If you were interested in learning about long exposure photography techniques and were to do a Google search: “how to long exposure photography”, you would find 32,300,000 search results giving you 1000 lives worth of information, tips, pointers, techniques and more. Over 32 million! Long exposure photography is obviously a very popular topic, and one you could study forever. However, studying the topic of photography technique is not nearly as exciting as actually going out and photographing, so let’s tweak the question and ask “why”. Why make long exposures? Asking “how to” activates something in the thinking-mind that wants to research, study, and gain knowledge. Curiously asking “why” is born out of a different part of our self and activates something else entirely – the inner creative. When activated, the inner creative is more inclined to go out and photograph life and experiment with different techniques – not just sit at home and read about them. When you understand the why, the how to comes quite naturally.
There are countless reasons why to make long exposure photographs. Let’s look at some of them and you will begin to not only see the endless possibilities, but likely begin to feel sparks of inspiration that with some focused attention, will allow you to go out and make fire with your photographs.
You can create a hint of movement in the water, as seen here with a 1/15 second exposure of a wave exploding against the rocks. Why? Because you don’t want your photos to look like the guy who jumped off the tour bus and took a quick snap. And, it lends itself more to the feeling that the wave is blowing up into the sky.
Create a touch more movement in the water, as seen here with a 1 second exposure. Why? Because it adds an extra dynamic to the scene, gives the viewer a sense of motion, and creates transition lines which helps move your attention from the foreground to the sea-stacks in the distance.
Extend your exposures out to several minutes to smooth out the water completely, as seen here with a 4-minute exposure. Why? To distill and simplify the scene, to create a smooth surface for the light to reflect off naturally enhancing the light and colors, and to better evoke a sense of stillness.
Extending your exposures is not only useful for smoothing out the water, but to capture movement in clouds, as seen here in a 2-minute exposure. Why? Well, it’s cool for one thing! Also, it makes the image more evocative and creates transition lines in the sky, better leading your attention into the scene and to the isle.
Using exposures of 1-4 seconds are perfect for waterfalls. Why? It creates that smooth-silky look which more clearly communicates the magical vibe most of us receive from being around waterfalls. In this case, the god-rays are also further pronounced by the extended time exposure because the light reflecting off of the atmosphere had more time to record.
Long exposure techniques are generally a requirement for capturing lightning. Why? Because you likely aren’t lucky enough, or quick enough to capture lightning in an instant. Extend your exposures out to 2 minutes and take one image after another after another while lightning is striking consistently, and you have a much better chance of capturing it.
Use time exposures to capture the starry night. Why? Because the camera can record time in the still image, and with a bit of time – say 30 seconds as seen here, you can capture and record the night sky in a way your eyes have never seen.
Use long exposures to make cars and people disappear over time! Why? Because something needs to remain stationary for 20% or more of the exposure to render visible. Now that you know this, you can rid the scene of visual noise through the use of long exposures, and focus your viewers attention with more intention.
Create abstract and impressionistic views of the world through the use of long exposures. Why? Because you can. Because how many people everyday shoot a New York City skyline shot from the Top of the Rock. Because photography is an art and you are an artist. Because if there are any rules, you know that they can all be broken – thrown off the top of the skyscraper and redefined and worked to best express…whatever you like.
Make it personal. Express and communicate. Get funky with it. Experiment. Play. Don’t worry too much about how to. How to is home on the couch reading right now. Get out there and make photographs, and have fun! When you’re having fun and bringing the camera into alignment with that, good things happen.
This weekend I got out there and camped and threw a frisbee around with a couple friends, and you know what? It happened to photograph pretty well using long exposures and a little experimentation. Why? You tell me…