The Bandra - Worli Sea - Link, as it is popularly known in Mumbai has become one of its landmarks epitomising growth, prosperity and well - the need to have a solution for never ending traffic. This bridge links two key parts of Mumbai - Bandra (Suburban Mumbai) with Worli (South Mumbai) via a 6 lane express way built over the sea thereby reducing travel time by almost half. While traveling on the bridge you can't really stop your car and cars travel at pretty high speeds on this bridge - thereby making the option of taking any pictures on the bridge - effectively useless. So while traveling on the bridge is a nice experience in itself, being able to photograph this landmark in the early morning sun is an altogether different aspect - something that has been in my head for quite sometime!
Come new year - 2014, I wanted my first photograph that I make in 2014 to be special. It had to be of something that I always wanted to do, but never could, because of various reasons - however my laziness would undoubtedly be the biggest attribute, I would say. I'm not an early morning person and the thought of waking up at 5am, traveling 12 kilometres to a place I'd never been before, not knowing what to expect was not too easy to beat around in my head. But well thats is what its all about in Landscape photography - you can't control the elements of nature and what an early morning will present in front of you is what you have to live with - especially with the mood and lighting changing every minute as the Sun appears and then starts moving up the horizon. Whatever said and done, watching a Sunrise is a spectacle in itself though!
Back to the idea - so the idea of photographing the bridge first occurred to me when I saw a picture of the bridge taken by another photographer friend. I immediately checked with him on the details and ultimately figured that Bandra fort was the best vantage point. I started researching on the Bandra fort and how to get there - there isn't much information available easily on the internet, as this so called fort is in a pretty dilapidated state, sitting in one corner, where typically only couples or nearby residents visit for some quality time together in isolation from the hustle bustle of the city.
So fast forward to Friday the 2nd of Jan and I had made up my mind that I had to make this shot the next day morning - come what may! For the ones who are interested, I'll also give directions on how to get to Bandra fort, how did I shoot what I shot and what gear was used. Here's the sequence of events that unfolded on the morning of 4th Jan 2014.
5:00am: The alarm rings and I immediate put it to snooze so as not to wake up my son and Wife. The alarm goes off again after 15 minutes - I painfully get up from bed, half asleep - yet determined to make this shot.
5:45am: I'm ready, put on a jacket - it gets a little chilly in the early mornings in Mumbai this time of the year, plus I didn't know whether it will be windy near the sea.
5:55am: Camera - Check, Lens - Check, Filters - Check, Memory Card - Check, Tripod - Check. All set to depart. I had already checked the previous night that Sunrise was set for 07:12 am the following day, so Timing & Weather: Check!
6:00am: I'm on my way in an auto rickshaw to Bandra
6:45am: I'm next to the Hotel Taj Lands End and ask for Bandra fort - I'm told its right down the street. I hold my breath as the auto moves towards the fort - my eyes go to the gate - which is open, although there's a guard standing at the gate. I'm half expecting him to stop me and tell me that the Fort timings are from 10:00am, or to stop me from carrying my tripod - or something to go wrong! I pickup my back-pack and tripod and without any hesitation start walking towards the gate. I hold my breath as I cross the guard, but nothing! I'm relieved - I can make my shot!
7:00am: I'm stationed at the vantage point I think is best to make the shot I have in my head. I take a deep breath of the salty fresh air from the sea as I can hear the waves crashing into the rocks at a distance. Everything is beautifully quiet! Its pitch dark with the bridge lights on; they'll go off any minute now and I'm now waiting for the day to break.
There are a group of guys with a camera and a guitar, and this guy breaks into strumming his guitar and singing songs. For once I didn't mind, it just felt so natural. At a distance I hear another guy doing the same. It was as-if everyone was there to pursue what they loved doing best - without anyone to stop, question, disturb them - it felt good!
Between 7:05 to 7:15 am: The bridge lights go off, and my eyes adjust to the darkness in front of me, I check the exposure on my camera and I see at an aperture of f/9 I'm getting a 30 second exposure; I look up at the sky and it has this magenta haze of the early morning. I immediately put on the self timer and press the shutter. The warning camera beep rings in my ear before the shutter is released with a loud "clack" and the viewfinder goes blank; I wait a painful 30 seconds before the shutter closes with another loud clack and I see the green led on the back of my camera desperately working to get the picture preview. Finally the picture is previewed and I just love it! The 30 second exposure has made the water go dreamy and the haze and fog has lent a pretty nice overall atmosphere to the shot. Here is the shot I took:
As you can see the Sun is rising from the East, which is to the left of this picture and therefore the transition from the bright to the dark on the right.
7:30am: I'm still waiting for the sun to appear above the horizon and for the mist/fog to clear out. I'm listening to the songs played by this guy while I help out another person try and take photo of the sea-link with his camera. I fiddle with his camera for a few minutes finally managing to find the right settings for the shot. While I'm doing that he tells me his is a basic point & shoot - and I hand him over his camera, telling him its not the camera that makes the picture - its you. You've come here to take this picture so early and that itself is 80% of the work done! I have a new-found respect for landscape photographers - Landscape photography takes tons of patience!
7:50am: The day gets brighter but there's still no sign of the sun, so I try and do something different. I start looking for other vantage points where I can place my camera and take a picture. So far I was in the comfort of the fort, but I looked right beyond the walls of the fort and I see these huge rocks which lead to a better vantage point.
This was how I was setup on the fort (shot with my phone camera):
8:00am: I pick up my rig and start walking towards the other vantage point carefully balancing myself on the rocks. I didn't want to injure my foot again, especially now that I've recovered quite well from a fractured left ankle (more on that sometime later). While walking over the rocks I noticed that the rocks were pretty well balanced with them stashed against each other in pretty intricate patterns. My confidence was quickly shaken when I set foot on one of the rocks and it moved a little bit - a scary feeling especially when you have the Indian Ocean in front of you and memories of a broken ankle! Nevertheless I persevered on.
Here is how I'm setup at my new vantage point (shot with my phone camera):
Now you know why the moving rock was a scary experience!
8:15am: I'm setup at my new vantage point. The sun hasn't come out yet, although the sky has gotten brighter. Everything is pretty hazy still. I make-up another frame in my mind, change the orientation of my camera to Portrait mode and take another shot. I knew this shot had to be black and white - there wasn't much colour in the sky now. The initial magenta sky had turned a dull light grey now. This is the shot I took:
8:30am: Finally the sun makes its appearance from behind the bridge. I have mixed feelings now. While the sun has risen, the mist and haziness hasn't cut yet. I'm thinking on the fly of what to do. I come up with another frame in my mind - I'm half convinced that it'll turn out well, but I decide to go ahead with it anyway (In my experience its always better to take a shot and not like it, then not take it and not know how it would've turned out later!). So here's the rising sun shot for you:
You can see the haze from where the sun is rising, and if you look closely, you can see the very faint outlines of the south Mumbai skyline. Actually I was thinking that had the haze cut out - I would've made the same frame with the Mumbai skyline in the background. But well I couldn't influence mother nature enough, so I'll live with this shot. The sky had turned golden where the sun was rising, yet was dark grey to my right.
While shooting into the sun, I made sure that I had the circular polarizer on and on top of that I had a 4 stop ND filter screwed to my lens - in total blocking about 6 stops of light. While many of us have a perception that polarizers are meant only for producing blue skies and are the most effective when shot at a particular angle to the sun; but there's another marvellous use of this beautiful piece of glass - that is to eliminate reflections and increase saturation!
This is how my camera looked like with this setup (shot with my phone camera):
I was using a Kenko Zeta Slim Polarizer screwed to my lens. On top of that was a Hoya HMC ND8 - 4 stop neutral density filter. I was lucky that there was no vignetting even with two glass filters screwed on to my wide-angle lens.
8:50am: I decided to move back a little bit and try a different composition given that there was some golden light in the sky. What I noticed was that the golden light was casting a beautiful glow on the sea-bed rocks where I was standing. So I picked up my rig moved back a bit, set the camera to portrait mode and took another shot. Here is the resultant shot from this setup:
See the golden light on the rocks! Thats why this time is called the golden hour, everything that the sun-light falls on turns golden!
9:00am: I'm thinking of winding up now. The sun is pretty much up there in the sky, playing hide and seek with the haze & mist and the golden hour and its glow gone. I pick up my entire kit and turn back to start walking towards land! As I'm walking back, I notice another vantage point farther ahead and to my right. I recollected that in all of my pictures taken so far, I've only been able to capture the first two piers of the bridge - the tallest ones. But there are two more shorter ones behind those tall ones which give the bridge its signature look. So I negotiated my way amongst the bigger rocks to get to this new vantage point.
This place was totally different from the earlier place. The earlier place was high-ground and dry. This was wet solid jagged rocks which had been made that way by the continuous beating of ocean waves. I knew a slight loss of balance and all my camera gear is going to go straight into the water and then of-course there was my ankle to think about!
I moved on carefully planting my foot on the wet rocks and making sure not to move too fast. The light had changed and I knew the next shot had to be black and white as it wasn't too dramatic in terms of colours. Here is how I was setup here:
You can see how different these rocks are from the ones I was perched on before and it was all wet all around me. One wrong footing and I would've lost balance, not to mention with these rocks its pretty easy to get bad cuts, bruises, broken bones...well thats what was going on in my mind anyway!
By the way ever wondered why there's a hook at the bottom of the central mount of your tripod? Well you know now - it serves two purposes - one: you can use it to hang your backpack/camera bag etc while you're shooting, especially in such wet places. but most importantly, it adds additional weight to the tripod thereby eliminating any further vibrations due to wind or even the camera shutter itself (very important, especially when I'm shooting longer exposures)!
So here's the resultant shot from this setup:
9:30am: Its time to wrap up now. I've had the shots I wanted. I wanted to make one good shot, I think I have a few more which is more than what I had expected. So what if the weather played spoil-sport, but then that is how it is. I should've probably shot this at a different time of the year when the skies were clear. But then overall I was happy with what I had achieved.
If you like shooting landscapes, you might find some tips I'm sharing below useful to improve your photographs:
- Wake-up early - I know sounds cliche, but thats the fact. The golden hour is beautiful, plus not everyone wakes up so early - so its relatively people-free and quiet
- Watch how the light changes, its effect on the overall scene in front of you and the resultant frame you are going to shoot - The most important aspect
- Early mornings or late evenings are the best times for shooting landscapes - the golden hour and the blue hour as they're respectively known
- Know your gear inside out - You shouldn't be struggling with how to shoot with your camera, when the right moment is there in front of you. Light changes within seconds in the field and an opportunity lost is lost!
- Know the sweet spot of your lens - you might have a very expensive lens but not knowing the sweet spot i.e the zoom range where it is the sharpest or the aperture where it is the sharpest - will yield average results. Remember landscapes are typically shot at smaller apertures.
- Keep a flashlight - You're typically setting up your rig before sunrise or just before sunset and its pretty dark at those times. A flashlight helps make sure you're stepping right. Also helps make sure you're not fiddling with the wrong buttons in your camera and unknowingly making changes to the settings. Happened with me once - I turned on auto ISO on for a long exposure shot and guess what - the camera choose ISO 12,800 to take the shot. I need not say how that shot turned out.
- Always try and use a tripod - landscape photography and handheld don't go well together. You're mostly shooting at smaller apertures with slower shutter speeds - camera shake can ruin your most beautiful shot easily. Remember what looks good in the back of your camera doesn't necessarily look good when you look at it on a bigger screen
- Hang your backpack to the tripod hook - helps improve stability of your entire rig
- Get a polarizer and use it irrespective of the direction of the sun - it'll help minimize reflections and increase saturation
- Please don't over process your images. HDR is fun, but overdoing it makes things look unreal. Every digital photo needs some tweaking to get it to what we see, but sometimes people go overboard. But then this is a form of art - and to each their own.
- Print your pictures. This is important as you really know how the picture looks like in real life, rather than just being a file in a folder on your computer. Plus its nice to have your wall in the house lined up with nice picture frames which you've shot. Its a good starting point for conversations when you're socializing at your place.
- Finally! - Get the composition right. Even the costliest of gear, most exotic of locations can't make you get a nice picture if your composition isn't pleasing. Also if you have an interesting foreground, try and include it in the frame - this will give depth to the overall image, while giving a sense of the surroundings as well.
- How to get to Bandra fort? Well ask anyone to take you to the Taj Lands End hotel. Once you get there, just ask anyone and they'll guide you. Its hardly 50 meters from the hotel entrance gate.
- What gear did I use?
- Camera: Nikon D800E, Lens: Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZF.2 - its a prime lens, Polarizer: Kenko Zeta Pro Slim Polarizer, Neutral density filter: Hoya HMC ND8 filter, RAW Processing: Capture One Pro 7 - I've downloaded a trial version. It is by far turning out to be the best raw processor in my experience. Almost 90% of my processing has been done in Capture One Pro7, Final processing: Adobe Photoshop CC. (This doesn't mean you need the same gear to make nice pictures, the camera is a tool, you just need to know its strengths and use it to the best of their abilities to get the shot you want)
Well thats it for now. This year I'll keep updating my blog with more such posts. Sharing my knowledge and once in a while sharing a picture or two with you. If you like what you've read, please do take some time and leave a comment below and share it with anyone who you feel might find this helpful!
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