Not So Tall After All (Long exposure)

Not So Tall After All (Long exposure)

I’ve been attracted to long exposure photography for some time now, without really acting on it. I sure do enjoy night photography, especially in urban landscapes, but I’m not used to long exposures during the day. Our last episode of the European Photo Show was about long exposure photography and +Francesco Gola really inspired me with his seascapes.

We’ve been having cloudy evenings for 3 days now, with nice sunsets. I took the opportunity to try out long exposures from my balcony. Living on the 9th floor in France has its perks!

Basics of long exposure photography

Long exposure photography is based on reducing the amount of light that reaches the sensor (or the film). In daylight, closing your aperture is not enough, you need to add filters in front of your lens. It’s a piece of dark glass that only lets a little light through. When you have less light, you need to make a longer exposure. With the right filters, you can expose for several minutes in the middle of the day.

Gear

I’ve been using a Nikon D7000 with either a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens or a 55-200mm f/4-5.6 lens (I do have other lenses). I have a very sturdy Sirui tripod with a ball-head and a Nikon infrared remote. In terms of filters, I have (for now) two Hoya ND filters: ND8 (3 stops) and ND400 (9 stops). I will soon receive another ND8 filter, to be able to filter 15 stops down.

Observations

Long exposure is all about patience: not only during the exposure, but also to prepare a shot. You need to set up your camera and to do some test shots without filters. Then you calculate the exposure time with filters on, to choose which filters and what aperture to use. Focus your shot and mount the filters. And you’re ready to go. And if you want to try another composition? Start again!

Long exposure photography is a lot of work, but it’s all about vision: you won’t shoot 300 images of the same place, so you really have to think about your composition. You might even not have a second chance: for instance, after I shot the image above, the colors in the sky were gone in 2 minutes. No time for another shot.

It’s hard to picture how the moving clouds will appear in the final shot: it’s easier when you have similar clouds moving in the same direction, but when clouds are all over the place, it’s a different matter. It’s both a inconvenient and a nice surprise when the image appears on your screen.

My tripod is pretty good! I had no issue with a 3 minutes exposure even though there was a bit of wind. My filters seem to be working fine too. I need to do some tests to know if there is some color cast or if it’s the white balance.

The image

This is a 3 minutes exposure of the business district La Part-Dieu in Lyon at sunset. I was quite lucky to catch this light since it only lasted for about 5 minutes. For a first time, I’m quite happy with how it turned out! What do you think?

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