Tony Alves shoots the cooling towers of his local power station and captures the different effects weather and aircraft movement have on the scene
My home is near Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, close to Kelvin power station. The power station was built in 1957, and still generates electricity, after it was partly mothballed some years ago. Our recent electricity supply crisis made it necessary to start up many of these coal fired relics, and I’m led to believe Kelvin is currently running at about 30 per cent of its capacity. Half of the facility is not in use. Every night outside my door, I see aircraft taking off from the airport heading every which way. The planes and power station make great subjects.
It’s dark at night so my ISO sensitivity on the D300 varies from 400 to 1000, depending on the brightness of the scene, although the former allows me to keep the shutter open longer (8 to 10 secs) so as to allow the lights of the aircraft to span the frame. I vary the white balance to create different moods as many of my photos are shot from the same direction, with a similar composition. Obviously the noise reduction facility in the camera helps, although post-production in Photoshop enhances the images a bit more. Mostly I just reduce noise, and play with the contrast.
I am always interested in the linear movement of the aircraft against the soft lines of the cooling towers and wisps of
I am always interested in the linear movement of the aircraft against the soft lines of the cooling towers
smoke as a result of the long exposure. There is a certain energy in the juxtaposition in this image , I think. The aircraft normally fly from south to north (right to left in this photo) but also head east (directly away from me) towards the coast (Durban, Port Elizabeth and so on). Each time I photograph the cooling towers the aircraft trajectories are different.
Drama in the skies
Approaching thunderstorms from the north force the aircraft to bank right and fly directly away from me, heading eastward. Focusing can be tricky, because despite the appearance of good light on the images it is actually quite dark, so I manually focus on the windows of the power station building to ensure my images are sharp.
Thunderstorms on the Highveld, as the greater Johannesburg region is known, can be fierce, intense and often dissipate as quickly as they arrive. When I was photographing this night , storms were passing from the west behind me, and heading east, leaving behind crisp, clean air. As another thunderstorm fizzled out on its way towards the East, the dull lighting allowed me to shoot this in monochrome which I think lends itself to the weather conditions, reminiscent of old black-and-white movies.
I thought of cymbals in an orchestra when I first saw this shot . One could almost write some music to this explosion of raw energy and power, which defies the age of this time-worn relic from which it escapes. The warm glow of the towers is a product of Tungsten white balance, which cooled the sky but kept the towers bathed in the orange street light.
2 2 Lightning Nikon D300, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D, 20 secs, f/8, ISO200 1 Plane trail Nikon D300, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D, 13 secs, f/9, ISO250
3 3 Cymbals Nikon D300, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D, 8 secs, f/7.1, ISO400