Photo Review Series #5: The Long Exposure

This is the fifth post in a series in which I pick some really cool photos and break down the elements about them that I like best. They’re designed to help you (and I) improve your photography. In case you missed the last one, you can check it out here.

Alright everyone, today we’re going to dive into one of my favourite styles of photography, the long exposure. Long exposure photography is extremely versatile, and I had a tough go of it trying to pick a header photo to walk through with you today. I’ve got a real winner picked out though, so let’s jump in!

There are a bunch of things that work together to make this shot great, and we’ll go through one-by-one.

The Long Exposure!

What kind of long exposure would this be if I didn’t mention the effect of the exposure on the shot? In this photo, the long exposure accomplishes two things. First, it blurs the clouds in the sky, giving it a way more dramatic effect than if the photo were taken with a fast shutter speed. Second, it smooths out the water in the foreground, leading to that glassy look desired by so many photographers.

If you were to take this same photo with a fast shutter speed, you’d find it’s far less interesting. The clouds would be boring, and the tree wouldn’t stand out as much against them. Not only that, but the wind would also ripple the water in the foreground, making it compete with the interesting sandbar pattern.

The long exposure here sets the photo up for success in the next elements of the shot.

Focal Point & Leading Lines

As we know, every photo should have a clear focal point. Whether it’s a pop of colour in the sky, an interesting piece of architecture, or a person’s eyes in the case of a portrait, great photography always guides the viewer’s eye to the place the photographer intended you to look.

That’s exactly what’s going on here.

In this shot, the lines that lead you to the focal point are actually really interesting in and of themselves. The sandbar creates a really interesting pattern that naturally captures the eyes and leads it out to the main focal point, which is the tree on the horizon.

Not coincidentally, this is also where most of the colour in the shot is focused!

Vibrant Colour

The use of colour here is very tactful. The most vibrant colours are all centered in the middle of the shot, (this was done in post-processing). This is another piece of the puzzle that guides the viewer to the focal point. The colours in the sky and water are one of the most appealing elements of the photo – follow them, and you’ll also find the focal points!

Use of the Rule of Thirds

Notice how the horizon line doesn’t cut right through the middle of the shot. The rule of thirds tells us that putting the horizon either one third of the way from the bottom of the frame or one third from the top makes for a more interesting photo, and that holds true here as well.

It’s not a perfect one third from the bottom, but the photographer did that to capture as much detail in the sand as possible, and it worked!

Balanced Lighting

I mentioned colour earlier, and how it gets more vibrant in the middle. The same goes for the lighting. In a program like Photoshop, the photographer added a dark vignette around the shot, to call attention to the details in the middle.

Now some people would argue that this isn’t pure photography – you shouldn’t have to edit your photos, the argument goes. Well, we’re not debating that here. Fact is, manipulating lighting is a great way to play up elements of the photo you want to call attention to, and downplay elements you don’t.

Wrapping it Up

Great long exposure photography requires a sense of exploration and a lot of patience. This shot was likely taken with a shutter speed of one minute or longer. The slightest camera movement during that time can spoil the whole shot. But when it works, man is it worth the trouble!

Like I said, long exposure photography is versatile. To give you some other ideas of what you can do with long exposures, take a look at the below gallery:

Hope you enjoyed! Next time, we’ll take a look at fine art photography.

Your turn! Is there anything you want to add to my thoughts on this photo? Is there a specific type of photo you’d like to dive deeper on? Contact Me or let me know in the comments below!

CATEGORY: Photography, The Arts

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