Long exposure photography is a wonderful area of photography to try out. If you have never done it, you will quickly learn how to do it and will probably love it. The great thing about long exposure photography is that you can take your time both in composing a shot and capturing it. Often for long exposure photography, you will be photographing when the light is low. So that means you will get places to yourself without the crowds. So here are 6 ideas for scenarios where you can utilise long exposure photography.
What is long exposure photography?
As the name suggests long exposure photography requires you to expose the camera’s sensor for a considerable amount of time. This is when your shutter is open and your sensor is exposed for multiple seconds or even minutes! There are two reasons that you may want to use a long exposure.
The first is out of necessity. This is when there isn’t enough light in a scene and so you need to keep the shutter open to allow enough light to pass through to allow your image to be exposed correctly. If you ever tried taking a photo at night with a fast shutter speed (without raising the ISO) you will notice that your image will be very dark. So you need that extra time to allow the sensor to pick up more light from the scene.
There are also times when you would be able to capture a photo at a faster shutter speed but you deliberately want a longer exposure. A longer exposure will allow any movement to be blurred which can give your photo a more dynamic look. When combined with static objects this blurred effect have stunning results. So the second reason is because of your artistic vision.
What do you need for long exposure photography?
Naturally, there are certain pieces of equipment that you will need for long exposure photography. A tripod is a must and without one, you will not be able to capture sharp enough photos. There is no way that you would be able to handhold a camera steady enough for 1 second let alone multiple seconds or minutes. Other than a tripod the other accessory that you might need from time to time is a neutral density filter.
In the intro to this article, I wrote that “often for long exposure photography, you will be photographing when the light is low”. Well, there are also opportunities to capture long exposure shots when it is not low light (i.e. during the day). But to do so will require you to manipulate the available light in a scene. In other words, you need to make it darker so that your shutter will be open for longer. That is the purpose of neutral density filters. Depending on how bright a scene is, you can use one or more filters to darken the scene. This will allow you to have a longer exposure during the day.
Some ideas for scenarios for long exposure photography
Traffic – roads with cars driving along might look pretty dull and uninteresting during the day. But when photographed at night using a long exposure, they suddenly transform to a plethora of colour and movement. This is because car lights produce wonderful lines in long exposure photos. It’s a term that is called car trails (or light trails). Take a photo of a scene with some buildings illuminated and car trails will compliment the scene perfectly. Play around with different shutter speeds to see the effect it has on the car trails.
Clouds – capturing moving clouds can look very dramatic in photos. Unlike car trails, you will often need to allow far more exposure time to be able to capture the movement. Depending on how fast the clouds are moving, don’t be surprised if you need 30 seconds or more before you see any movement in the clouds. Sometimes even in low light conditions like early morning or late afternoon, you may still have to use a neutral density filter (or graduated one) to darken the scene enough for longer exposures. Try it out during landscape shot but also when capturing cityscapes. The moving clouds against a skyline will look great.
Water – probably the most well known and easiest subject to capture long exposure photos of is water. This gives the effect of silky smooth water which looks fantastic against contrasting rocks or even buildings. Again your exposure time will be determined by how fast the water is moving. A thundering waterfall might only require 1/60th sec to blur whilst a gentle stream might need seconds. Experiment with different shutter speeds to try to get a balance between the silky smooth water and the static sharp objects around it.
People – it might seem strange to not want to have a person focused sharply in your image, but sometimes even people could be photographed with long exposure. For example, if you want to show the movement of someone dancing or running. Or it could be that you want to show the chaos of a street scene. Try it out next time you are photographing a street scene. You may be surprised by the results.
Fairgrounds – the thing about fairgrounds is that pretty much everything moves. They are usually also bright and colourful and lit beautifully at night. So all of the ingredients needed for a great long exposure shot are there. In fact, you will probably find that fairgrounds look better in the evenings than during the day.
Star trails – A more advanced scenario for long exposure photography is star trails. The reason that this is a little more difficult is because of the time needed to capture the shot. But also the post-processing involved. For this sort of photography, you will need an intervalometer. Unless you have plenty of time to spare and the discipline to accurately take photos every few minutes for hours, then this piece of equipment will save you a lot of hassle. It is a wired cable release with a timer, but it allows you to capture hundreds of images over a certain period of time at set intervals. In the end, you will end up with a whole load of photos that need to be stacked together into one image. You can take on the manual painstaking task of doing it yourself or get specialized software for this. The end result will be a stunning photo that would be worth the effort.
These are just some ideas on how and where you can use long exposure photography. Try it out for yourself and you never know you may actually fall in love with the process and the results.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.