If you want to take pictures that capture the blur of your subject moving across the frame, then you want to understand the principles of long exposure photography. These shots use exposure times longer than what is needed for an adequately lit picture. The extra time in the exposure retains the movement of your subject—whether it’s car headlights, star constellations or crowds of people. It is a popular tactic in fine art photography because you can make creative shapes with your blur effect, especially in the form of wispy skies.
Learn the best practises for long-exposure photography and you can take your own avant-garde shots in this genre.
Choose the proper outdoor conditions.
Most long-exposure shots make use of the outdoor sky, and you need a sky that cooperates with the blur you want. To show clouds moving across the picture, you of course need smattered clouds visible above and enough wind to gust them across your frame as time elapses. To get striking images of the sun coming up from or down to the horizon, shoot at golden hour.
“Waiting for the sun to set” by Bulkan Evcimen – Fujifilm X100T
Establish a still subject amid your movement.
The best way to frame a long-exposure shot is to find an element that is going to remain still while other subjects move. This could be a tree beneath the swirling sky or a light post next to the gliding swarm of pedestrians. By having a still element, you clarify for viewers that the picture is taken from a steady position.
“Esperance” by Michael Pilsworth, Fujifilm X-T1 – XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 – F11 – ISO 200
Create stability with your tripod and a safe shutter release.
With long-exposure photography, a stable camera is even more important than usual. Whether your shot lasts for three seconds or for 30, any small shake in that duration can ruin the shot. Take your best precautions for dealing with wind. Use your tripod and place yourself as its shield from the wind. Use a remote shutter release or your camera’s shutter delay setting so that your touch on the shutter does not create unwanted shake.
Adjust your camera to the right settings.
Not all long-exposure photos require the same shutter length, of course. Car headlights might leave a light trail in just one or two seconds, whereas clouds might take 30 or 60 seconds to move at the length you want across your frame. You may need to take a trial-and-error approach to creating blurs and light trails of the shape and length you desire.
“In/Finite, Backseat Ballads Camp 26,” by Huy Le – Fujifilm X-E2
Experiment with neutral density filters.
One concern when taking long-exposure shots, especially in midday light, is that photos will be overexposed, as excessive light washes out the image’s colour. To alleviate overexposure, use a neutral density filter, which is a dark piece of glass that blocks light from entering your lens. These filters come in different stops, or intensities of blockage, and let you darken your image without altering colour and hue.
Now that you know what subjects work in long exposure photography and how to compose a crisp image, you can make this genre another facet of your work.