Having some time ago purchased this short e-book, aptly called The Long Exposure, and also an ND filter, I recently made my first foray into the world of long exposures.
The author, David Cleland, acknowledges in the introduction that this book is aimed at the beginner, and although I suspect that many who own X-Series cameras are at the very least somewhat accomplished photographers who possibly don’t need much of the information supplied in this book, I think it is still a very worthwhile and rewarding resource.
For example, I should have heeded his advice to pay more attention to composition. My first shot with the ND filter on turned out to be, in the gloom of a New Zealand native forest reserve, 12 minutes long. That turned into a staggering 24 minutes or so, since I had left the ‘long exposure noise reduction’ on. Waiting a near half hour just to go “that’s a fairly naff photo” is somewhat dispiriting, to say the least.
The section on calculating exposures was essential for me too. I suffer from some kind of not quite diagnosed mild dyslexia / dyscalculia thing, and the exposure calculations would have been beyond me if it wasn’t for this head start. Even then it was a struggle. The inter-naught helped here too, telling me “Divide the denominator (the bottom part) into the numerator (the top part): 1/4 = 1 ÷ 4.00 = 0.25.” As easy as this must be for millions, I can’t wrap my head around numerical concepts even this simple. Following the roadmap I’ve just quoted though, it becomes kinda okay.
I was going to say that there’s a few other things I’ve learnt, but thinking about it, it’s early days yet, so I haven’t really learnt anything – lets say ‘things to consider.’
First, it pays to take a regular photo first, and check the histogram / blown highlight peaking. Then you know where to spot meter. Again, waiting nearly a half hour only to go “Oh bollocks, that whole plant thingy in the bottom right corner is totally blown” is quite dispiriting.
Second, if you’re in a forest and it’s been raining, cover the camera. Just cos it’s not raining right then doesn’t mean there isn’t a big drop of water waiting above to fall on your camera and slide down into it’s innards. This didn’t happen to me, it landed on my hand instead. But sans hand, I could see how this could have been a disaster. A simple heavy-ish peice of plastic would be enough, like a medium sized Ziplock bag folded over and resting on the top. A rubber band would help to keep it in place. I already keep just such a bag in the back pocket of my camera bag, large enough to hold the whole camera in downpour emergencies. So, all I need now is a rubber band and the foresight to use them.
Third – um, I forget. Since starting this post two days ago, and now coming back to finish it, I’ve lost my train of though. Oh well…
What I do remember though, is the realisation that it’s going to take quite a bit of experience before I can judge what general kind of time frame will suit each scene. The X100s gives me the opportunity to use just its built in ND filter, or I can use an actual screw on one, or even combine them both. Sometimes the differences between a few seconds and several minutes actually seem quite slight, but these subtle differences can have a big impact on the feeling of the final result. The two photos below highlight this.
Both photos: RAW > Capture One > Aperture (curves, slight definition and vignette). Top 4.3 seconds, bottom 8 minutes.
That’s all for now.
Typed with some hooligan help (which is appropriate, as long exposures are a “change your style” situation for me).