What I love the most about photography is capturing the “moment”. The moment, to me, can be a split second, or a passage of time. Either it’s a quick shot of a groom kissing the bride, or a 2 hour star-trail, I want to capture it and tell it’s story in a single photograph.
My favorite form of capturing these moments are long exposures or stacking photos from a time-lapse sequence. There is so much you can show with this style of photography and it’s the most rewarding to me.
In my last article, I wrote about shooting the night sky. Shooting the stars requires exposures of 8 seconds or more, usually 20 for a decent photo. But what if you took an exposure of the sky for say – 50 minutes? Or 4 hours? What would it look like? Depending on which direction you’re facing, star-trails like this will happen.
This photo was taken in Sedona at the Chapel of The Holy Cross, or as locals say, Chapel Rock. This was an equivalent of about a 40 minute exposure facing directly north with Polaris (north star) aimed behind the chapel. Earth rotates on it’s axis from west to east around 1,040 miles per hour so that is why you see the stars trailing.
There are plenty of other things besides stars to photograph that are moving in slower speeds such as: cars, the ocean, or even ferris wheels.
Long exposures of the city are extremely fun to take. If you are near downtown in your city, there should be lots of traffic to photograph that will leave you with “light trails” like you see in the photo pictured above. To photograph downtown cityscapes, I recommend an aperture of f/9, 12 second exposure, and ISO 640 to start out with. Play around with your exposure time and aperture to get longer car trails. You can also head out into darker skies and capture a car on the highway driving through the mountains like I did on Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona:
Oceanscapes / Landscapes
Another favorite subject of mine to photograph long exposures is – the Ocean. I love creating waveless blurry seascapes. For the ocean, I highly recommend you purchase a Nuetral Density filter for your lens. An ND filter will allow you to take longer exposures without blowing out your photo. The pier photo below was a 66 second exposure at my smallest aperture (f/22). These filters are great for any long exposure you plan on doing while there is still a lot of light in the sky. Also, depending on your shot, if you need to reduce the amount of reflections from water try using a circular polarizer filter (often called a CPL filter) for your camera lens, which can have dramatic effect if you are trying to reveal what is underneath the water’s surface.
With ND Filter
Without ND Filter
Taking long exposures can be perfected with practice and by learning how to determine the right amount of light to let in during your exposure. Depending on conditions, you could have a really quick shutter, or you could take up to 30 seconds, or even 30 minutes. Light can be a mysterious form, which is why almost every long exposure image is unique.
Sean Parker is a traveling photographer in Tucson, Arizona who enjoys to capture the beautiful scenery this world has to offer. Aside from photography, Sean also specializes in motion controlled time-lapse cinematography.