Long Exposure Magic

DSC_4405 ISO 100mm f/16 @ 126.0 SEC ND filter 3.0 (10 stops) and CL Polarizer.

Long exposure photography can create magical looking images.  As with everything thing else in photography there is a good mixture of technical knowledge needed as well as creative vision to conceptualize what it is you are wanting to create.  The technical side to this involves not only knowing what your camera is capable of from the inside but he extra equipment that will be needed.

I’m sure you can guess that a tripod, of course, is a must (or something solid that doesn’t move to set the camera on).  Two other things you’ll want to have (if you don’t already) is a remote shutter release and a Neutral Density filter.  The filter is where things can get confusing and tricky because they make some many different grades of it.  They range from 0.1 (.3 stop of light reduction) to 4.8 (16 stops of light reduction).  The images that I am sharing today you’ll easily be able to tale which ones were done with a ND filter and the ones that were only with a polarizer filter.

P1000156ISO 125, f/3.6 @ 1/1600th sec no filter

DSC_4391ISO 100, f/14 @ 70.0 sec, ND filter #3 and CL Polarizer

How do you feel when you look at the photo of the New York City skyline shot at 1/1600th sec compared to the one shot at 70 sec (70 seconds)?  Gives the second photo more of a “painting” feel without the need for photoshop (or any other software editing program).  With that being said you will still need to do a little work in post when it comes to shooting long exposures due to noise.  Of course you can set your camera up to reduce the noise in camera, it’s just something that I do not prefer myself.  I like to have complete control of my final output.  You’ll just have to test how well your camera processes it internally and see if you like the results.

P1000184ISO 125, f/8 @ 1/200th sec no filter.

DSC_4407ISO 100, f/18 @ 122 sec, ND filter #3 and CL Polarizer.

On the next two pictures what I want to point out is the reflection of the lighthouse.  Even though I cut this image short, you’ll notice how the reflection of the lighthouse on the water is barely recognizable but in the second photo it is more defined due to the smoothing out of the water.  There are many ways that shooting with long exposure (and having the right tools) can help create more interesting photos. Let’s get back to that tripod for a second because this is very important due the length of exposures you will often be working with.  Use either a heavy duty tripod (something weighty) or find a way to hang your camera bag off of the tripod to give it more weight for sturdiness.  This will make the difference in everything in the frame that is stationary and should be in focus stays in focus.  The day that I shot these photos (shooting along the walk of Roosevelt Island towards New York City skyline) it was quite breezy and sometimes down right gusty.  Thankfully my tripod has a hook on the bottom of the center column and was able to hang my bag on it.  That is one of the problems with shooting up here during winter time and that it is usually breezy or windy.

DSC_4397ISO 100, f/18 @ 179.0 sec, ND filter #3 and CL Polarizer.

What are some of the different ways to use long exposure photography?  As I’ve demonstrated here you can use it to smooth out moving water in waterscapes but you can use it for light painting, moving car streaks, creating abstracts, star streaks and removing people (or other moving objects) from your scene without the need to be a photo editing guru.  I will be making this particular subject a three part series with one being a mixture of light painting, nighttime car streaks and creative abstracts.

Everything about photography requires getting out there and shooting…a lot.  It takes practice and patience when you are really trying to hone your craft and become more and more of an artist.  Most of my waterscapes are shot in daylight after the sun has come up and before it begins to set.  The amount of sunlight you have working against you (and how much of the smooth “painting” effect you want) will depend on what ND filter you will use.  As you noticed, I also used a CL  (circular) Polarizer filter along with a ND filter.  I do this because polarizers are great for waterscapes plus it also added an extra degree of light cut-off.  See, unless you were shooting a night scene, you will have to use a ND filter to be able to get this effect.  With out one you’ll never be able to slow down your camera’s shutter (or use the “bulb” function) enough without blowing out (white out of image) the photo.  Remember when I mentioned that ND filters come in different degrees of light cut-off?  That’s because you lighting may dictate that you need a 0.3 (rather than 3.0) to get the effect.  Photographers who specialize in this type of photography will have a set of ND filters.  If you buy a set or you get a few different ND filters you’ll then have the option of even stacking them together to allow for even longer exposure.  I have even seen someone use them at night to shoot the stars.  I mentioned the “bulb” feature on your camera half way of this paragraph and if you are not sure what that is…no worries.  It’s simply a setting to be used with a remote release that allows you to hold the shutter open for how ever long you want.  Most cameras will only allow for the shutter to stay open for a certain amount of time on it’s on but gives this option for you as the photographer to decide how long the shutter needs to stay open.

Every shot that I shared with you showing the effect of long exposures were done on the “bulb” mode (and I ALWAYS use a remote release for this).  The exposures were too long for the camera on it’s own.  You’ll just have (again) practice.  Tiffen offers a kit which gives you a set of 3 filters and is a pretty good set to start with and as I mentioned you can stack the filters when needed.  Another type of ND filter that is out there that you’ll no doubt be tempted to get is the variable ND filter.  This filter is two filter together with one of them able to rotate.  As you turn the front element the filter lightens and darkens gradually.  This is great up until you get to the darker points of its rotation.  Once you get to that point it will start to shift colors producing unpleasant photos (this is from my own experience for what I have used and what I’ve read about other users of other manufacturers).  My opinion is to stick with individual filters.  Before you buy a filter (or filters) please read the user reviews.  The last thing you want to do is buy a filter and end up not happy with it’s clarity results.

Check out Wednesday’s post.  I will be talking about the trip we took out to Sands Point Preserve with some photos we took and give you my opinion on how this rates for a “photographers paradise”.  I will be taking time off after this Friday for a much needed vacation to go and visit family and friends that I haven’t seen in 2 years.  So the following week there will be no blogging from from me but will be revamping with some exciting things when I start back up (especially when it warms up!).

Best ~ R


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