The Long Exposure Learning Curve

I’ve wanted to experiment with long exposure photography for ages. And ages. It’s a pretty simple process in principle. Apply a filter to your lens, set to bulb mode and shoot. Hopefully at the end of it, you’ll get a photo with surreal qualities. Maybe one could even describe them as magical. It’s that filter bit that’s been the stumbling block though. I’d tried a £20 cheap variable Polaroid filter last year, which produced dismal results. A decent filter with the stopping power to produce a photo worth publishing to Flickr is not cheap. Starting point is about £100. Which I don’t have.

But it set me thinking. Isn’t there a cheap and cheerful way to do this? Surely someone has improvised and created an alternative to Lee’s Big Stopper filter? It turns out, the answer to those questions is ‘yes’. And it’s a really, really cheap alternative to a professional lens. So I bought the key ingredients and got to work. There’s my set up in the photo below. One piece of welding glass from Amazon for the bargain price of £1.33, And two strong elastic bands. Which cost nothing because they came in our shopping delivery, holding the asparagus together.

LE1

My initial efforts at creating a worthy long exposure photograph did not go as well as hoped. I set up shop alongside a stream flowing through some nearby gardens. My camera will shoot up to a maximum of 30 seconds before you’re forced into bulb mode. And 30 seconds is not long enough. Nor can you really use bulb mode without a remote. Which I did not have. You can see the best result, below left.

But I was determined to make my welding glass contraption succeed, so I went home and ordered a generic corded remote from Amazon for £9 and change. With this essential addition to my kit, I went to one of the best locations for long exposure photography in the whole of Dorset, Old Harry Rocks. I perched my self four or four feet from the cliff top and had a second go. Alas, to say it was a windy day is something of an understatement. A few gusts caught me unaware and blew me  five or six feet along the cliff. I backed off from the cliff face a little. A sensible precaution.

I persevered, but it was no use. I couldn’t hold my tripod and camera steady in the wind and the vibrations ruined the shot, which is below right. It looks out of focus, but it is not. That was just the wind blowing the camera about. But this attempt was still more successful than my next expedition. I chose the less breezy Boscombe pier as the location. I rode my bike out there, set everything up, cursed myself for leaving my memory card in my computer, packed everything away and returned home.

LE5

So. Fourth time lucky? This morning I got up nice and early, packed all my gear in my backpack, including the memory card, and walked down to Bournemouth Pier. The wind was light, the beach deserted and I had every I needed. I shot four or five exposures. I started with a 3 minutes exposure for the first photo, but settled on 5 minutes as the optimum exposure. The aperture of the lens was set to f5.6 and the ISO at 400. Finally I got a few decent results.

Straight out of the camera, there’s a very strong green cast to the photo. See below. That’s to be expected from a piece of welding glass that costs little more than a pound. It is possible to remove the cast in Photoshop (see the snap of Old Harry Rocks above) but you get a mixed bag of results. It works better with some photos than others. I knew before I even purchased the glass that these shots were going to look their best in black or white or with some creative post processing filters applied.

LE4

So anyway. I got back home, imported the photos into the latest shiny iteration of Adobe Lightroom (v6.0 was released just a few days ago) and got to work. Even if I say so myself, I’m pretty pleased with the results. It’s been quite a bit of work to finally get some decent long exposure snaps, but the work has paid off. A bit of cropping here, a bit of straightening there. I played with the shadow, highlights and contrast. I played around with a few filters. And I made this….

DSCF6432-3
And this…
DSCF6433-3

And a few more variations of these two photos, which you can see on Flickr if you click here. These photos will win me no prizes, but I’ve had a lot of fun making them. And having conquered the learning curve, I’ll be able to produce some more long exposure photos in the future with a bit less fuss. Perhaps I’ll try Old Harry Rocks again on a slightly calmer day.

4 thoughts on “The Long Exposure Learning Curve

  1. You might try mist rising off a bog in the early morning with your new contraption. The air and mist movement is ultra slow but the light changes should do some magic.

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  2. Well, I admire your inventiveness. Have you done any research to see if the welding glass transmits (albeit incorrectly) a full spectrum of light?

    One of the things I’ve noticed about taking long exposures at night with a digital camera is the fact that the camera takes periodic samples of the image, i.e., it’s not like the constant exposure of film. So if you are taking a time exposure of say moving lights, you can end up with a dashed line rather than a continuous one. But I guess your exposures are long enough or your subject slow-moving enough to overcome that problem.

    The shots you got are beautiful. I particularly like the next-to-last one.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we need to get out and do some photography.

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    1. I must confess, I have no idea whether welding glass transmits a full spectrum of light or not. The first and so far only question I has was…would it work? And it did. Not the same as a £100 filter, but still. One mustn’t grumble when the investment is just a couple of pounds!

      I’d like to try some astro photography. When the weather warms up a bit…!

      Liked by 1 person

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