I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on this particular night in 2012.
It was a beautifully clear and warm evening, so I cycled to St. Kathrine Docks to photograph Tower Bridge. The UK was in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games and the Olympic Rings had recenly been installed.
[do be warned if you go here, they chase you off if you use a tripod, I got away with it for a while, but eventually got told off!]
When I arrived there were workers and their vans on the bridge, and some camera crews too, all very busy doing 'something'.  I hadn't been there long when, from out of the blue, these spotlights came to life. Beams of light swooping and moving about, pausing for a moment, then off again in a repeating pattern. It was easy enough to time the pauses and take this 'probably' once in a lifetime image.
Shortly after the light show began, other lights popped up and a neon-lit speedboat came hurtling under the bridge, on its way down-river. When I later watched the opening ceremony for the games, I saw that David Beckham had made his way to the Olympic park in a neon-lit speedboat... so that is the boat I saw... that is why they briefly had Tower Bridge lit up this way that night.

Above:  The above image is pretty decent, right?  But how did I get to this from a single exposure?

Well... the short answer is, post processing, and lots of it!

Below:  This is the raw image after it has been neutralised, or if you prefer, the equivalent of a flat profile is applied, similar to video LOG, to reduce contrast and increase mid-tone and shadow detail. The image is flat and boring... but if you think about it, videographers do this all the time... they colour-grade in post process, they want flat and boring, it is the most useful way to capture data, and data is what your digital image is!
But what about the actual raw file out of camera?

Below:  This is what it looks like.  It is awful to the eye. It looks over exposed and there are no details in the shadows. If this was film, it would be in the bin unless you had godly darkroom skills.

But I know my camera's sensor. I know I can over expose by at least a stop and a half and I know that if I use low iso I can pull back 3 - 5 stops of exposure/detail in shadows with the equivalent of approximately 1-2 stops of noise gain.
So even though this looks like one for the bin, it came out exactly as expected, and as you can see, I was able to pull out enough information from the raw file that the final image is more than satisfactory.
Film photography and darkroom masters knew the latitude of the film stock they used. Nothing has really changed, the technology we use today essentially works in a similar way.

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