Long Exposure Landscape
A few months ago Lee Filters releases the Super Stopper, it kick started me back into shooting long exposures. I played about with a big stopper once but the massive 15 stop down of the Super Stopper is quite fun to play with. I have been shooting with Lee’s ND grad filters for years but never really but that much time into shooting ‘full’ ND grad filters. This blog post has some hints and tips that I have put together from following such people as Paul Sanders & David Cleland and a bit of my own experimentation.
One of the more recent images is the one below which was created on a very sunny beach front in Benalmadena. The final exposure was just under 5 mins. Out of all the long exposures I have taken this one proved more challenging than most due to the wet sand. Each time a big wave wave in it sunk the tripod down a little more. At last I got a break & no big waves came in for the 487 seconds it to record the image.
Below shows an image of me taking the image above – with thanks to Stephie Rebello for the image.
This is a video by Lee Filters & Jonathan Critchley shooting with the Super Stopper in Western France – worth a watch for sure.
I am the first to admit that I am no expert in this genre – but I have had some time to play about and here are some tips that I wanted to share about shooting – longer than normal long exposures. Here are a few images I have put together as an example of ‘daytime’ long exposures. These range from 1.5 seconds to 30’secs
Notes I have made.
Keeping your camera stable is everything…
Personally I have been a fan of 3 Legged Thing tripods for years – ever since the company set up in fact. There are two tripods I switch between at the moment. Steve is a bigger tripod than Brian, but Brian does collapse down more than Steve. Both tripods have strengths over the other one – but one downside about these carbon fibre tripods for shooting long exposure outside is the lightness of the tripods. Any movement or motion in the tripod is magnified though the camera – keeping the camera still as possible is the name of the game. I just had a look on the 3LT – the new versions of these tripods for 2017 are the Leo & Winston tripods.
So which is best – a super light tripod that you can take everywhere or a heavy tripod that will keep your camera rock solid in any wind or surface conditions. I ride a motorbike to most of the locations in the UK or need to pack a tripod into Peli case if I am flying abroad, thus I put weight of kit pretty high on my list of priorities. There are a few ace ways to get the benefits of a heavy tripod with not having to carry one about.
- The Hook underneath: Under the centre post of any 3LT Tripod you will notice a ‘d-ring’ shaped end stopper – or in some early models a silver spring mounted hook. This can be use to add weights onto the tripod. Some people have mentioned that hanging your camera bag on here while doing long exposure images is a good idea, but, if so, don’t be tempted to touch the bag when it’s shooting. Take your lunch or phone out the bag before shooting to avoid any motion. I find using a canvas bag and filling it with rocks or stuff I find onsite is a better way to go – leaving me to fiddle about with other things in my camera bag if I need to.
- Shooting on soft ground: Set your camera up, add the weights and leave it a few mins to settle. The image above took about 5 mins for the camera and tripod to settle into the sand before it had stopped sinking in. Sometimes changing the footprint of the tripod can help too – 3LT sell things called Heelz or the longer Stilettoz that will dig into a hard surface, or if your shooting on soft ground expanding the size of the foot is the way to go – if so check out the Clawz
- If you’re using a DSLR: close the viewfinder : Since I shoot with a Fuji X-Pro2 – this is something I don’t have to worry about.
- Mirror-lock up mode: If you’re not shooting with a CSC camera – something to think about is the movement of the shutter & how that can add movement to your image. A great advantage of the Fujifilm system for long exposure is the lack of a heavy shutter vibrating the camera. If you’re on a DSLR, or MF, use the Mirror Lock up mode.
- Remote Shutter: There are a few options to go with here. You have the old fashioned cable remote – which can range of very simple to pretty complex. Some have built in timelapse functions, LCD screens, timers and stacked full of fun ways to trigger your camera. Then you have things like the TriggerTrap app which can turn your phone into a very advanced trigger system, some cameras even have control via WIFI that let you control all aspects and even focus wirelessly – a great option if you have a warm and comfy car to trigger your camera from on a cold & frozen morning. However, I have found that the most simple and most reliable option is to reduce the amount of tech needed. I just use a very simple trigger (made by Sigma) that has two settings. it fires once on whatever you have set the camera too – or you can trigger bulb mode. I use it in bulb mode and just turn it of when the time is ip for the correct exposure. The Fujifilm cameras have a timer that counts down on the LCD – or I just time it on my watch if I am leaving the camera unattended for a moment. I am very sure that one day though, the companies that make cameras will let us just put in any length up to an hour maybe, that we can just do via the camera’s settings and do away with a remote release. In which case I would just set a delay of two seconds to avoid any camera shake when pressing the button. (the app will only let you do 30″ max)
- Movement in the image: It seems a pretty simple thing – but what makes a great long exposure ? It’s movement, movement of the sky or water for example. Have a think about what is moving & in which direction. Also, if your doing a sunrise or set – think about how that extra or lack of light is going to change your exposure. Look for windy days with epic skies or moving water.
- Lots of battery power: Shooting long exposure can be battery draining + low temperatures can be too. Be prepared with many fully charged batteries ready to rock and roll.
- Turning off any Noise collections or Long Exposure noise compensations: I find that shooting low ISO’s keep the noise low anyway – but this point is more about choice. Just be aware that playing about with these options will increase the time it takes to write a file. This point is much like the Hot Pixel one (below), but I find that using the same Hot Pixel image on multiple images in post can be quicker. Using the inbuilt setting will double the length to process any exposure you make before it writes the file to card. Time consuming for sure.
- Focusing: Focus the camera before adding the filter then click the camera to manual and forget. Adding so much dark glass in front of the lens is only going to give the autofocus a monster ache. I like to focus – then digitally punch in to check focus on the things I want to be crisp. Focus peaking always helps for stuff like this.
- Hot Pixels: From what I know – this idea comes from the world of Astronomy and helps to remove Hot Pixels ( hot pixels are created when your sensor gets hot, they show as tiny red spots. the camera can help remove some using the long exposure compensation. ) A good tip is to shoot a reference image of these ‘Hot Pixels’ buy taking an image of the same settings with the lens cap on. This will give you a digital map of where these spots are to remove in post pro. Check out Nik Define – works a treat & is free for simple option removing hot pixels if your not Photoshop savvy.
- White Balance & Flare: Taking any image using a filter can start to introduce a colour cast. Some brands are better than others -but it happens. Shoot Raw and sort in post production. Stopping flare in your long exposures is different. You might not even notice flare on a ‘normal’ image, but the light might change during a long exposure and start to affect your image. I use the Lee Filters mattebox to ensure the contrast of the image is the way intend it to be & avoid milky glare.
- Tape the Shutter speed Calculator to the tin: When the Super Stopper shipped, in the box it came with a bit of paper that converts what your shutter speeds for which ever filter you are using. Tape this to the tin of the filter or the inside of your case or something. Keep it handy it is a the key to getting the right exposure first time – there is nothing worse than shooting a 15 shot then getting it exposed wrong. The other option – is to use the Lee Filters app – which is pretty cool tbh –
Check out these amazing photographers:
Flixel Pix : David is not only an amazing photographer but really does have some great resources if you want to know more about Long Exposure. Infact he has a book all about it – check it out here. His Gallery on the Fujifilm X-Photographers gallery is inspiring – http://fujifilm-x.com/photographers/david-cleland/
Paul Sanders: Paul is also a fellow X-Photographer. His photography is most certainly an art form. He displays a total mastery of lighting & composition, and how time can flow between the lines of both elements. We share a love for the Fujifilm system but after some reading – it turns out we both have a love for Turner & Monet too. Be sure to check his blog : http://www.paulsanders.biz/ / http://fujifilm-x.com/photographers/paul-sanders/
David Newton: If you don’t follow David’s epic adventures then you are missing out for sure – David work has inspired me for years to get out and get shooting. The image below is pretty interesting to deconstruct. I came across it on his Facebook feed a while ago and it caught my eye. In the shot he is over laying 3 different ND grad filters to balance out elements in the image & allowing for a 90 second exposure – great work ! Check his site here : http://www.photopositive.co.uk