I thought that I would cull through my “long exposures,” both night and day, and show the variety as well as talk a bit about basic long exposure concepts.
1. If you are using a single lens reflex camera (DSLR) and you are shooting from a tripod, learn how to do a mirror lockup if it’s practical. The idea is that with Single Lens Reflex cameras, there is some vibration as the mirror which is used to direct light up to the viewfinder, swings out of the way for the shot, and then flips down again. I can’t say exactly when to do the mirror lockup, and when not to, but if you are doing a longish exposure with a telephoto lens, learn how to do the mirror lockup.
On a Canon DSLR, you’ll find the mirror lockup in the functions. You set it to on. Then when the shutter is pressed once, the mirror swings up. When you press the shutter button again, the picture is taken.
2. Use a cable release. Same idea. Just do everything you can to keep the vibrations to a minimum. If you have a wireless cable release – that’s sort of cool because you don’t need to even touch the camera to release the shutter.
2B. If you don’t have a cable release – USE YOUR SELF-TIMER. Yes, this is every bit as good, perhaps better, than the cable since you don’t touch the camera at all. If the actual moment doesn’t matter (see night skyline below) when the shot is fired off – then the SELF TIMER will do the job.
3. Most of these long exposures are done at night, for obvious reasons. Take a look at the front of the lens, and see if it’s moving in the wind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working with a long lens (say 300mm) and found that the shot was ruined by gusts of wind during the long exposure. As an example, the shutter might be open for 5 seconds. If a gust of wind moves the lens / camera at anytime during the exposure, you will get camera blur.
4. Unless you are trying to get some special effect, use the shortest speed you can. This is dictated by the ISO you choose, as well as the F-stop you need, and the speed of the lens. (Again, a lens with an F1.4 opening would be considered fast. A lens that can only open to f2.8 in my book is slow.) Understand the relationship between the ISO, F-Stop and Shutter Speed.
5. Obviously, if you have Image Stabilization – turn it on.
6. These rules are not hard and fast. Just guidelines, but all are in the service of the effect you are after. And now, here are some examples with explanations of how they were done:
Camera: Canonet 35mm with Tri-x Film. Tripod. Cable release. Exposure, approximately 1/5th of a second. The artistic idea was to have a horizontal blur, but still recognizable contrasted against a vertical pillar. As an aside, the Canonet had a fixed lens that couldn’t be interchanged. I believe the lens was a 48mm, though there were various models. I was using a used Canonet which cost $80. It eventually fell apart and wasn’t worth fixing. With film, you didn’t always know exactly what you’d get, so for a shot like this you would generally stay there and do a number of shots at various shutter speeds. Michael asked about how do you show something as night, especially with digital. In the city, this is pretty easy, since the sky is black and the scene is lit by lamps, signs, etc.
Night Storm was photographed with a 4 x 5 view camera. This was a 30 second exposure. One of the things about shooting with a view camera is that the lenses tend to be long, and slow. You are probably going to have a lens that opens to f5.6, and you generally want to shut the lens down at least two stops to get to the “heart” or “best part” of the lens.
This is true for just about any lens, unless it has been designed to be best wide open.
For example, I’ve found that the Sigma 30mm f1.4 and many Leica Rangefinder lenses are absolutely great at f1.4. That’s part of what you pay the heavy price for. Most lenses, are going to be sharper and have less distortion if stopped down at least two stops. The sweet part of the lens is not the same for every lens. So when you get a new lens, you might want to set it up on a tripod, and do some testing. (Again, that’s for another post).
With the view camera, if you have an F-5.6 lens, and you close it down two stops, that takes you to F11. And honestly, if you have a not-such-a-good lens you may go to f16. So now you are shooting at F16 at night. This is going to be a long exposure.
In this shot, obviously on a tripod, and with a cable release, it was snowing steadily. I was happy to have the black cloth over my head while I focused the camera and made adjustments. But what should be noted is that you don’t pick up snow flakes falling. You don’t see the cars in the background moving.
In general, unless you are using flash with a view camera, you are going to have a lot of things disappearing because the exposure is so long. Another issue during this shoot was to try and find a spot that wasn’t too exposed to the winds because as mentioned, this was a long exposure and you don’t want the camera shaking.
Here’s the most straightforward night exposure. Taken from the Top of the Rock, since this is a digital photograph, I can give all the relevant information. You can’t bring a tripod to the Top of the Rock so the camera was simply set on a flat surface, and another tip, since I didn’t have my cable release with me, I used the self-timer to trip the shutter. ISO: 800, F4, SIGMA 30mm lens; 1/2 second exposure. I didn’t have noise reduction on (NR). With the camera setup, I focused on the Empire State Building, and then set the lens to manual so that it wouldn’t try to “refocus” for each shot. I stopped down to F4 to deal with having everything in focus. I then was able to bracket the exposure, make slight changes to the composition. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is a night shot. Oh, and yes, I did use the mirror lockup for these shots.
Another long exposure, and here’s an example where, at least in the print, you can see that the willow branches are moving during the shot. On the other hand, because of the length of the shot, the lake has that smooth glassy look which is common enough with long exposures. Again, this was on a tripod with cable release. Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel (yes, the very first digital rebel); 4 seconds at f3.2; 24mm Canon lens.
Now the original long RAW shot is well-lit. There is no mistaking it for a night shot – but something that I haven’t spoken about is the post-processing that goes into some of these shots. That is a subject for another post, i.e. post-processing a night shot. Is it different than post-processing for daylight shot? I think so.
I thought it was worth taking a look at the Skating Rink shot, as this pretty much uses all the long exposure techniques. On a tripod. Cable release. Original Canon EOS Digital Rebel. One second exposure. f3.5, and ISO 200.
The length of exposure is important here because I intended to find one person that would remain still for a moment, or to be more precise, a second, while the skaters would be blurred. If the exposure were too long, it wouldn’t be possible to find someone not moving and the skaters would just be a complete blur. If it was 1/2 a second, there might not be enough blur for the moving skaters. With a digital camera, it was easy enough to do this sort of shot because you could see your results immediately and make adjustments as needed. So in this shot you have the use of the tripod, the lens is stopped down about two stops, The rink was actually quite bright, as you can see I had to turn the ISO down to 200 so that I could do the long exposure. I could have closed the F-stop down instead, but at the time I felt more comfortable using the DSLR at ISO 200 because I wasn’t sure yet about how much noise was going to be introduced by higher ISO.
As it turns out, this was a good decision, because the print has been blown up very large without any issues.