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Long Exposure Photography – New Monthly Challenge

Long exposure photography is a fun technique to explore if you haven't tried it before. In my night photography class, and on some of my workshops many people try it for the first time.

What is long exposure photography?

Generally long exposure photography is considered anything more than a few seconds long. That means that the shutter inside your camera is opened for five, ten or even 30 seconds or longer.

Long exposures are what make streams and waterfalls look creamy and dreamy.

Why do you want to do long exposures?

Some of the reasons you may want to do a long exposure have to do with adding blur such as: waterfalls, car light trails, star trails, zooming during the exposure, etc. Or you may just require the shutter to be opened a long time in order to get the proper exposure in a darkened environment like at night.

It also adds an air of mystery to your images. It captures something that the human eye cannot see, so your images will stand out from the crowd.

Long exposures can capture car light trails at night.

How do you do it?

Do do long exposures you will need a few things:

  1. A camera that has manual mode, Bulb, or shutter times that go at least up to 30 seconds. Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have this ability and even many point and shoot models do as well. Check the manual for your camera if you aren't sure.
  2. A sturdy tripod. This is absolutely critical! Not just any old tripod but a good solid, sturdy one that will hold the camera steady for the duration of the exposure. One that is wobbly or stays easily in the wind will not do the trick – you will get blurry photos. If you aren't sure yours is sturdy enough – read this article and test it. If you need help selecting one to buy – read this.
  3. A remote trigger of some kind or self-timer. When doing a long exposure you do not want to touch the camera at all, not even to press the shutter button. Get a remote timer, SmartPhone app that can control your camera, or use the self-timer to fire it. Just note that if you're using the self-timer you will not be able to use Bulb and do exposures longer than 30 seconds. But if you have no other options start there.
  4. A neutral density filter. If you are trying to do long exposures during the bright midday sun you will need to cut down the light using one of these filters. If you do not have one the solution is simple – go back later when it's darker!
  5. Patience. Doing long exposures forces you to slow down and wait – you have no other choice. This is a good thing. I'm always saying, slow down and take your time. Now is your chance to practice that.
Zoomed during a long exposure for a fun effect.

Monthly challenge – long exposure photography

As you may have guessed by now your challenge this month is to get out and try your hand at some long exposure photography. There are a few technical things you'll need to know about doing it. Rather than writing it all again here – read these two articles on night photography tips and they will give you a good guideline for doing long exposure photography. Everything that applies at night, also applies any time you're doing long exposures:

Long exposure here shows the movement of the clouds.
Long exposure here shows the movement of the clouds.

Wrap-up and winner of last challenge

Last month your challenge was to shoot in monochrome (b/w) mode all month. Many of you took it to heart and ran with it. I love the comments and some of the lessons learned including:

  • From Lenny:   I live in Mexico and often times there is just too much “distracting” color to separate the subject from all the colors. After doing this project I find myself looking for contrast much more and trying to ignore the color and going for the contrast when a shot looks too cluttered. BTW, Darlene, this was a very good learning experience and fun project and thank you!
  • From Raja:  Three things that i noted in this month are 1)Composition, 2) Angle/View and the last but most important that I have learned is 3)Lights/Shadows. Shadows impacted most of my images, from creating mood to changing the view of the image.
  • From Typical Cheryl:  It became more about “how can I use light to capture to the subject the way I intend.” My “Aha” moment came while shooting inside using window light and moving around the subject (sometimes moving them with me) to see the effect the angle of light has on the subject.
  • From Kim A:  I started paying more attention to the way the light was affecting the object rather than just the colour. In the first picture I started noticing contrasts, in the second picture the mood the lighting created and in the third picture how light brings life to the picture. I am just a beginning photographer and this was a great learning experience for me. Thanks for the challenge 🙂
  • From Sylvia:  I've been thinking that maybe I should take a b&w before I take a color picture (well, maybe not every time) because it seems to me that where the light is, is where the soul of the picture is.
  • From Mary F:  I enjoyed this month's challenge. Setting the camera to monochrome really made me think more about the composition of the photo than if I would have shot in standard color. Some things I learned about light from this exercise: I was more easily able to see the light/shadows on the subject at different times of the day than if I shot in color. I realized that deep shadows isn't necessarily a bad thing if that is the emotion you are trying to evoke from the photo.


And the winner is . . .

Selected randomly from all of you who completed the challenge, shared your images and what you learned – the winner is:

Terry Titmarsh: Working with the light I managed to get one photo of two stylised pineapples and another of an ANZ bank sign based on a pineapple crate, but in silhouette. I will keep progressing B&W photos just to get better at light usage. Thank you for such interesting challenges.

Congratulations Terry, I'll be in touch on how to claim your prize – a free registration to our Portrait Fundamentals course ($149 value)

Details for this month's challenge

This is what you need to do to participate in this challenge.

  1. Setup your camera and tripod and do some long exposure photography. Some of your exposures must be at least 10 seconds long, experiment with different times and different subjects. If you shoot in raw format, you will have more exposure information to work with later.
  2. Share some of your images and results with us in the comments below. Tell us what worked and what you had any struggles with. I'll help if you have questions.
  3. Post your photos and comments by June 30th to enter. I will close comments at the end of that day and anyone who has shared their long exposure images will be eligible.
  4. Share with your friends. Especially if you're doing night photography it's more fun with a friend. Find a buddy and do this one together.


The Contest

In order to be eligible to win this month's challenge you must complete the assignment, and post a comment below by June 30th 2015 (midnight EST) that includes:

  • At least two of your long exposure images
  • Tell us about your experience – what worked and what did you have trouble with

The Prize

This month the winner will have a choice of prizes between:

So get shooting!


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