If you've followed my blog for any length of time you probably know I'm a huge fan of long exposure photography. So when I saw a new eBook covering the subject I was pretty interested.
I've mentioned Craft & Vision run by David DuChemin quite a few times on this blog. One of the their main offerings is publishing eBooks to help educate and improve our photography. The books are very well priced (most are $5) and provide upwards of 50 pages of good writing and lovely images.
Most of the books are aimed at the "aspiring photographer". By this I mean not necessarily a new photographer but one who's been through a lot of the initial growing pains, understands how their camera works and is wanting to use their camera more creatively.
They provide a lot of interesting ideas, inspiring images, tips and things to try. In a good way I feel that my own photography has outgrown some of the content of the books - noting that they have played a role in that progression - and not all of the subjects interest me as I become increasingly aware of my own passion and style.
Nonetheless it's always interesting to read something you know about for a different, sometimes penny dropping, perspective. and the collection is a lovely library of interesting "extended articles" that I can carry around on my iPad with me. So I'm a big fan.
When I saw the email announcing "Slow: The Magic of Long Exposure Photography" by Andrew S. Gibson (@andrewsgibson) I was immediately interested. As noted in the book much LE photography is B/W seascapes. If I was was near a coast I'm sure I would be shooting, but we're all out of coastline in the Peak District so that's not a core part of my style. But I do shoot a lot of long exposures - believe it or not very few of my images are sub-1".
Then I saw a tweet from Doug Chinnery (@dougchinnery) saying that he was included as a case study. Doug's a photographer based on the other side of the Pennines whose work I greatly admire and before I knew it I had hit the buy button.
Having read it today I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the book itself, and maybe add in a titbit or two of my own experiences in this field.
First off, Andrew's a talented and prolific writer. At a guess I'd say he's the most published author in the C&V library (perhaps even more than David DC himself). He's also active on a number of blogs around the interweb (including Digital Photography School) as well as writing his own eBooks which I've heard good things about from those that have bought them. He knows his onions and he can explain the layers of the onions in a very straightforward and interesting way. He doesn't use bad onion analogies btw. Anyway his books are a good read.
From the get go Andrew wins me over by talking about creatively conveying emotion - "I'm trying to create photos that express the emotions evoked by the place I'm in and the experience that I'm having there in the moment". This totally resonates with my way of thinking and what I'm trying to get out of photography.
I see the camera and the photograph as a way to express what we feel as much as what we see. Unfortunately I see this statement coming up a lot in "artist's statements" these days so it's a bit of a cliché. However the point remains that creating photographs that make people feel and think is what I'm aiming for, and I think LE is a fantastic tool to do that. Further I find being in the landscape to be a tranquil, contemplative and reflective experience - feelings that long exposure images tend to enhance.
The book covers quite a spread of LE techniques:
- handholding shortish shutter speeds for a hint of motion
- handholding longer shutter speeds and panning to give a real sense of motion
- intentional camera movement (ICM), using longer shutter speeds and making deliberate and conscious movements of the camera to create a more abstract, impressionistic image
- really long shutters speeds (minutes-long in some cases), tripod mounted - my kind of long exposure photography
Given that they are pretty straightforward technically, the first two are covered relatively briefly but with some interesting things to think about and play with. As interesting as they are, for me personally they are included more for completeness and it is the rest of the book where I think the subject comes to life.
So enters ICM, a discussion of its merits and techniques and some really interesting images. This is something I played with recently - without knowing any more about it than "you move the camera" - on a particularly difficult morning up on Higger Tor. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the results. The strange abstractness that it brought, with indistinct yet recognisable shapes, sometimes feeling like you're looking through a cloud or a memory at something more physical, was quite beguiling.
At this point Mr Chinnery steps in with his case study. I think Doug's ICM images are great and the book shows off some quality examples of these. The thought process and techniques he shares are food for thought and a starting point for making use of ICM creatively in my own work. If nothing else the book has given me cause to consider and experiment with this technique further which I'm glad for.
Tripod-mounted Long Exposures
Beyond that we have the content I most expected to see and have most affinity with. We're talking about tripod-mounted long exposures up to minutes long with water, cloud, whatever moves, looking for simplicity and minimalism.
Sometimes when you read about a subject you know about quite well you spend your time shaking your head and tutting. Not so here. I found myself nodding, agreeing with some of the really useful thoughts and tips. There's so much depth to photography that you could talk about and debate specific details at length, but I think Andrew's done a great job of distilling it to some of the core essentials - enough information and insight to dive in, but leaving some areas for the reader to explore themselves.
There were a couple of things whilst reading that I thought I'd add some comment on:
- If you do get a "Big Stopper"/10-stop filter, be sure to check how many stops it actually reduces your exposure by. "10 silly!" might be the retort, but the manufacturing process isn't perfect and they can actually vary between 9 and 11 stops. It turns out mine is 10 2/3 stops. 2/3 more might not sound like much but it's considerably less light. Indeed, it's actually the difference between a 4m exposure and a 6m 40sec exposure! You can find out how strong yours is by taking a shot of a static subject in stable lighting with and without the filter. You can then use e.g. Lightroom to add or remove extra exposure to get the two images to match, noting how much you move the slider by.
- Andrew makes a point about recognising that at the start/end of the day the light can change very quickly in New Zealand. I certainly witnessed this on the Isle of Skye earlier in the year, so I would often add up to an extra stop to my exposure to compensate for the light dimming during the exposure. It may help to think about what the "average" of the light across the exposure is, rather than thinking about the light at the start or end of the exposure. I think this is a really good and "advanced" point that you wouldn't perhaps expect to see in a book (it's more like one of those things you just find yourself through experience) so I think it shows depth of thought to include it here.
- Long exposure noise reduction: Andrew suggests switching this off. I'm sure I've done this before and the noise was appreciably worse (and we both use a 5D Mark II) so I was surprised by this suggestion. To be fair the last time I didn't use it was a long time ago so perhaps my results were clouded by inexperience and I'm holding onto an old lesson. I'm not sure so I'll thank Andrew for mentioning it and go away and make fresh experiments! One thing to note here, as he does when talking about "exposing to the right", is that noise is most prevalent in the shadows - so you really want to avoid underexposing your long exposure images.
To close the book there's a case study of Joel Tjintjellar with some fantastic long exposure mono architectural work (that's a mouthful!). Again Joel provides some really interesting insights and another perspective to the subject that rounds the book out nicely, and his work is gorgeous.
Overall I really enjoyed reading this book. Whilst a subject I'm pretty familiar with I found myself agreeing, learning a little and being inspired to try different things. I think Andrew, Doug and Joel have offered some real insight into long exposure techniques - a solid grounding for those new to it, and some interesting takeaways for us less so. I think Andrew's really done the subject justice, so hats off to him and his co-authors.
To finish I wanted to quote Andrew one last time as he talks of making long exposures:
"It's a quiet, contemplative process. I like it because it gives me time to think, reflect, and enjoy the beauty of the location that I'm in"
This is spot on and something I have long felt.
Particularly with exposures over many minutes you realise that you have relatively few shots to get in and you don't want to waste time (sit around for 4 mins for a duff shot - I'd rather not!). This slows you down and makes you better consider your shots. Sometimes I wonder if this is what it's like to be a film shooter. When our instinct may be to run around going snap-snap-snap the more pedestrian and thoughtful think-think-snap approach is bliss.
Whilst waiting for an exposure to complete you also have time to survey, contemplate and absorb the landscape much more than you otherwise might. To me this seems like one of its greatest benefits.
Several months ago I compiled my own Guide to Long Exposure Photography which unsurprisingly shares some common themes with Andrew's book and introduces some other thoughts. If you're looking for some further information then check it out.
If you're quick, C&V normally offer a discount code for new eBook releases. I think I'm ok to share it (please shout if not Team C&V!) so this is from their mailing shot: "Special Offer For the first five days only, use the promotional code SLOW4 when you checkout and pay only $4 OR use the code SLOW20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ PDF eBooks. These codes expire at 11:59pm (PST) November 18, 2012.". Well worth signing up for future book news and offers.