Photographer Dan Westergren recently traveled throughout South Australia, capturing the people and places of this exciting region.
Coober Pedy, South Australia, the opal mining capital of the world, is a small town. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but entertainment options for locals are limited. When I visited I noticed the drive-in theater screen and thought, now there’s something you don’t see much anymore. I asked some locals if there was any chance a movie would be playing during my visit. Yes, I was told, it’s Halloween and tonight will be scary movie night.
I arrived at the theater, one of the last of its kind in Australia, well after dark, armed with my camera and a tripod, of course. It was a very dark, moonless night, and my first pictures were taken from behind the cars looking past them at the screen. I quickly realized there was no way I could get a proper exposure of both the screen and the cars, so I started looking for another angle.
Moving around to the front, I noticed that although the illumination was very dim, there was a nice quality to the light created by the projection bouncing back off the screen onto the viewers. Off to one side, an entire family was set up to watch out of the back of their car. Happy to find a shot that would be more than just a bunch of cars lined up, I set my camera near the family and tried to frame up the picture.
But even by using the electronic viewfinder, I couldn’t see much. The only option was to point the camera in their general direction and take a picture with the camera’s exposure set to automatic. Once the exposure was finished, I could review the shot, slowly adjusting the angle of the camera after each shot until the picture was framed up the way I wanted.
While watching the scene, I thought it would be nice to show the rays of light coming out of the projector, but they didn’t show up very well in the pictures. I did notice that every now and then the projector beam seemed much brighter. When that happened, looking back at the screen I saw that the image being projected was an outdoor snow scene, turning my light source, the outdoor screen, into a bright white rectangle. This movie was a horror flick that alternated between spooky, dark interiors and bright white snow scenes.
Now, all I had to do was watch the movie and start taking pictures when the plot moved the characters outdoors. I took numerous shots, knowing the five-second exposure would probably blur the subjects. Out of that series, there were two frames where everyone sat just still enough to make them recognizable. And the white beam of light showed up just fine in the pictures.
Photo Tip: It is always worthwhile to pay careful attention to the changing light on a scene. Usually a good picture results not from figuring out some special exposure setting, but by simply taking the shot when the time is right.
Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T1 and a Fuji XF 16-55mm, f/2.8 R LM WR.
Follow Dan Westergren on Instagram @danwestergren.