Long Exposure

1024 482 Tim Breaseale

Sunrise 1

Have you ever wondered how some pictures have that cool-looking motion in the sky or water?  The answer simply is long exposure.  I want to explain the process of long exposure with this series of pictures and also share some other images from this morning.  Click any image to enlarge and to see the camera settings used for each image.

These early morning sunrise images of Pompano Beach (Sunrise 1 above, Sunrise 2 below) have a lot of motion going on.  You can see motion in the clouds, the water, the stars (if you look close enough) and funny, squiggly lights to the left of the image, which are lights from a fishing boat.  The sun is actually coming up out of frame to the far left.  All the light on the right side is the accumulated glow from the city.  On a side note, accumulated glow looks cool in the pictures, but, if you are a sea turtle, accumulated glow is bad.  This stretch of beach is a hotbed for sea turtle nesting.  The accumulated glow disorientates  the baby turtles from finding their way to the ocean, and they usually end up in the city’s streets, lost.  The turtles rely on the reflected glow from the moon on the water to help guide them to the ocean.  When the baby turtles get lost, you then have to rescue them and give them a little guidance.

Sunrise 2

Both images above are shot with a 24-70mm lens set to 24mm.  After composing the image, I use the evaluative metering pattern from the camera.  I know that the camera will meter the scene as if it were reading the light off a grey target and render the scene over exposed.  So, I will compensate by underexposing the scene one stop to 1/3rd of a stop.  I know that I wanted a long shutter speed to achieve the motion in the water and sky.  I set the shutter speed for 30 seconds, and then that tells me what aperture to set.  I shot both images with a 30 second exposure.  Sunrise 1, the aperture is at f/5.6, Sunrise 2 the aperture is is at f/8.  Sunrise 2 was set at f/8 because the sun was coming up pretty fast and the light was starting to reflect off the buildings (which changed the exposure and compensation was needed).  I also used my flash by handholding it out to the side and manually popping the flash at low power to pick up more detail in the water and sand.  This helped to balance the foreground from the background.  Here is a tip about the aperture: if you use a smaller aperture like f/8 or smaller, then the lights (street lights or small pinpoint lights) start to have the starburst shape.  You can really notice the starburst shape in Sunrise 2 from some of the smaller lights.  Here is a metering tip: know the metering patterns of your camera.  When you know how your camera will meter a scene, then you will know how to compensate for irregular reflections or dark spots.  The camera is very smart, but it does not have the human ability to interpret an artist’s vision.

Sunrise 3

The image above was shot with the same technique as the first two.  The only difference is that I am facing the direction from which the sun is rising.  Facing the sun makes the camera meter want to underexpose the scene.  So I then compensate for the difference by overexposing the scene by a half stop and set the aperture to f/22 and my shutter for 6 seconds.  You can tell in the movement of the clouds that the shutter duration is faster than the first two images.  The streaking of the clouds is minimum.

By now the sun has risen a little too high and the major colors in the sky have dissipated.  So now it’s just time to play around and see what’s around.  Below is a shot of the life guard tower.  You can see the movement in the flag.  The shutter was set for 2.5 seconds.  Here is a long exposure tip: when it’s bright out, and you just can’t get your shutter speed slow enough, and you want to use a larger aperture, then use a neutral density filter.  They come in many densities.  One of the most popular is a 3 stop ND filter.

Sunrise 4

A popular sight on a beach are seagulls.  I did see a flock of Black Skimmers.  These birds were pretty cool-looking.  They would fly right at the waters surface and drop their lower mandible down below the water to “skim” for the fish.  I had the camera set up for taking the long exposures.  I was not quick enough changing my camera settings to capture the birds in flight, so they are not in sharp focus.  They were quick and didn’t stay around very long.

Sunrise 5

Sunrise 6

I love B&W images.  These buildings rendered a pretty good image.  My aperture for this scene was set to f/16.  You can see the moon just above the building on the left.

Sunrise 7

This next image is one of my favorites from the morning’s shoot.  It is a pillar of the pier that has been tagged with graffiti.  I shot this with an aperture of 2.8 so that the background would go completely out of focus.  I love the warm color tone from the sunrise, plus the color palate of the blues and yellows.

Sunrise 8

All of my images were processed with Lightroom 4.4.  I applied very little sharpening and noise reduction, but tweaked the color just a little to balance the natural light with the artificial light.  Oh, I did add a little vibrance too.  The borders were added in Snapseed.  My panorama images were cropped from a single image.  The last image below shows my camera setup.  Last tip for great long exposures: use a tripod.  I have a Gitzo series 2 with a Really Right Stuff BH40 ball head matched with the L-bracket for the 6D with grip.

There is a new tripod manufacturer called 3 Legged Thing.  These tripods are top quality and are less expensive than the Gitzo’s.  I recommend them.  Click the logo below to read about the different models and find one that’s right for you.


BONUS.  I am not a video person, but I do want to start learning.  Here is my first video from the 6D.  I edited the video in Photoshop CS6.

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them.  Thanks for reading!