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barbican-steps.jpg Barbican Steps

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Barbican Steps

Old limestone walls and the curve of the handrail on these steps leading up to Lambhay Hill from the Barbican. Plymouth, 2008

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Making the capture

Spotting the shot

As soon as I started down those narrow, almost claustrophobic steps, their character began to sink into me. I could see that although the steps were made of granite, they were still showing a definite dip from the wear of countless thousands of feet.

Another quirky thing... because of the curve, you couldn't see if anyone else was coming the other way, until you'd committed and were a few steps down yourself. I imagine that there must have been some tight squeezes as people passed each other down the centuries.

Also, the curve, in shortening your view, added to that closed-in feel—it was definitely a transitional space, a between-places space, not one to pause in but one to pass through.

Ok, so how to capture that and make the shot?

Making the shot

So having briefly noted this little lot, I got to the bottom of the steps to check how it looked. Perfect. Apart from a pub sign that was padlock-and-chained to the handrail—but that was easily moved to the side, out of frame.

For me this sort of shot requires what is almost a side effect of the HDR / tone-mapping process, getting enhanced local contrast. I find that this best reproduces the texture and feel of stone under bright light.

I also needed the enhanced dynamic range that comes from using HDR (I used 'simple' HDR where the different exposures all come from a single (RAW) shot). This was because the range between the bright summer sky and the deep shadow in the corners of the steps was just too much—either the shadows would lose all detail or the highlights, the sky and clouds, would be blown.

Exposure, ISO etc.

f16 1/80th 17mm HDR ISO 200

So with a basic plan in mind I whipped out the camera and checked readings etc. I needed to be at the 17mm end of the zoom to get it all in and use a deep depth of field.

So, with aperture priority set as usual, I rolled it up to f16. That meant, at my usual setting of ISO 100, the shot would have been made at 1/40s.

Much too slow, given that people were up and down the steps all the time. So I pushed the ISO up to 200, (which gave me 1/80s) and waited for a lull in the sudden foot-traffic that always happens when you're finally ready!

It didn't take too long and I made the shot. Actually, I took two or three, choosing different exposure locks from different parts of the sky, to make sure I got what I was after.

Keywords: steps, railing, limestone, granite, Plymouth, 2008

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