A walk on the dark side

This past weekend Riekie and I (see previous post here) decided to head into the small city of George to look at the Christmas lights. Yes I know, Christmas was almost three weeks ago, and the lights had been switched on sometime in mid-December – but I kept procrastinating. I had driven through town at night and seen them in passing, but I had not taken a walk down York Street (the main road) to really look at them.

After getting some inspiration from Lu (who photographed the Christmas lights in London) and Reggie (who did the same in Cape Town), Riekie and I decided we were up for the challenge. Neither of us had taken any photographs at night, so we had to do some research first on the best camera settings to use and pick up some professional tips. One article which proved to be really helpful was the Strobist blog post on how to photograph Christmas lights. The phrase that had me slight worried though was “You’ll have about a 10-minute window which will give you a nice series of subtly different lighting variations”. It usually takes me several minutes to pick a scene, choose camera settings and focus the camera – and we were going to be walking around taking photographs along the road. So catching the magic 10-minutes was going to be a challenge. Obviously, we should have done a dry-run earlier and picked the best spots and lights. Oh well, we have about 11 months to get organized for next year!

George has two very long main streets (York and Courtney) which intersect at a T-junction (in the form of a traffic circle), and the people who set up the lights had decided to concentrate their efforts in and around that circle. There was a huge live tree decked in coloured lights and an impressive (remember this is George, not London!) display of “animated lights” in that area. Unfortunately, by the time that we got up to the circle (we started half-way down York street), it was already too dark to get good shots here and near to impossible to get stills of the animated displays.

Down the rest of York Street there were “individual” lights of some description on every lamp-post. There were also lamp-post lights along Courtney Street for quite a distance. At the bigger intersections there were more elaborate displays like the ones below.

Items from the left: not sure - manger? music score?; Wiseman; elephants; giraffes; lion; tiger with mountain peaks behind; bear? Not sure what the tiger and the bear are about - neither can be found in Africa. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

This one is a bit easier. There used to be a passenger train running along a scenic route between the towns of Knysna and George. The pink crocodile is a reminder of the crocodile farm which used to be (long story!) in George. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

A view down York street showing individual lights on each lamp-post. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The individual lights – basically a number of lights making up a drawing of some creature or other – were a little puzzling at times.

A moth? ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Spider? Tick? ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Huh? Maybe some mythical creature? Looks like they ran out of lights to complete this one! ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Eventually we decided it was getting too dark to take photographs of the lights, so turned our attention to the buildings. Turns out churches make really good night-time photographic subjects as there is usually some lighting illuminating the front of the church.

From Wikipedia:

The Dutch Reformed Mother Church was consecrated in 1842 after taking 12 years to build with its 23 metre domed tower and 1 metre thick walls. It was constructed by a supervisor and a number of skilled slaves who continued to work as ‘apprentices’ after the emancipation of slaves in 1834.

St Mark’s Anglican Cathedral, designed by Sophy Gray and built in 1850, attained cathedral status in 1911. It was the smallest cathedral in the southern hemisphere until extensions in 1924-25. The nave is the oldest section. Its most distinctive feature is the number of stained glass windows in relation to its size.

The Cathedral of Saint Mark (Anglican) - built in 1850. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The Dutch Reformed Mother Church (consecrated in 1842). With an almost full moon and wispy clouds drifting by it looked (and was!) quite spooky. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

A close-up of the church tower. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The photo below was taking at the beginning of our photo-walk before it got fully dark.

New and old: The modern SARS (income tax) office next to the old George Post Office. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

So not too bad for a first attempt at night-time photography. And more importantly it was a lot of fun! With there being a number of churches and historic building around here, I feel a new photographic series coming on!

Once again, thank you to Riekie for indulging me and taking this photo-walk with me. And also for “having my back” and scaring off the shady looking characters who approached us!


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Categories: Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


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22 Comments on “A walk on the dark side”

  1. January 12, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    I so enjoyed this post – I can just imagine you and Riekie trekking through the city centre with your cameras, this must have been such fun!

    The link to Strobist’s blog was excellent – some really good tips there.

    • January 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the post – it was a fun outing. Yes, the Strobist blog looks like it’s got a lot of good info.

  2. January 12, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    I think the top pic is of Noah`s ark- with Noah and the animals. I doubt they let lions in to the stable.

    • January 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      You’re right – you clever thing! Although shouldn’t there be two of each animal?

      • January 14, 2012 at 4:43 am #

        I know- that throws off my theory since there are only two pairs…

      • January 14, 2012 at 6:41 am #

        You are right though – that is an ark. Think they just got lazy after doing the first couple of pairs!

  3. January 12, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    How fun!

    • January 12, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      Yes, it was fun – and slightly cooler out that evening. A relief from the hot day-time temperatures.

  4. January 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    Yay! I’m so glad you had fun doing this – your photos are very cool 🙂
    I love the animal pictures – it’s lovely that in South Africa, where snowflakes are few and far between, that they have chosen NOT to follow traditional Christmassy (read Winter) themes. Some of the insect choices are a little curious, however!

    • January 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      Thank you, Lu! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the spectacular lights of London to photograph . . . Oh, there were snowflakes etc too! 🙂

  5. January 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    You are a natural with this night photography stuff – and without a tripod, no less!

    I think it can get addictive to photograph older buildings. There is so much character in all the details.

    Great photos, Lisa! 🙂

    • January 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      A natural? Don’t think I’d go that far! It helps having a small camera when you’re not using a tripod. You should try it sometime! 😉

  6. January 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Really nice job capturing the lights at night without blur (and without a tripod.) Good for you for going through with it even though you hadn’t done a dry run.

    • January 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

      Thanks for the compliment, but you’re only seeing the best photographs! I had my share of blurry images too . . .

  7. January 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    I’m amazed by your photos, Lisa! The church shots are especially lovely! Great job, my friend!

    • January 13, 2012 at 7:10 am #

      Thanks Kathy! I really like how the church photos came out – think it’s time to take my camera on a tour of the churches. Would be interesting to do a day-time versus night-time series.

  8. Sarita Botha
    January 13, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Wow, that is really pretty. Love the churches at night.

    • January 13, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      Yes, the churches look really good. Am considering doing a “George Churches” series with day-time and night-time shots.

      You would have had a good laugh at us creeping around in the church gardens – there were lights on in the NG Moederkerk and I wondered whether anyone would come and ask us what on earth we were doing! 🙂

  9. January 13, 2012 at 11:43 am #


  10. jacquelincangro
    January 14, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    I loved some of the interesting shapes they use for Christmas lights. Beautiful and uplifting. Hope you’re doing well this weekend.

    • January 14, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Hopefully next year I’ll get some shots of the animated displays as well. Still have to find out how to do that. I tried making a video, but that didn’t work too well.

      January and February are the worst months here. The humidity is killing me!

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