Using long exposure photography to capture an image is nothing new. In fact, for many photographers, it’s one of the first things they’re excited to try out because of how it allows for results that are so different than anything most other cameras on the market can offer. All sorts of photographers jump at the first opportunity to paint with light, photograph the stars or get a ghosted photo of water plummeting over a waterfall. And, there’s less of an instant-gratification to it. The photographer knows the probable outcome, but the results are still less uniform which can sometimes mean more exciting! But, there are more reasons than these popular cliches for slowing down your shutter speed. In fact, I’d like to offer 5 reasons you might not have considered for long exposure as a technique in your photography.
1 - Long Exposure introduces Time into your photography:
A photograph is typically a look into a particular moment in time. It’s an opportunity for a photographer to convey to their viewer a scene or an instance as it was when the shutter was released. But, this can be limiting! Ever tried to photograph a river or creek only to realize that is just doesn’t feel the same as actually standing there? Or perhaps photographed mist moving through a beautiful mountain range only to realize that an instant image somehow stole some of the life from the living and moving mist in front of you? Sometimes, there is a faint something lost when time isn’t able to affect the scene you’re photographing. But, long exposure allows for time to affect the scene and breath some life into moments that otherwise wouldn’t have carried the same power frozen into a single moment. Suddenly, a single photograph can better demonstrate the wave-like way that the mist was crawling through the valley…
2 - Long Exposure Simplifies:
Sometimes the simplest images are also the strongest. Long exposure allows for anything moving inside the frame to blur and anything holding still to remain sharp. This means a simple dock on a windy evening photographed without long exposure could reveal a busy scene with capped waves, boats, animals etc. The same image photographed using a longer exposure could reveal a dock that stands out in the photo because the water appears silky smooth as a result of the motion. Longer exposures can mean animals, people and other moving objects don’t pose any issues either as they simply may not hold still long enough to be seen in the final image. Need to simplify your image or point more clearly to a particular subject? Long Exposure could make that happen.
3 - Long Exposure Introduces Drama:
Much like how Long Exposure can simplify an image, it can also introduce drama in a dynamic way. Imagine a beach with waves crashing into shore. A freeze frame steals the drama of the scene… There could be something lost when the wave is frozen instead of it’s power being demonstrated in the blur and movement from the moment it crashes. It’s all in your choice of shutter speed. Typically, all it takes is 1/4 of a second to convey movement. And sometimes, the movement is everything.
4 - Long Exposure stands out:
Using long exposure provides an opportunity to be different. It allows for photography that is different in feeling, story or motion than most of what the mobile or point and shoot photography market can or could produce. It’s important to note however that long exposure doesn’t necessarily make an image better. It’s a tool. And like other tools, it has certain uses that it lends itself to. Used well as a technique to achieve the artistic goal of the photographer, long exposure works to strengthen the final product. But, the contrary is true as well. Used poorly, long exposure can be a distracting or cliche technique that undermines the power of an image.
5 - Long Exposure gives control:
This reason stems from the previous ones; But, it’s valuable to mention that learning a technique such as long exposure puts more power in the hands of the artist. The more methods you have at your disposal when creating an image, the better the chance of being able to accurately portray your final piece exactly as you’d visualized it. It’s a tool that allows opportunity to build drama, demonstrate motion or simplify a scene. And it’s definitely a tool that, when used in the right context, can allow an image to stand out.
Hopefully this was a helpful look at some of the ways you might consider using long exposure to strengthen your photography! While this wasn’t, a tutorial by any means on how to actually create a long exposure image, it’s always beneficial to understand the why before blindly using a technique for no reason.