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Capturing Cromer’s iconic pier on camera: tricks and tips from former Professional Photographer of the Year David Morris

PUBLISHED: 11:01 29 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:35 29 November 2018

Nocturne: Going Home.
Photo: DAVID MORRIS

Nocturne: Going Home. Photo: DAVID MORRIS

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Have you ever wondered what makes one person’s photograph stand out from the rest? Is it skill, having the right kit, or simply being in the right place at the right time?

Nocturne: Light on the Face of the Water.
Photo: DAVID MORRISNocturne: Light on the Face of the Water. Photo: DAVID MORRIS

In a series of regular columns for Enjoy Cromer More, former Professional Photographer of the Year David Morris will be sharing tips and tricks for snapping that perfect shot.

Nocturne: The Illuminated Steps.
Photo: DAVID MORRISNocturne: The Illuminated Steps. Photo: DAVID MORRIS

As well as being an online community hub where people can share news, views, events and ideas, the Enjoy Cromer More Facebook group has become a popular platform for amateur and professional photographers to showcase their work.

Nocturne: Seats in the Rain.
Photo: DAVID MORRISNocturne: Seats in the Rain. Photo: DAVID MORRIS

And with its rugged coastline and historic town centre, Cromer is the perfect location for photography fans, with the seafront regularly snapped from every angle by tourists and locals alike.

Nocturne: Going Home.
Photo: DAVID MORRISNocturne: Going Home. Photo: DAVID MORRIS

But what does make one picture of the town’s iconic pier more striking than the dozens of others taken almost every day?

David, who lives near the clifftops, has won a string of photography awards, working on projects including producing a series of images of performers at Great Yarmouth’s Hippodrome Circus, a study of customers at bars and cafes all over Europe, and portraits for an award-winning book on the lives of Cromer fishermen.

In his first column, he gives the lowdown on a stunning series of images he captured of the pier and seafront at the end of a rainy day . . .

Nocturnes, by David Morris

I’ve always liked the 19th century artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler, I like the sound of his name, I like his work and I love his Nocturnes.

Someone else came up with the description, but Whistler took to it immediately.

To him, it described a body of work that was stripped of the conventional story-telling that was common in most paintings of the time.

He said: “A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and colour first.”

Whistler wanted to mould moods and stir the imagination by subtle combinations of colour and form that he captured in the hours of dusk.

I figured I’d ‘borrow’ this approach and thought at first I would do all the work using a tripod.

Working in failing light, you end up pushing the power of the camera to its limits to capture anything.

I’m often working at 6400 ISO, which means images have a lot of grain and noise which can become uncomfortable on the eye.

It also means I have to do a lot of rescue work in the shadows to bring out what the eye can see at the time but the camera can’t capture.

With a tripod, you have a chance to keep the noise low and do long time exposures that can produce quite magical effects.

Digital capture works differently from film. If you under expose film you may just be able to pull some detail back, but digital captures more information on the right side of the histogram, so I think it’s better to over-expose and darken down to what you saw in the processing.

If this is sounding too technical, skip it - there’s lots of ways to skin a cat and this is just the way I work.

What I am trying to explain is that, for me, a lot of the interesting stuff is deep in the shadows and I need to be able to get at it.

‘The illuminated sea’ was taken on a tripod but at just enough shutter speed to capture detail in the waves. Posting it on social media is a good way of checking reality.

I liked it but was it just too simple, just too self indulgent - or just too boring for anyone else to appreciate?

The image went down surprisingly well, so a path has been set: Nocturnes it is.

Of course, you can always abandon all of the above - and the tripod - and shoot at 6400 ISO and simply embrace the inevitable noise and grain.

This is what I did coming out of the Pavilion Theatre bar in Cromer. It was dusk, the rain had just stopped, and the newly-painted benches looked vivid against a sky that was heavy with cloud and storm.

I took some photographs and liked what I saw. I thought I’d try a straight shot to include just the benches and the sea and then this chap with the brolly walked right past me. I thought ‘rats! I’ll have to do that again’.

But the man makes the composition and when I posted the image on Facebook it drew an immediate response; it’s a happy accident of simplicity and harmony – even the brolly echoes the white of the benches.

I’m not sure it qualifies as a Nocturne as Whistler would define it, but there is a story here and people seem to like it - we all want to get home on a filthy night.

Which leaves me wondering who is this chap? An appeal on social media drew a blank. If it’s you please get in touch - but I need to see the brolly to confirm!

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