Photography is all about light – without it, we wouldn’t be able to capture images at all! That said, the vast majority of photographs are taken when there’s lots of light around, during the daytime, often in bright sunlight. It’s easier that way. The world looks realistic and we can shoot it using fast shutter speeds – 1/60sec, 1/125sec, and 1/250sec. The shutter opens and closes so quickly you can barely register it with the naked eye, and any movement is stopped in its tracks, frozen solid.
From a convenience point of view, that’s great. But creatively, the same doesn’t always apply. You may assume that lots of it is required to produce successful images, but in many cases, the less there is the better.
Low light not only tends to be far more atmospheric than your bland, lunchtime sunshine, but it also requires you to make much longer exposures in order to record images, and with that comes all kinds of creative consequences.
Long exposures allow you to take photographs in situations that would otherwise be out of bounds because you can open up the shutter and let the sensor suck in as much light as it needs – the sky at night, the urban landscape basking in the colourful glow of manmade illumination. Long exposures allow you to record motion in a scene that would normally be missed – the drifting of clouds across the sky, the ebb and flow of the tide, light trails created by moving traffic, or the earth’s rotation on its polar axis. Open up the shutter for seconds or minutes and you can paint with light – start with a blank canvas and add your own illumination. The possibilities are almost endless.
Long exposure photography also embraces all subjects, from landscapes and architecture to portraits and still-lifes, it can be practised both indoors and out, day and night. These top tips for long exposure photography should give you an idea of what’s possible – so read on and be inspired!
Long exposure photography tips
Tip 1. Cityscapes at night
Find a high viewpoint over a busy town of city and you can’t fail to take stunning night shots – there’s just so much detail and colour.
Head to the roof of a tall building, shoot from the window of a hotel or drive to the top of a multi-storey car park. Shoot with your camera set to Auto White Balance (AWB) to capture the range of colours in the scene, from the coolness of areas lit by the twilight sky to the warm glow of street lighting and the vivid green of fluorescent. Include some sky, too, if you can – light pollution can create all sorts of weird and wonderful colours in the clouds.