Mastering some of the best-known camera techniques can help you capture some really unique images and will supercharge your growing skills and learning. Experimenting with these creative techniques will take your photography to a whole new level. One such technique, and one of the most magical is the long exposure technique. This is a technique used by photographers to capture movement that takes a longer period of time - anything from several seconds to hours. You will need to get into manual mode and from there you can adjust the shutter speed. Examples of objects that move in these time frames include fireworks, clouds, moving car lights, stars in the night sky etc. Using normal exposure to capture these images means only one ‘frame’ or a snapshot of the entire movement is captured, whereas leaving the shutter open for longer means the entire movement pathway is captured in one frame - such as the ‘star trails’ and streaking lights beloved of night photography.
The very slow shutter speed needed (from a few seconds right up to several hours) means leaving the shutter open for an extended length of time. Obviously, stabilisation methods are needed to keep the camera absolutely still for that length of time.
So how do you go about achieving this effect?
- Essential Gear: stabilisation is the single most important issue here. The camera must stay absolutely still for the entire exposure length. A remote shutter release is also necessary to minimise camera shake at the start and end of the exposure.
- Neutral density (ND) filters: bright scenes can be a challenge for long exposure times. Filtered discs are placed over the lens to reduce excessive light, helping you achieve longer exposure time even in bright conditions. This is not a must-have, but can help in certain situations.
Choosing the Right Subject
There are many situations which can be captured using this filter. Night landscapes, seascapes, busy cityscapes and even more experimental portrait photography. The only limit here is your imagination, so get thinking and get out and experiment. When starting out, we suggest choosing a subject with a movement pathway of only a few seconds and something that’s really accessible, such as a car moving down a street at night. As you get used to this technique, look for other subjects that have elements that move, such as clouds, water, or people. Long exposure lends a lovely silky, soft feel to waterfalls and clouds particularly. As you get more used to this technique, you can move onto longer experiments, such as star movement.
Photo: Kelan Molloy
As with the faster motion blur technique, consider the overall pathway of the movement, and compose your image accordingly. Pay attention to the background and foreground to achieve balance, and experiment with angles and perspectives.
Timing is Everything
Photo: Seamus Counihan
Especially with longer times, you really need to plan in advance and check what’s in store with the weather. Changing light and weather conditions can play havoc with best laid plans, and elements unexpectedly moving in your frame can ruin a well planned composition.
Use post processing to subtly fine-tune your images and enhance you long exposure shots. Adjusting contrast and colour balance can change the mood.
Practice and Experimentation: Mastering this technique requires, time, practice, experimentation. You may not get the image you set out to get, but you may get something better! At the very least, you will gain invaluable experience and it makes the job easier for the next time you pick up the camera. It is crucial for this learning process that you are prepared to change it up and try different settings, subjects, lighting, angles and more.