Common Myths Surrounding Long Exposures

Long exposure photography can offer views of landscape or urban environments in ways that are impossible to see with just the naked eye. However, there are still some myths surrounding long exposure photography that get brought up during conversations that I hope I can address with this list.

It has to be dark to do a long exposure photograph

The first thing you think of when you hear the term long exposure photography are landscape shots of star trails and frozen mountains or waterfalls. Depending on the time of day you can turn dark into light. You can also turn sprawling urban environments into lifeless scenes reminiscent of disaster movies.

Forth Rail Bridge and Anchor

This image was shot in the afternoon under bright skies and intermittent cloud cover.

By using ND filters you can reduce the amount of light that hits your sensor in order to increase the exposure time. This means you could take a long exposure of a city center on a busy Saturday afternoon and have an end result that gives the feeling of isolation. Because the people are moving most wont stay in the same place long enough to be exposed in your image.

You need to buy expensive filters

This is the same myth that surrounds many aspects of photography. You do not need expensive equipment. In fact my first forray into long exposure photography involved making my own filter using welders glass.

Bow Fiddle Rock

The image above was taken using a DIY welders glass filter.

You can buy squares of welders glass which you can attach to your camera using elastic bands or in my case using the ring from an old UV filter and attaching it with bluetac. Welders glass is normally around 10-14 stops and can be bought for £5 or less on ebay. And this can still give results on par with branded 10 stop filters and is the perfect way to experiment before forking out on expensive filters if that is what you want to do.

If you want a 10 stop ND filter then you can get the cheaper threaded ones that mount onto the front of your lens. Haida do a great one for £35 which works a treat and you can find them on Ebay. The image of the Forth Road Bridge above was shot with one. I’ve seen photographs of the same bridge shot with the expensive Lee 10 Stop filter which retails around £120 and usually has a waiting time of a month or two. That’s a big financial commitment to make to something that you might just be getting started with.

Glasgow Necropolis

In fact sometimes you don’t even need filters to do a long exposure. If it’s dark or the light has started to fade you can get a shutter speed of a couple of seconds simply by setting the ISO to 100 and the aperture to anywhere between f11 and f22, and then changing these settings to get the length of shutter speed you desire. It should be noted that changing these settings should largely be creative decisions. Normally for landscapes I’d recommend f8-f16 and nothing smaller* as you introduce diffraction and chromatic aberration.

The longer the exposure the better the photograph

Excess doesn’t always mean better. For example, you could expose a scene too long that the end result is actually detrimental to what you were trying to convey. For example a long exposure of the sea could result in a scene that resembles an ice rink or a sea of milk with very little movement and a smooth level surface. This takes the life out of the scene and reduces interest. This is particularly problematic if the sea is taking up the majority of real estate in your photographs composition.

Long exposure photography requires a different skill set

Long exposure photography and regular photography both require the same understand of the basics of photography; composition, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and the ability and willingness to get into position to get the photograph. The only difference is long exposure photography takes longer. If you understand how to compose a photograph and can visualise an image then you can do long exposure photography.

Haida 10 Stop

 

The only extra equipment you might need that you don’t carry with you normally would be a tripod and a filter. Oh, and maybe a flask of hot tea or coffee depending on the time of day and season you venture outdoors. I’ve been out a few time shooting castles at night and wished I had some hand warmers and a cup of tea.

You need a tripod

This might surprise a few people but in terms of necessity you don’t really have to have a tripod with you to try long exposure photography. There are a few ways in which you can stabilise your camera when you’re attempting long exposure photography. In the past I’ve used car bonnets, car roofs, rocks, camera bags, planks of wood, tree branches. Once I even used a carrier bag laid on top of a sandy beach and moulded the wet sand into position, using the carrier bag to keep the sand off the camera. Now obviously the length of exposure will determine which DIY method you want to use or what you have available to you but for the most part these work out well if you’ve forgotten your tripod at home. So if you do find yourself without a tripod then all it takes is a little ingenuity and imagination. No reason to miss out on the shot. Gorillapods are great kit to carry around with you because they can be relatively small compared to full size tripods and can be used to mount cameras to tree branches, fences, car windows, poles and a few other things. Always good to have as a backup.

Long exposure photography is only for landscape

Long exposure photography is a technique and one which can be applied to different styles of photography. You can use flashes to light up people / models, the same as you can use them to light up buildings, cars and forests. It’s just how you apply them that matters. The same applies to long exposure photography. A great example is to record the movement of people. I was once asked to photograph some new maps and signs in Glasgow and rather than having the exposures too long that you couldn’t see the people I decided to have exposures of a second or two that would allow me to capture people interacting with the signs, moving around, looking and pointing. Long exposures allow you to capture energy and in this case kinetic energy.

Kuljit Athwal Photography

Another example is capturing light trails of cars on roads; catching streaks of red light as cars go past you and light streaks as they come towards you. I’ve seen great examples where people have taken long exposure from the tops of multi-storey buildings and captured the movement of cars around large swathes of the city.

* the smaller the aperture the higher the f number. Yeah, it a funny one to remember,

Kinnoull Hill Above the Clouds in Black and White

Kinnoull Hill is a hill located in Perth, Scotland.

From the hill’s 222m south-facing cliff summit, views are afforded of the River Tay, the Friarton Bridge, and a stretch of theTay Coast railway line. Further to the south, Moncrieffe Hill can be seen.

On an outcrop a few hundred yards to the east of — but visible from — the summit is Kinnoull Tower. Built in 1829 by Lord Grey of Kinfauns as a romantic folly, the tower, along with nearby Binn Tower, originally used as an observatory by Grey, are meant to resemble the castles on the Rhine in Germany as Grey saw a great similarity between the River Tay and parts of the Rhine. The tower is easily accessible via a footpath.

An Introduction to Editing Landscapes with Lightroom 5

Introduction

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles showing how I edit some of my images, in the hope that the self taught techniques that I picked up through the years can be of use to others. I remember asking other photographers about techniques that they had used when editing their photographs and very rarely would I get a constructive reply. So I know how it feels to imagine a photograph in your head and not know how to make it come to reality when you get back to the computer.

Benefits of Shooting in Digital

Modern cameras offer us the ability to tweak and edit images to create the scenes that we picture in our head. Sometimes the camera doesn’t pick up light in the way you had wanted for whatever reasons or you’ve captured a photograph really quickly before the environment changes and although you’ve got the composition right the colours or the exposure wasn’t ideal.

RAW Files

The best thing digital cameras gave us is the RAW file format. This is essential your negative in digital format. We can record so much detail in a RAW file that it is possible to change a whole myriad of settings and end up with an image almost unrecognisable from the original in-camera RAW file. We’re going to be working with the RAW file in this tutorial.

Lightroom

I’m going to be using Lightroom 5 for this tutorial. I’d love to do it in Photoshop but I find Lightroom is good enough 95% of the time and it’s a relatively inexpensive piece of software that is worth having in your toolbox.

I’m hoping that this tutorial will give you some of the basics required to make the biggest changes in your photographs. This is not an in depth tutorial, those will come later but you can apply these techniques to your own photographs and give you the encouragement to go out and play with your photographs.

Let’s Go

You might have seen this image on my website. The image of the River Etive running through Glen Etive. I’m going to edit one of the other images that I captured on that day. Starting with the original we’ll reach a finished image that we can be proud of.

Start image

We can see from the image that it is relatively flat. We’ve lost a little detail in the skies as the image was exposed for the landscape and we didn’t have a filter on the lens at the time to compensate. The composition is ok but needs some work, we’ve got a lot of foreground with very little detail for example, and the river leads the eye but it struggles a little because its starting off the frame to the left.

Cropping and Composition

The first thing that I’m going to do is work on the crop a little in order to make the composition a bit more visually appealing. So if we switch to Develop mode and access the crop tool. Bring the crop in a bit from the bottom left so that we remove a fair chunk of grass and some of the river.

Cropped

The image is looking better already. We’ve got rid of some of the grass and water at the bottom and made the crop a little tighter on the right hand side.

Bringing out the Sky

The next step is working on the sky. We can see that there are clouds there but they are not all that distinct. One of the  elements that that makes the biggest impact on a landscape image is the sky. Many people think that blue skies make for great photographs but this can often lead to an imbalance in the image; a little bottom heavy and the blue skies can be overpowering and a waste of space if there is nothing to hold the interest.

So here we are going to rescue our sky and try and bring out the detail in the clouds as well as the blue in the atmosphere. If we switch the the Graduated Filter option and from top to middle drag out a graduated filter on the image we can play with some of the attributes.

Lovely skies

In this example i’ve

  • increased the contrast
  • lowered the highlights
  • lowered the shadows
  • increased the clarity
  • increased the saturation

The difference that has made is plain to see. In fact because the graduated filter overlaps with the mountains in the distance we’ve also managed to increase the distinction between the landscape and the skies and added a little more depth to the image.

Foreground Detail and Leading the Eye

Next we turn our attention to the foreground. Because we’ve boosted the colours in the sky we need to pay some attention to the grass and the water. Particularly to the water because we need to make sure the water reflects the colours that we now have in the sky.

Using the graduated filter tool again this time drag from bottom to the middle and adjust a little so the gradient is tighter and raise the filter toward the middle of the image. We want to make the grass greener, add some depth to the rocks in the water and boost the blue tones in the water to reflect the colours that we now see in our sky.

Foreground Detail

In the screenshot above you’ll see the following changes:

  • increased contrast
  • a slight increase in highlights
  • a slight increase in shadow detail
  • increase in clarity
  • increase in saturation

Again, looking at the above screenshot and the one prior to that we can already see a major change in colour and balance of the image.

Colour Correction and Enhancement

Ok. We can start getting into some of the smaller, but none-the-less important details. I remember when I captured this photography the colour of the rocks in the water. An interesting orange / brown colour made all the nicer with the reflected sunlight. I want to make those colours a little more obvious. So we are going to have a look at the colour levels.

With colour levels we can play with the hue, saturation and luminance of different colours within the image.

When we alter the hue setting we change the amount of the actual colour in the image.

Altering the saturation changes the amount of grey in the image.

Altering the luminance of the colour alters the amount of white or black mixed into the colour.

Altered Levels

With our image I’ve switched to the HSL/Color/B&W section in the right pane. I’ve chosen Color because I want to modify a specific colour in the image, orange, and made the following changes:

  • Increased hue
  • Increased saturation
  • Slight increase in luminance

Looking at the image we have now there is a definite change of the colour tones in the rocks. The prominence of the rocks adds interest to the water and the eye follows the rocks up stream toward the mountains in the distance.

The same technique can be applied to the other colours, or you can switch the HSL and modify everything. So if you wanted to make the grass even greener you could. If you wanted to make the rocks grey instead of orange then you can do that too.

With a little sharpening and noise reduction in the Details section we can tidy the image up a little.

Sharpening

Because we’re editing the RAW file the image file has no sharpening. JPEG is normally sharpened in camera as well as colour adjustments which is why when you shoot JPEG+RAW the JPEG file looks different to the RAW file.

And we end up with the final image below.

End Result

An Autumn Walk at the Hermitage, Dunkeld

Fast approaching that time of the year when the temperature starts to drop and the leaves begin changing from dark greens to vibrant reds and oranges. A great time of the year to explore Scotland’s forest parks. The following 5 images were taken on my phone while walking through The Hermitage walk in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

http://instagram.com/p/fZ4q9USkPY/

Ossian's Hall of Mirrors is a #Georgian structure located at The #Hermitage in #Dunkeld, #Scotland.

Two

Endor #whpsignsoftheseason #autumn #perth #perthshire #dunkeld #scotland #country #sunrays #october #beauty #forest #trees #woodlands #hermitage

Grain #Dunkeld #scotland #forest #trees #autumn #october

http://instagram.com/p/fdrvxPSkPQ/

The stone #bridge at #Dunkeld #Hermitage. Dates from 1770. #perth #scotland #autumn

If you fancy you can purchase these on canvas and other mediums.

Walking the Old Military Road

Tentsmuir Forest and Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve are in north east Fife, Scotland. Covering some 50 square miles (130 km2), the forest was originally sand dunes and moorland before acquisition by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s. The forest consists mainly of Scots Pine and Corsican Pine.

Read more on Wikipedia.

The Forth Rail Bridge from South Queensferry

This was the first time I’d been able to get down and photography in and around South Queensferry. I’ve always wanted to get close to this amazing architectural and engineering marvel. I think I might have picked possibly the coldest and windiest day to spend a few hours there. I could barely feel my face let alone my fingers which I needed to operate my camera. Luckily I saw the transition from daylight to nighttime and the switching on of the lights. It really is something to see when illuminated at night. The scale of the thing leaves you standing, staring in awe.

I hope these images, one daylight and the other night time go some way to portraying the sheer brilliance of this place.

For more information about the bridge and its history take a look at the wikipedia page.

Emergence

An image from my archives. This was taken in April 2011. Particularly beautiful skies and silence in the air I remember well. You really do get some beautiful light on the east coast of Scotland.

The Haida 10 Stop ND Filter

I’ve been looking for a ND filter on a budget for doing long exposures. The Lee Big Stopper is pretty expensive when you factor in the cost of the foundation kit holder and then the wide angle lens adaptor. If you’re a landscape photographer and you often use the same lens then there is nothing wrong with a screw on filter and some patience.

At around £35 depending on where you buy the Haida 10 Stop ND filter for 77mm threaded lenses is an absolute bargain. You’re probably thinking that for that money you’d get a plastic filter with pretty bad build quality but that just is not the case with the Haida. It comes in a nicely packaged and branded cardboard box and has it’s own padded plastic case to keep the filter safe when not in use. They have a Pro II version which is multicoated and scratch resistant for a little more money.

Here are a few images I shot today over the space of an hour or so in different locations. I’ve converted to black and white because that’s what I like but the colour cast is not that bad, in fact it’s easily removed in post and is definitely not as bad as I’ve seen in other filters. I’ve done little to these images other than the black and white conversion.

Detonation

While driving up the A9 in Scotland passed Dunkeld I saw this view in my rear view mirror and had to turn back to grab a quick photograph. The mist was rolling down the tree covered hillsides onto the road and behind this the sun was settings. It was a cold February day and it’s a great mix for these sorts of shots. Low lying cloud was everywhere.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage at Dunkeld. A beautiful location in Perthshire.