When troubles are opportunities

Well, troubles are troubles and we always wish we avoided them. But sometimes they are just annoyances with the positive aspect of injecting a change in consolidated habits, and in these cases you can perhaps exploit new photo opportunities.

For instance, today I spent the late afternoon in a boating tour at Diaccia Botrona wetlands, a very pleasing excursion that I've already enjoyed in the past (I've posted about it here); the standard schedule is about two hours and you come back to the visitor's centre when the sun is falling. But at the beginning of the return trip the boat engine faulted and we got “trapped” in the middle of the canal for some time, waiting for rescues. There were no risks at all, as the weather was fine — the worse thing that could happen was to be assaulted by mosquitoes (and it didn't happen).

I could enjoy the twilight on the wetlands from the canal perspective, a thing that I never experienced in spite of having visited this place for about thirty years.

Twilight on the wetlands. Nikon D100 + AF 85mm f/1.8D, 1/160 sec @ f/3.2, -1/3 EV, ISO 900, hand-held

Also, at a certain point hundreds of gulls (probably both yellow-legged and black-headed) took off and started flying around, a scene that I absolutely wanted to capture. Given their distance, I needed to use the tele lens for getting recognisable bird shapes; furthermore I chose to put the village silhouette in the background to give the scene a context. Two challenging objectives, if you consider that the light was very low and I couldn't use the tripod on the boat. While some motion blur on the gulls could have been acceptable, I wanted to get a sharp silhouette of the village, so I had to use a short shutter time — in the end I had to push my D200 to the maximum sensitivity at ISO 1600. While this camera has got a very good performance up to ISO 1000 / 1250, at its maximum sensitivity there's a lot of noise, not only in the luminance, but also in the colours, including a noticeable colour cast. Even worse, the shot resulted severely underexposed, about 2.5 EV. Nevertheless, since shooting digital is cheap, I decided to try.

Gulls at twilight. Nikon D200 + AF-S 300mm f/4D, 1/400 sec @ f/5.6, -1/3 EV, ISO 1600, hand-held

The result required a lot of post-processing. Given the poor colour performance, I started by converting the photo in black & white — it's a defensive move, but b&w looks fine with this kind of subject. In spite of cranking the noise reduction up, there's still a lot of noise in the sky (and digital noise isn't as fine-looking as the old film grain); yet it doesn't hurt too much with this “crepuscular” subject.

While I might come back later on this shot and try a specialized software for better noise reduction, I already consider this photo as a keeper; it's definitely not the typical photo I take and it wouldn't be in my portfolio if that engine had not faulted.