Long Exposure Creativity

Take a run of the mill scene and turn it into a dynamic composition. Conveying movement in a picture takes something static and makes it dramatic. In many instances this will draw much more interest for the viewer. The most powerful tool we can utilize in photography is our imagination. If you learn to visualize the potential of the scene you will start to have more creative control of the image.

Here is a little how to for shooting a long exposure using clouds as the dynamic interest of your picture:

Since we are trying to create something dynamic we will also need something static (not moving) to juxtapose with the cloud movement. In the case of the example image I used the mountain. Long exposure-2

Once you have identified a possible composition first and foremost you will need your camera mounted on a tripod. Next you will need to be able to decrease or slow down your shutter speed to several seconds. This can either be achieved via available light shooting very early or rather late in the day. This is when your camera is metering in seconds so you can simply stop your aperture down (raising to larger numbers) to lengthen the exposure.  Another method as with the example image I am using something called a Neutral Density filter (ND).  ND filters in simple terms are filters that knock down the light. ND filters are external filters used in front of your lens. They are measured in stops of light. They come in several configurations and are utilized not only in this type of situation but are also widely used in other applications for landscape shooting. They are used to help balance the light in your exposure which is a whole other story for another time.

Remember when you stop down by one full aperture setting you are doubling the length of your exposure. If you’re at f11 and your camera is metering for a 15 second exposure when you stop down to f16 (1 full stop) you will double your exposure time to 30 seconds.

Using ND filters will give you much more control of the light and can be executed at any time regardless of the current conditions. There is a lot you can learn about ND filters by simply googling them.  In the case of the example image I used a 10 stop ND filter adding 10 full stops to the exposure. This image ended up being 228 seconds.

The image here was shot late in the afternoon but with lots of available light so I choose a 10 stop ND to lengthen the exposure time desired. Once I metered the shot without the ND filter I took out my I-phone which has an app that includes an exposure calculator and figured the correct amount of time for exposure when adding 10 stops.  I currently use something called Photo Pills but there are many different apps available. You can do the math in your head for a few stops but with 10 stops a calculator comes in very handy.  Most DSLR cameras will expose up to a 30 second exposure. I find that anywhere from 5+ seconds will usually add the drama and then it is a matter of your own creative taste.

Remember that after 30 seconds you will need to shoot in Bulb setting mode and have a shutter release device to keep your shutter open for the desired length of the exposure time. Once you make your exposure check your histogram and make sure you are getting a good exposure, if not make your adjustments and try again. Lot’s of trial and error on these shots. I also recommend that if you’re shooting real long exposures that you have your LE noise reduction shut off if it’s turned on. You can always control your digital noise in post. This allows you quicker feedback if you need to try again.

All this sounds complicated but it’s not. It will just take a little time, possibly some more research and lot’s of experimenting.  I did not get this shot on my first outing but that is where all the fun lies, in the exploration. Don’t be afraid to take risks and get creative with your image making you will find it will add a whole new dimension to your photography.

About the image:

This is a 230 second exposure shot In Harriman State Park on the shores of Lake Stahahe. ©Dean Cobin

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Copyright 2014 NYNJTC-Trails to Great Photography

One thought on “Long Exposure Creativity

  1. Dear Larry, Thank you very much for this post. It was of great help as I am just beginning to explore long exposures. I got up early this morning and got some clouds shots but they did not come the way I expected. I guess I need more than 13″ that was the longest I could get with the filter I have right now. I will try again tomorrow earlier.

    Have a nice day,

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