Photography gives us the capability to see beyond the limitations of our restricted vision. Fundamentally, the camera and the eye work in similar ways; however the camera may be manipulated to produce images which the naked eye could never witness. Experimenting with shutter speed is one way in which we could produce surreal images of seemingly ordinary scenes. Long exposure allows a large amount of light to enter the camera, thus producing images of the virtually unseen. Light appears exaggerated, any movement appears as either light trails or an eerie blur. Once you begin experimenting with long exposure you cannot stop, as you begin to realise it’s endless possibilities.
The best (or perhaps worst) thing about experimenting with long exposures is the sheer randomness of it. You can never be sure what you are going to get, every image is unique. Once you begin experimenting with this technique you will learn the true meaning of ‘happy mistakes’.
Any movement of light within the scene will produce a light trail. However, what do you do if there is not enough movement in your scene? Move yourself.
These images were shot in an ordinary city, on an ordinary night but not in an ordinary way. Choose your location, ideally somewhere with lots of different coloured lights, this works best on a clear, dark night with no clouds. Set up your camera, press the shutter, and totally break the norms of how photographers traditionally capture images. Move. Dance. Jump. Move your camera around in any way you feel. Spin it around, zigzag, zoom in and out. Make sure you’re doing whatever you’re doing in relative slow motion, think Baywatch running scene.
You will begin to see how different movements affect the images. It will take a few tries before you get the hang of the ideal speed and movements. But no matter how much you sharpen your technique, the resulting image will always be unique. That’s the beauty of it; you could plan your image to a certain extent, but the result will always be a surprise.
When shooting long exposures at night, your worst enemy is noise. Have you ever had an image come out incredibly grainy even though it’s digital and has no film grain? That’s noise. The most effective way to combat noise is to lower your ISO. For this technique we want to use the lowest possible ISO. When it comes to shutter speed and aperture setting? Well that depends on your scene. You want a shutter speed of at least two seconds. Longer exposures will give you more time to move around, hence longer light trails and more chaos in the image. Once you’ve set your ISO, start experimenting with diff erent shutter speeds until you fi nd the right one for your situation. Lastly set your aperture. In these images depth of fi eld isn’t really an issue, so use the aperture to adjust the exposure of your images.
You want to get a balanced contrast between the light trails and the black background. Experimenting with this technique will break all the ‘formal’ rules of photography. Photography has claimed to be an accurate recorder of reality, but through experimentation you could break the rigidness of the medium and create more abstract, surreal, unique and fascinating images. All you need is a camera, an evening, and anywhere with enough light to work with. You may feel silly whilst you’re slow dancing on your own in the middle of town at night, but it will be worth it. Just perfect for festa season!
© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Steph Scicluna