In the Skatepark at Midnight

I haven’t quite managed to keep up with posting every Monday. In my defence, I’ve been afflicted by something that had many of the hallmarks of either a mild flu or a bad cold and didn’t manage to complete anything over the weekend, and I’m currently sitting here as I type this with my body apparently trying to cough up my own lungs. Hey ho, nothing like a day off of work to give me a chance to complete some writing and hack up my internal organs in peace.

Whilst wandering around London one night waiting for a movie to begin, my wife and I happened across a small area designated for skating that exists on the South Bank. It’s been there for quite a while, but I’ve never stopped there to photograph; I’ve passed it a few times when armed with my camera, but there’s often a significant imbalance between spectators and skaters leaving me feeling too self conscious to photograph them.

1/15sec, f/4, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67, 24mm

Funnily enough, the skatepark seems brighter at night than during the day; at night, the place is well lit, but these lights are off when the sun is up. As reasonably well lit at this is, it made for an interesting challenge, as there was precious little light for shooting action.

The practical upshot of the poor lighting is I had no choice in taking long exposure shots. It make for some interesting images, as I ended up taking far longer exposures than I normally would, and initially intended.

1/8sec, f/5, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67, 55mm

Normally, I wouldn’t deliberately shoot at lower than 1/30th of a second if I’m shooting handheld; anything less than that and the shot usually ends up a bit of a blurred mess. The shot above is close to being a blurred mess, but somehow emerges cohesive, and perhaps a better image than had I noticed how low a shutter speed the camera was using.

I’m normally quite reluctant to push the ISO too high especially in dark conditions where more noise will tend to be present. I know that sounds quite silly, of course you’d use a higher ISO in lower light, but what I mean by that is that the less light there is, the more noise you’ll see at any given ISO.

Aperture isn’t great at noise reduction, especially compared to Photoshop, but it isn’t bad, and fortunately my camera is not bad in low light.

1/13sec, f/5, ISO 4000, exposure bias -0.67, 47mm

As I continued to follow this skater, I pushed the ISO right up in order to get some sharper shots. Even at the maximum setting capturing movement was impossible.

1/13sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 55mm

I guess this section of the park was darker than the other bits. I like the way his hand is the only bit of him sharp.

After watching this guy for a bit, I moved along to another part of the park, which I continue to call a park despite the fact it wasn’t really one, more a bit of concrete suitable for skateboarding.

1/13sec, f/4, ISO 4000, exposure bias -0.67, 25mm

I really love the colours and detail in the graffiti at this site, and the lighting is pretty interesting too. Some of the graffiti was obviously pretty modern, with images of some of Britain’s gold medal winners.

1/5sec, f/5.6, ISO 4000, exposure bias -0.67, 79mm

Near this other part of the park, there was a different set of people, without skateboards or bicycles, practicing parkour.

1/20sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 55mm

Much like earlier, I aimed to get some interesting, blurred action shots – having long given up on getting anything even remotely resembling a frozen-in-time action shot with the light available.

1/13sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 57mm
1/13sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 57mm

Parkour, if you’ve not heard of it, is otherwise known as freerunning. It showed up in an action sequence in the Casino Royale Bond reboot and before that, a Channel 4 show called Jump London. I love it, I think it looks so graceful. There’s something like gymnastics about it; you need such strength to look so weightless. There are a few freerunners that practise very close to where I normally work near Waterloo Bridge; one day I’ll have my camera on me when they’re there (and won’t be afraid to approach them to take photos). In the photos above, the guy in the white trousers is taking a run up and doing an acrobatic flip over his friend.

All of this was enough to amass a bit of an audience, which helped me feel less self-conscious whilst taking photos.

1/13sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 87mm

As well as the skateboarders and the parkour kids, there was a guy on his BMX…

1/40sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 52mm (cropped to portrait)

There was also a few younger kids on their scooters, looking like they wanted to be keeping up with the older kids – and doing a pretty decent job of it.

1/20sec, f/4.5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 37mm

I think I may have gone a bit far on the tilting of the frame in that shot. In this next shot – back with the parkour people – it looks a little more natural.

1/20sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 48mm

After I grew bored – and having shot quite a few frames, although most of them were a blurry mess – we continued on our way. I took one last shot of the perspective of the pillars, just as a kid on his scooter went past.

1/25sec, f/3.5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 18mm

You know, I like it, especially the purple in the background. And at 1/25th, that frame contains the shortest exposure of any of the others in this set.

I can’t guarantee when I’ll be posting next; I really want to shake the last vestiges of this cold before the next one gets me, and it’s my wife’s birthday before the month is out. I still have a backlog of processed images for posting and unsorted images for processing, so I’m not running out of material yet – hopefully that backlog will be looking a bit smaller by the turn of the new year. I’d still like to get November’s roundup post out as close as possible to the turn of the month, however, so hopefully that will drive me to work through the lung hacking.

14 Comments

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  1. The breadth and depth of your subject matter always makes your blogs interesting to read. You have the soul of a photographer as you are able to adapt to any situation and make a shoot out of it. I envy the skills you are developing as a result.

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  2. brilliant set – lots of speed n shutter stuff…. 2 lessons from my perspective – never open with an apology – 2nd the phrase ‘In my Defence’ is another apology – so lets restrict your posts to the following – I am making a contribution which is positive in itself…. and ‘what an excellent set this is’. So CS accept it is for what it is – a cracking set…. Scott

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  3. petit4chocolatier November 29, 2012 — 2:58 am

    Great pictures! I love all the colours!!

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  4. I always love this place – there are so many images you can take, and the background is always changing. The local council have made something special out of what, to many people, is usually an annoyance, but a skate park where the public genuinely want to stand and watch the protagonists is superb! 🙂

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    • It’s also great to see “yoofs” using it without being trouble – they just want to skate, cycle, freerun. These little areas are as close as many places get to youth clubs these days.

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      • That’s what I love about the place – they’re just left to get on with it, and enjoy skating, etc, without doing it illegally… Having said that, there’s always an occasional ‘sweet smell’ when you wander past… Ahem…

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  5. I could never decide if this place looked great to take photos or if I’d just end up totally frustrated. You’ve done a great job, the freerunning ones stand out the most – the background in those, with all the graffiti colours, is brilliant.

    It’d be interesting to try and get some of the kids on scooters with more of a ‘trail’ behind them at a slower shutter speed, a bit like you’ve got with the skateboarders and freerunners, to highlight the movement.

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    • Actually, now you mention it, one thing I would have possibly tried if I knew then what I know now (or remembered then what I knew a little of at the time but understand better now) is using the flash in Second Curtain mode, which fires at flash at the end of the time the shutter is open, rather than at the start, which creates a sharp figure leaving a blurred trail (this isn’t a bad example). I would have been concerned that the flash would be a bit distracting, however…

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