Today I want to talk about using long exposure times to take photographs at night or to capture that silky water look on waterfalls and streams, etc… An essential piece of equipment to get good results is a sturdy tripod. Tripods come in varying ranges of quality and of course price. They can cost anywhere from about $30.00 to $500.00 or more depending the materials from which it is made and the features of the tripod. I’m not going to dwell on which tripod you should buy. Most important is it’s ability to hold your camera steady. Another item that can be very handy is a cable release to cut down on any jitter from pressing the shutter button. If your camera has a self-timer function you can use that instead. If you are using a DSLR your camera it likely has a setting in the shutter speed setting for “bulb”. if you need to use this setting to get the proper exposure then the cable release will be necessary to get a sharp image.
In this discussion of night photography the subject of the photos are inanimate objects like landscapes or buildings, etc…. We will be working in “manual mode”. As usual your camera settings will depend upon the result you wish to achieve. In the case of a landscape you will likely want to have as much of the scene in focus as possible. This would require a narrow aperture setting like f/16 as an example. You will also likely want to keep your ISO setting as low as possible. This means we will need a slower shutter speed in order to get a proper exposure. Again it depends upon what you would like to achieve. If you would like to get a night shot that looks like it was taken in daylight then set your shutter speed so you get an exposure value of 0. To maintain that sense of night time you may want to under-expose your image a bit. Another thing to consider when taking these long exposure night images, is the fact that it will be difficult to get a focus on your subject if it is dark. Bring along a fairly bright flashlight to shine on your subject long enough to lock in your focus, and then take the shot without the flashlight.
Earlier I mention the silky water effect for waterfalls, and streams, etc…. These are achieved by employing similar techniques. These can be taken during the daytime, but will be difficult to achieve if it is a bright sunny day. The bright sunlight will make it almost impossible to achieve the slow shutter speeds required to get the desired effect without over-exposing the image. You will need a shutter speed of about 1 second or slower to achieve the silky water effect. You need to find ways to let less light enter your camera. Use your lowest ISO setting. This is ISO 100 on many cameras. Some go lower, some only go as low as ISO 200. Whatever is the lowest setting your camera is what you should use. Now set your aperture to a value which will allow you to achieve the required slow shutter speed. This may be f/16, or f/22, or some other narrow aperture setting. If you have set your ISO to the lowest setting and your aperture to its narrowest setting and you still are unable to have a proper exposure with the required slow shutter speed, then you may need some additional accessories for your camera. Neutral Density filters or ND filters for short, are used to reduce the amount of light that enters your camera. They come in varying degrees of darkening capabilities like 2 stops, 4, stops, and so on. These ND filters screw onto the end of your lens. By adding these filters less light enters the camera and the shutter speed can be reduced to help produce the desired effect. When taking a shot of a flowing stream for example it would be best to focus on something in the image that is not moving like a rock in the water, and then recompose the image while maintaining the focus, and take the shot.
These techniques can be used for a variety of subjects. Aside from the flowing water shots you can take a night shot of a freeway where the roads and street lights will remain in focus while the moving vehicles will appear as a series of light trails. The same is true for carnival rides like a ferris wheel.
The key is to experiment with different setting to get different effects. If you try this on photos of waves breaking on the rocks you can get the silky effect or with a longer exposure you can get a misty, foggy effect around the rocks. Another possibility on a clear night capturing an image of star trails in the sky. This would require the use of the “bulb” setting if your camera has it, as it requires shutter speeds measured in minutes rather than seconds. Whatever you do have fun, and love the light!
If you have any questions regarding this subject please feel free to contact me or leave a comment, and I will do my best to answer your questions. Thanks for stopping by and reading my article.
“Love the light!”