Depending on who you speak to or which forum you frequent, long exposure photography can be defined as anything longer than half a second to more than 30 seconds and into minutes or even hours. The effects that you will achieve with longer exposure times will all depend on the speed of the moving elements within the frame and, like everything in photography, there are no hard and fast rules. When creating a long exposure image all the usual considerations of composition and light apply but we add in the element of time. We will create an image that the eye itself cannot see and this requires some vision. Whether you want to record dynamic moving clouds, swirling waters, to record or even eliminate moving people in a busy place, shoot light trails or go completely minimalistic, the possibilities are there for us. Personally, I use long exposure in my landscape work.
In order to create long exposures you need to practice and perfect your technique. Here are some considerations you should think about:
1. Carry your tripod everywhere
A tripod is a must. In long exposure photography, be it light painting, light trails or long exposure in landscapes, the shutter is open for more than a second so it is imperative that you have the ability to keep the camera absolutely still.
Giuseppe Foti is a Fine Art and Landscape photographer based in York UK, who constantly travels the world in search of his next photo opportunity. His aesthetic is based on his love for simplicity, minimalism and beauty. Find out whether it was love at first sight for Giuseppe in Venice, Italy with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S. Read More
If you want to take pictures that capture the blur of your subject moving across the frame, then you want to understand the principles of long exposure photography. These shots use exposure times longer than what is needed for an adequately lit picture. The extra time in the exposure retains the movement of your subject—whether it’s car headlights, star constellations or crowds of people. It is a popular tactic in fine art photography because you can make creative shapes with your blur effect, especially in the form of wispy skies.
Learn the best practises for long-exposure photography and you can take your own avant-garde shots in this genre.
Choose the proper outdoor conditions.
Most long-exposure shots make use of the outdoor sky, and you need a sky that cooperates with the blur you want. To show clouds moving across the picture, you of course need smattered clouds visible above and enough wind to gust them across your frame as time elapses. To get striking images of the sun coming up from or down to the horizon, shoot at golden hour.
“Waiting for the sun to set” by Bulkan Evcimen – Fujifilm X100T
Establish a still subject amid your movement.
The best way to frame a long-exposure shot is to find an element that is going to remain still while other subjects move. This could be a tree beneath the swirling sky or a light post next to the gliding swarm of pedestrians. By having a still element, you clarify for viewers that the picture is taken from a steady position.
“Esperance” by Michael Pilsworth, Fujifilm X-T1 – XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 – F11 – ISO 200
Create stability with your tripod and a safe shutter release.
With long-exposure photography, a stable camera is even more important than usual. Whether your shot lasts for three seconds or for 30, any small shake in that duration can ruin the shot. Take your best precautions for dealing with wind. Use your tripod and place yourself as its shield from the wind. Use a remote shutter release or your camera’s shutter delay setting so that your touch on the shutter does not create unwanted shake.
Adjust your camera to the right settings.
Not all long-exposure photos require the same shutter length, of course. Car headlights might leave a light trail in just one or two seconds, whereas clouds might take 30 or 60 seconds to move at the length you want across your frame. You may need to take a trial-and-error approach to creating blurs and light trails of the shape and length you desire.
“In/Finite, Backseat Ballads Camp 26,” by Huy Le – Fujifilm X-E2
Experiment with neutral density filters.
One concern when taking long-exposure shots, especially in midday light, is that photos will be overexposed, as excessive light washes out the image’s colour. To alleviate overexposure, use a neutral density filter, which is a dark piece of glass that blocks light from entering your lens. These filters come in different stops, or intensities of blockage, and let you darken your image without altering colour and hue.
Now that you know what subjects work in long exposure photography and how to compose a crisp image, you can make this genre another facet of your work.
For me personally, long exposure (LE) photography allows me to explore a sense of calm, a visual relaxation that matches the way I feel when I look at the landscape. But for some, the technical side of this style of photography makes it incredibly frustrating and stressful.
Before we get into the technical side of LE photography and counting exposure increase on our fingers and toes, there is something that is far more important than the technical issues. It is vision, interpretation and connection with your subject.
Ansel Adams said “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”