Long exposure photography is a fascinating discipline. It can be used in many ways and to great effect if you want to bring some mood and mystery into your photography.
In my latest video, I set out to fulfill a vision of a photograph I have had for some months. In the city of Aarhus in Denmark, we have a circular pier called “The Infinite Bridge.” It is a former part of an art exhibition known as “Sculptures by the Sea,” and due to its popularity, it has become a returning summer installation.
The Infinite Bridge is a popular subject for drone photography, but this time, I wanted to photograph the pier from the ground. The greatest difficulty I had to adapt to was the fact that this is a public installation. People both walk and run on it, which makes the entire thing wobble, and for photographers who need a completely still camera, this was a challenge. The reason why I wanted a still camera is the core of the photo — the long exposure. When you make a long exposure, it is of utmost importance to keep the camera still (unless you intentionally want some movement). If the camera is not still the elements of the photo will be blurry.
The reason for the long exposure was to smooth out the water completely and create this still and ethereal scene. I could use the curve of the bridge to make a strong visual line leading into a small person who looks out into the horizon. I had to use myself as a model, and that came with a few problems too. I had to use the built-in intervalometer of my Sony a7R III and walk into the scene, which meant leaving the camera behind. As safe as Denmark is, I did have some worries about turning my back to the camera. If not for someone stealing it, someone could accidentally push it over and into the water.
Even though the weather was moody and the scene did not contain a whole lot of light, I had to use both my extended low ISO setting of 50, an aperture of f/16, and a neutral density filter to extend my exposure time enough for the wished-for effect. With a variable ND filter equal to eight stops of light, I could get an exposure time of 15 seconds, which was good enough for my vision. All this gave me the settings of 15 seconds exposure time, an aperture of f/16 (as to get the entire scene in focus and extended shutter speed), ISO 50, and an eight-stop ND filter.
I had envisioned the photo in black and white, and I stuck with that throughout the editing phase. I combined two 15-second exposures in Photoshop to smooth out the photo even more and blended in an additional three different exposures of myself to get a smoothed person standing on the pier. I think having a blurry person adds to the mood and mysteriousness of the final photo.
I also got another photo with almost the same composition, however, with a very different expression. It is fascinating how different photos can be, even though they contain almost identical elements. Check out the video above to see the other photo and hear my thoughts about composition. Also, let me know if long exposures are something you use in your photography.