillar dwarfed the Skerries lighthouse both in terms of size and power, and I also wanted to capture the sheer majesty of the sky and how the color of the clouds varied rapidly across the sky. It’s amazing how rapidly everything changes at either end of the day, and this is where knowing your kit comes into play – you don’t have time to be fumbling with your kit.

The individual shots were taken at F8.0 – the sweet spot for most lenses, and ideal for this since I didn’t want either enormous depth of field nor bokeh – at 98mm, ISO 100. Despite the setting sun these settings when combined with my Canon F2.8 70-200mm plus x1.4 convertor gave me a reasonable shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. I used my 3 Legged Thing tripod (which as a dodgy leg at present which I’m hoping to get fixed next week) to hold the camera rather than doing that manually as that gave me the best chance of success (there was no going back for a second set of shots if things went wrong).

I pre-processed the images in Lightroom 5 (basically busting dust spots, and enabling profile corrections and chromatic aberration removal) before exporting them into Photoshop CC to create the pano. The pan distortion was removed in Photoshop CC using the adaptive wide angle filter (it was a little tricky to get the horizon straight, but it has to be done because if it’s out by less than a degree the eye still picks it up), and I tweaked the image using luminosity mask techniques.

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