Long-Exposure Photography

Yellow Mountains - Sea of Clouds - Thierry Bornier

Long-exposure photography – also known as time-lapse photography – is a method that creates images with one clear element, while conveying a type of motion in other parts of the image. Traditionally, a stationary object becomes the focus and the “movement” is created by leaving the shutter open create a blurring or smearing of that moving ojbect. A typical photography usually captures a specific moment in time. On the other hand, long-exposure photography is unique in the sense that it is able to capture a sense of time.

The Effect

This type of photography showcases the movement that occurs across time. Bright objects against a dark background, think stars in the night sky or car headlights on a dark highway, form moving lines that are clearly visible against the contrasting background. In the case of clouds, they typically join together to create a broad band or type of fluid motion.

Example: The Sea of Clouds in the Yellow Mountains. The reference to the clouds forming waves and a sea is perfectly captured using this technique.

Bright objects are usually captured best by long exposure, dark objects tend to get lost over the course of the shot.

The Technique

The technique behind time-lapse photography is to leave the shutter open for a prolonged period of time. This slow shutter speed allows light to enter the sensor over the course of the shot. Depending on the desired effect of the image, a shot can last several seconds to several hours.

It is most common for these shots to be taken at night since the contrasts of light to dark are most easily distinguished at this point. Again, depending on the desired effect photographers use the technique to capture a river’s fluidity or add a unique perspective to a cityscape.

Long – Exposure Photography Tips

Check the Weather

Keep an eye on the weather conditions to determine whether it fits your desired shot. If you’re hoping to capture movement in the clouds, you need clouds to be present where as if you’re hoping to shoot a starry night – a stormy one means you won’t be able to get that hit.

Scout the Location

Check out your shooting spot prior to starting the shoot itself. This will allow for you to find the right composition and frame – then when the weather is right – will mean a smooth shoot day.

Use a Tripod

The stability of the tripod will mean that your focal points will remain in focus while the settings allow the moving elements to be captured.

Study the Light

Get to know light. Sunlight differs depending on the time of day, just as the moon’s light differs based on the time of month. Understanding the type of light you’re shooting will help you capture it in just the right way to create your desired image. 

Long-exposure is becoming increasingly popular and photographers are continuously testing and perfecting their techniques. For Thierry, it is a great technique to help capture the mood and feelings of a landscape.


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