New Photo Challenge: Long Exposures

Hey folks,

I hope you are doing very well today. I have a great new photo challenge for you!

It’s time to dust off those tripods sitting in the corner and slow things down by making some long exposures.

I realise it can be a pain in the neck lugging a tripod around not knowing if you will be using it that day.  I’ve personally have resigned myself years ago as treating it as a crucial piece of kit. One I can’t do without.

I’ve walked hundreds a miles around the world carrying it without even taking it off my bag. (Not sure what that says about my intelligence but it does highlight my dedication to keeping my creative options open at all times.)

When the opportunity arises – I am ready.

I mention tripods today because I am going to challenge you to create images using long exposures. I want to see the cool, interesting images you can come up with.

Today I am going to give you a few examples of where I have used it in my work.

What is a long exposure?  For this challenge it is a shutter speed longer than 1 second. Tripod are good for this.

You can get funky and do it hand held and that might be interesting for awhile but I think you will find yourself wanting more control over the final look, eventually.  And for that to happen you will need to dust off your tripod and take it out with you.

Most cameras I’ve encountered will let you make exposures of 30 seconds without needing a remote timer. My Canon 5d mkiii is such a camera. Other cameras will be 60 seconds.

And even others will have a greater capacity for doing really long exposures without an accessory.  Check your camera. Read the manual. Be curious about what your options are.

Long exposures have some very nice effects like:

  • Smoothing surfaces of water
  • Creating light streaks from auto lights, or any moving light for that matter
  • Blurring moving crowds
  • Making people vanish altogether

How much this effect becomes apparent is dependant on the shutter speed and the speed and direction of things moving within the frame.

The longest exposure I have on my laptop at the moment is 419 seconds (6.983 minutes). It was an hour before sunrise when it was still dark with a waning moon, but there was just enough light to capture at ISO 200.  See the image below

419 seconds @ f/16 ISO 200 50mm 50000K

The small aperture was intentional because I was prioritizing making long exposures. I even had a 4 stop neutral density on to increase the time four fold. The effect I was going for was to have a totally smooth surface on the sea and the clouds to streak and blend together.

There was little movement in the sky so the clouds still had some form but the constant never ending movement of the sea became smooth like silk.

If you are wondering about the colouring – the blueness in the first image is due to the absolute nature of the light of the environment – blue sky, blue sea equals blue light.  My final white balance on this image is 50000K. Yeah right! I feel it still needs some colour work done to it.

Below is another image taken the same morning with a time of 239 seconds. This image was made 20 minutes before the previous one.

239 seconds f/11 ISO 200 100mm 4500K

The ambient light in the image above was much darker than the first image and I opened to f/11.

There is not much evidence of this being a super long exposure, other than the clouds being a bit blurry and the calmness of the sea.  I think it is much more pronounced in the first image.

To make these exposures I needed to put my camera on a tripod in bulb mode and attach a remote timer.

Remote timers are not a very sophisticated piece of kit and you can get away with getting an inexpensive one.  I bought mine online for $10 and it has been working great for years.

If you have one of the cameras that max the time at 30 or 60 seconds you will need a remote to create longer times. And you will need to switch to bulb mode. There is a lot of variation in cameras now and I don’t claim to even know most of it. If in doubt read your manual.

Not all long exposures have to be in the “several minutes” category to have cool effects. Even shorter times around 1 second are good. It just depends on how fast things are moving within the frame and what your goal is with the exposure.

Take this image for example.  It was shot with a shutter speed (time!) of 1 second. Lots of good movement from the traffic that created an energetic effect:

1 second @ f/11 ISO 125 50mm

In the image of the street scene below notice how you can only see the feet (shoes) of the people walking.  This is because the feet are stationary the longest. Think about it.

2 seconds @ f/5.0 ISO 50

Here is one at 10 seconds:

10 seconds @ f/11 ISO 100

The gondolas were bobbing but it wasn’t a crazy amount of movement. Still, nice effect.

Sometimes we do long exposures due to the low amount of light.  In these instances we are not going for effect but just trying to get a good exposure.

Here is another 10 second exposure:

10 seconds @ f/11 ISO 50

This is one of those times I was grateful for having my tripod with me. I didn’t know I would find this dark passage until I got there!  It was really dark. It looks like a lot of light was there but you could stand there all day and you would never see it this bright.

13 seconds @ f/11 ISO 50

So long exposures can be used creatively or out of necessity.

Your options are completely open. Just keep in mind that you are probably not going to be able to do long exposures longer than 1 second in full daylight. I can be done but you would need ND (neutral density) filter to help greatly reduce the light onto the sensor.

So plan your shoots when the light is low like at the blue hours before and after dawn and sunset.

Are you up for the challenge of making some long exposures? I would expect you to have some technical or creative questions for me. So ask them below.

Happy shooting and good luck. I am looking forward to seeing your shots!