Long exposure is a photographic method in which you use a filter on your camera to lengthen the time of your exposure – usually up to several minutes in length. The result is a photo similar to the one above. I’d dabbled in this before, but I decided to learn from the master and took a weekend class with Flickr’s very own Vulture Labs. And suffice to say, I learned a TON.
We spent all of Saturday walking around London – the first thing I learned? These master photographers know all of the spots. I mean all of them. I’m a pretty avid photographer, and have been taking pics in London for years, and Jay (Vulture Labs) took me to numerous places that I still had never seen.
The beauty of long exposure is that you don’t really need a whole lot of equipment to get going. You need a filter, a DSLR, a tripod, and a cable release. My filter is a NiSi that I bought on Amazon; you can find it here. Since some of the photos will run for minutes, you set the camera to your bulb setting and use the cable release to “lock” the shutter down. This is far better than standing there, trying to be really still, with your finger holding down the shutter button!
To figure out how long an image to take, you first setup as normal in Av mode. This will give you an exposure reading, and then I pulled out my trusty iPhone and used an app called LE Calculator. Set the camera to bulb, focus your shot, then turn the focus to manual and put on the filter. The reason you need to focus first and then set to manual focus is that you’ll find the filters are generally so dark that the camera can’t find focus while the filter is on. Hence you focus first, set to manual, then put on the filter. Also a quick note – you’ll see in the picture below that my Image Stabilization is turned off as well. This is ALWAYS the case for me when I’m using a tripod. That has nothing to do with Long Exposure per se.
Finally you setup your shutter release in bulb mode to take the photo. Now this can be a bit trickier than you might think, so it’s worth practicing at home. I use my shutter release for timelapse quite frequently but had never really used it for long exposure, so it took me a while to figure out how to set it properly.
One interesting tip that I didn’t know – it pays to cover your eyepiece so as to avoid any light getting inside the camera. I wasn’t aware of this and didn’t really have anything, so I put my hat over the camera. It probably didn’t seal the light out the way it should, but I don’t think it hurt either. I think most camera straps actually have an eyepiece cover that would have worked, but I don’t use the camera strap that Canon supplied me with.
I’m pretty pleased with some of the shots I took, and VERY pleased with the workshop itself. Jay was a great mentor, really patient with all of my questions (believe me, I have a ton) and he also showed me a lot of this favourite spots in London, which in and of itself is a gold mine of information.
I have many more photos that I took, and am still in the process of going through them and post-processing them (which believe me, is another huge element altogether). If there’s any interest in that I might try and walk through how I process one – again Jay helped me a lot there and gave me some ideas on what the end results should look like.
Anyway – try it! I had a lot of fun, it’s not terribly difficult and if you have a DSLR it’s not very expensive to get started. You can find filters beginning at 30 pounds or so; they make very expensive ones but especially if you’re shooting in B&W you can get buy with a cheap one on Amazon to try and it out. Shutter releases are under 10 pounds. Give it a try and I’d love to see the results!