Slowing down with Long Exposure

There is something about water that draws and fascinates many of us. No wonder: it is the most omnipresent substance on Earth. I love photographing water, particularly the ocean. I also love clouds. When I am standing on a shore, or look out to sea from our boat or other vantage point, I feel a sense of peace and calm which I try to convey in my images. I am also drawn to simple, clean outlooks which give a sense of space and time passing.  

I don’t always seek to recreate in a photo exactly what I see with the naked eye. Instead sometimes I like to give my own personal perspective, my own take on a particular scene.

  • We are always rushing in day to day life; I like to slow time down in my photography.
  • We are often surrounded with lots of people; I generally like to escape crowded locations and ‘clear’ the people out of my images.
  • We are often weighed down by ‘stuff’; I like orderly, clean, uncluttered scenes.

IMG_0740-2One of the techniques I have been exploring to help me achieve a serene, otherworldly look in some of my photographs is long exposure: slow shutter speeds that are necessary either because I am photographing in a low light situation or using a dark filter to create the ethereal effects I am after.

With long exposures you get a blurring of anything that is moving within your composition: waves are smoothed out, clouds become streaky, and people become ghostly or disappear altogether. You can use this to your advantage and create images that represent what you’d like to see and feel. For instance in this shot of the St Kilda Pier, people kept walking along right in front of the camera. But with the help of a 15 stop filter, they are gone, leaving a deserted, tranquil feel to this popular spot.


St Kilda Pier, f/11, 200 sec, 15 stop ND, ISO 100

So it is not a reproduction of reality, but an interpretation of what I see in my mind’s eye.  It is about creating an artistic, dreamy, sometimes mysterious or surreal effect.

With the addition of neutral density filters, you can transform surf crashing, into smooth, nearly milky water, like fog drifting just over the surface. As the water flows over or recedes from a sandy beach, successive waves are recorded on your image, like ghosts. It gives the scene a more serene feel as shown in the Jan Juc beach image.

Jan Juc

Jan Juc – f/14, 2.6 sec, ISO 100

Not every photograph I take is a long exposure shot, in fact far from it.  With many of my images being taken at sea, it would just be impossible.  When you leave your camera shutter open for a few seconds or several minutes, you need to use a tripod.  Tripods and boats don’t mix!  Long exposure and boats don’t mix either. But when we are on land, I can practise this style of photography. I find it quite meditative.

The right mood

Long exposure photography has a fine art quality to it which appeals to me and with some of my images I like to experiment and infuse some artistic feel to them rather than simply showing the seascape in front of me.

But for this you need time and most importantly you need to be “in the mood”.  Because you are not seeking to reproduce exactly what you see, you need to have a mental picture of what you would like to achieve in your mind’s eye.  You need time to feel it, think it through, set your camera up properly and develop the image to achieve your vision. This image of the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse was all about the clouds. I wanted those pink clouds to last for ever, and to transport me like a whirlwind to a different mental space. The 10 stop filter helped create a different feel, while smoothing out the waves in the water.

Pt Lonsdale lighthouse at dawn

Pt Lonsdale Lighthouse at dawn – f/19, 158 sec, 10 stop ND, ISO 100

I find that taking long exposures often requires more planning, thought and processing than with my other photography.  So it is not something I can do in a hurry.   It forces me to slow down.  And slowing down is something I have a craving for right now.  There has been so much going on in our life that we feel way too keyed up!  Pausing, observing, contemplating, being in the moment are ingredients for a more serene state of mind and beautiful photography.

The gallery is a mix of long exposure nautical images: daytime coastal shots with and without Neutral Density filters, and night shots. Some needed just a few seconds, others were exposures of several minutes. Most were taken in May when Wade was away on a yacht delivery, but I have also included a couple of favourites taken in the last year.


19 thoughts on “Slowing down with Long Exposure

  1. These are just beautiful!! Even though it’s a bit cliched, I like shooting waterfalls with long exposure as well as some of what you mentioned – waves on a beach, stars. 🙂

    • Thanks Ellen! Waterfalls are very nice – I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot them and in the dry season it’s hard to get enough flow in the ones near us in the Otways. I think any long exposure has a special style I enjoy.

  2. In Malaga, like the shots of the lighthouses and the beaches. Great technique Chris remember when you were learning on the beach with the rocks. Still having fun.

  3. I haven been getting more into long exposure since I have had my camera over 3 years now, Im becoming more experienced and starting to really understand the different aspects my digital camera has to offer. These are awesome photos and neat tricks that I am going to try soon!

We welcome and appreciate your comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.