Camera Techniques

Long exposures with moving subjects

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A recent question from a reader of my Lightroom book :

"I am enjoying your book. I have read a few on LR 2 and I am learning plenty from your book and enjoy your style and photos. I do have a question with the photo that was used on the cover and included just before chapter 6. The shot indicates it was 13 seconds but I see a man in the lower left hand corner and I am try to understanding how he was still for that time. Could you please help me understand that. Thank you."

My answer:

"The photograph on my book cover, of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy was made at dusk. The sun had already set.

I always prefer to use as low ISO as possible to minimize noise. The exposure settings I chose resulted in an shutter speed of 13 seconds.

I had been at this spot for nearly an hour, watching the light change and people coming and going. As the sun went down, fishermen started coming into port, getting off their boats at the spot you see in the photo.

To make this picture, I set up the camera exposure, focus, etc. (and checked some captures on the histogram) and waited until a fisherman was coming into the scene.

Over the 13 seconds, probably 8 or nine seconds were with him approaching the dock, moving quickly and getting out of the boat. Due to the low light and long exposure, these events did not register on the camera sensor. When he got out of the boat, he stood still for a few seconds, smoking a cigarette. This is when he was recorded in the image.

On very long exposures, elements quickly coming in and out of the scene will not be recorded in the exposure, because their presence is outweighed by the forms that are constant in the longest part of the exposure.

You can reproduce this effect in low light, say, at dawn or dusk, in a public location. Get you camera set to produce a proper exposure of 10 or 15 seconds, in an area where you expect people to wander through. Do a bunch of exposures, and on later evaluation, you will see that some people show up, others don’t, and some seem in a state of suspended animation, though the world is moving around them. This is because they stood relatively still throughout the exposure, while other people came and went at varying speeds.

I find this kind of photography very compelling; it’s great fun to see the results. I was happy to see how this shot came out – the boat is blurred, but the man is not. ANd of course the building stood perfectly still 😉

This is a good exmaple of the kind of imagery I seek to consistently produce — using one single exposure. Let the camera do the work.

I hope this gives you the explanation you wished for; please feel free to write back if you have any other questions."

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