Photography Tips: Long Exposure and Piers
Photography tips are plentiful among the web - many photographers today are self taught through YouTube, Google and the outreach of blogs and social media. This article aims to help photographers wondering how to effectively achieve long exposure shots with one single exposure. The goal is to maintain one static component of your image while blurring the rest through filters, not Photoshop. The result of filters will be a cleaner, crisper, more natural long exposure image. This article focuses on two compositions I shot while walking around Dubrovnik, Croatia.
The trick to long exposure photography is to have a clear focus that remains stable and focused. Most often you see this done with seascapes and rocks. It works particularly well if the rocks you have chosen as your foreground do not get a large amount of waves. For the two images below I focused on the piers to emphasize the character and culture of Dubrovnik. These piers tell a story...as you walk along the harbor you notice each local fisherman is responsible for their own, some more modern than others. Some piers it is a wonder how the fisherman doesn't go tumbling into the harbor early in the morning. These two piers I selected show a strong composition for their detail and character. I like to mix my long exposure shots, often I prefer to have nothing but water in the background to give a perfectly smooth image. For these two shots the boats provide the setting of the image and add to the character of the image.
The first composition provides an interesting look into the culture of Dubrovnik. The pier seems to take off right from the road's edge. The cars zip by throughout the day, and even stopping to compose and create this shot I nervously listened to cars zipping around the corners wondering if one would stray a bit too far sending me and my tripod into the water below. What works about this first composition is the detail of the wood in the foreground. The eye is naturally drawn to the front thirds, leading it back to the blurred boats.
This first image was shot at 16 mm on my Nikon 14-24mm lens.
Shutter Speed: 118 seconds
The time of this photo was approximately 7 pm and it was still dusk outside. I used my Big Stopper filter to give me such a lengthy shutter speed, which I needed to effectively blur the water.
In this second composition the boats in the distance did not work to the overall composition of the image so I opted to focus tighter in on this pier. I opted to focus more with my foreground and the decaying concrete around the wood below. This pier appears to be in a better state from a distance, but up close the photo reveals the twisting, turning of the wood with the decaying concrete base. This image may not appeal as strongly to me, but the black and white helps create attention to detail in the foreground. Again I used my Big Stopper filter to blur the water to a milky white in the background.
You may ask why this shot couldn't be done without a filter since it is cropped so tightly. If the image is left without a filter the water would appear darker and sharper, distracting from the overall image.
16 mm (14-24mm lens)
118 seconds shutter speed
Obviously the first and foremost piece of equipment you need for a shot like this is a good sturdy tripod. After my initial setup I am firing the camera for 118 seconds for each shutter - that means my camera needs to hold perfectly still for 2 minutes! Without a good tripod (not a decent tripod...I mean a very good tripod) your camera will shake and you will be left with disappointing results.
The next piece of equipment that is optional but gives you some flexibility is a remote shutter release cable. These cables are common for every major brand of camera. If you don't own one don't worry - you can get by with your self timer. Just adjust your timer to 5 seconds and fire away.
Finally, invest in a good set of filters. I used the Big Stopper exclusively for these two photos - along with other long exposure shots you see in my gallery and throughout my blog posts. I love this filter because I get clear results while being able to slow the shutter down to incredible lengths without waiting until after dusk.
The Final Tip: Practice
The final piece of creating beautiful long exposure photography is to practice...constantly. I have spent hours practicing long exposure - starting with small local waterfalls that weren't very appealing, and working my up to some of the biggest waterfalls (Iceland thank you!). You need to get out and practice with the equipment you intend to use. If you are renting...great, but create an additional two day window for your rental period to get out and shoot a few test shots before your big trip.
As always, you can reach me via Twitter or Google+ for more photography tips and help for all levels of photographers.