How to Make a Moody Fine Art Long Exposure Photograph

When it is all but gray outside, when the leaves have fallen, the temperature is nothing to write home about, and most people would stay inside, it is time to bring out the camera.

Due to rain and wind, the first half of December was the period of least sun in 60 years in Denmark. To say it was uninspiring was a huge understatement. It is always good to stay indoors and get some editing done, but at some point, you just have to get out. I did just that and I wanted to explore a rather unique location where the sea is eroding some slopes resulting in trees falling down onto the beach and into the sea.

The Vision

A big driving force for my photography is having a vision and trying to realize that vision. The goal of this day was to make a moody fine art photo of the trees laying in the sea surrounded by that misty water effect you get from a long exposure.

This is how the phenomenon looks from above taken with my DJI Mavic 2 pro

Settings

To get this kind of effect you usually want an exposure time of more than five seconds. This is enough to average out most waves. The longer the exposure the more you smooth out the waves and remove the texture of the moving water. You also need an aperture, which corresponds with your vision. If you want the entire photo to be in focus, you will need a closed down aperture like f/11 and beyond. As a rule of thumb, you also want the ISO to be as low as possible. With a low ISO and closed down aperture you can easily accomplish a relatively long exposure time. However, even on darker days, you might want to increase the exposure time even more and then you need neutral density filters. Four, six, or maybe even ten stops.

Besides getting the exposure right you do not want to move the camera. Using a tripod, manual focus, and a shutter release cable or two-second shutter delay comes recommended.

The Problems

The main issue I faced was the movement of the branches of the trees, which was due to the wind. This complicated finding a proper composition for my original vision, as the branches would just become blurry due to the movement. A bit of adapting was necessary to get a photo. In the photo below, I tried catching the receding water from a stump on the beach.

EXIF: 0.5s | f/16 | ISO100

I found a few other stumps sticking out of the sand, which was more in line with my original vision I could photograph without blur being an issue. However, due to the low perspective of these stumps, I had to get the camera close to the water. Saltwater and camera gear do not mix well and although the waves were not too tall, they still presented a challenge, which I had to dodge. When you photograph around the sea, I recommend always bringing a bottle of fresh water to rinse the camera if you get salt water on it and a towel to dry it.

EXIF: 0.5s | f/16 | ISO50

To get the photo above, I had to time it with the waves (I show how in the above video). Instead of using a two-second shutter delay, I used a continuous shutter, which I started once I had found my composition. Blurry photos were not an issue, as long as I secured the tripod by pushing it down into the sand. Using this technique you do not have much time between the dangerous waves, so I used a short long exposure of 0.5 seconds. This was enough to smooth out and create some streaks from the receding water.

In the below photo I used the same technique, but instead of catching the waves when they were receding, I captured them coming towards the camera, which gave a little bit of a different effect.

EXIF: 0.4s | f/8 | ISO100

Remember to clean your tripod when you come home, as you do not want to have it full of sand, dust, and salt.

Be sure to check out the video above, where I share more thoughts on the photographic process. Merry Christmas to all of you.

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7 Comments

Richard King's picture

Wonderful, thank you

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

You are welcome, Richard :)

Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

A very creative approach 🎈

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you very much, Hans :)

Carl Bishop's picture

Enjoyed this video. Informative and helpful. Thank You!

Mark Stutzel's picture

Always great videos, nice inspiration to find your creativity in challenging environments!

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

I had this page open for a long time without actually managing to read it, but I'm always happy to read one of your long articles accompanying your YouTube videos!