Long exposure is philosophy

YUGA KURITA Mount Fuji Chureito Slow Shutter ND filter_4E00245
Nikon D800E w/SIGMA ART 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM

When you gain some experience in photography, you realise the importance of lighting. When it comes to still life and portrait photography, you can control lighting using gear such a strobe light. As far as landscape photography is concerned, you cannot basically lighten the subject. I said ‘basically’ because you can use light painting technique, for example, to lighten subjects in the foreground when shooting night photography. You can also use an electric flash to lighten plants (such as maple trees and sakura trees) in the foreground when taking backlit shots . But you can’t light up huge subjects such as Mount Fuji. For that reason, it is vitally important for landscapes to be at the right place at the right time, that is, visit a place where you can make a beautiful composition when nature gives best light. Even when we try to do so, we are  at the wrong place at the wrong time at times as nature is always beyond our expectation.

Yesterday, it had been cloudy but Fuji was somehow visible under a heavy grey sky. Because it was far cry from ideal lighting, many traditional landscape photographers wouldn’t try shooting on such a day. Although I live on the foot of Mt. Fuji, I had been rarely seeing Fuji these days. Light isn’t great but Fuji is visible. Sometimes, we can make interesting long exposure shots on a cloudy day. So I visited Arakura Sengen Park in Fujiyoshida where our symbol Chureito Pagoda resides.

I took the above shot there. I used a Kenko PRO ND 1000 (10 f stop ND) and SIGMA DG Wide C-PL to reduce the light. In addition, I set the aperture to f/11 and ISO to 50 to extend the shutter speed to 30 seconds.  But it doesn’t show the movement of the clouds very well. I tried one more long exposure shot by doubling the shutter speed but Fuji hid behind the clouds while I was taking this shot. Yes, Fuji is very mercurial and I’m getting used to her mercurialness =(

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Black and White Long Exposure Clouds_KE45124
Nikkon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM

I also used the ND1000 and C-PL for this shot and narrowed the aperture to f/18 to extend the exposure time to 273 seconds. I took this shot in 1.2x crop mode at the wide end of the zoom lens (so it is 126mm in 35mm equivalent).

If the shutter speed is short, of course, it just look like an normal picture. But it shouldn’t be too long either. If the shutter speed is too long movement of clouds is smoothen and they don’t give dynamic impression. The direction of movement is even more important than the exposure time.  Look at the example shot below. The clouds were moving towards me and the movement produced dynamic effects.

Yuga kurita Mount Fuji Long Exposure Night
Nikon D600 w/ AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Long exposure shots often causes sensor noise especially when the shutter speed is longer than one minute and temperature is high. Enlarge your long exposure shots to check out each pixel. You’ll probably find pixels of primary colours such as red and cyan that seem to have no connection at all with surrounding pixels. These pixels are created by sensor noise. You can turn on ‘Long exposure NR” in your camera to minimise sensor noise. But mind you that you need to wait for the same amount of time as the exposure time to perform long exposure noise reduction. That is you have to wait for 10 minutes when the exposure time is 5 minutes. Your camera actually takes a dark frame by closing the shutter to recording sensor noise only. Then the camera subtracts the noise data from the original shot to clean it up. You can actually perform the same type of noise reduction later on your PC. In that case, put the lens cap and close the eyepiece to dark frames. If the shutter speed of all your shots is say 60 seconds, you just take a 60 second dark frame in your camera to apply it to all shots. But if the shutter speed of your shuts varies each time you shoot, it would be too much hustle to take dark frames for all shots. I prefer to change the shutter speed each time and thus I usually turn on ‘Long exposure NR’ in my camera.

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Lake Tanuki Nikon D5300 Long Exposure_DSC2057
Nikon D5300 w/ AF-S 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

You might be surprised to hear it but the Nikon D5300 is a great camera for long exposure shots because it generates much less sensor noise than other DSLRs. The exposure time of the above shot is 902 seconds (approx. 15 minutes). But I couldn’t detect any original colour pixels when enlarging the picture to its original size. If you take a 15-minute long exposure shot with a D800 series camera, you’d need to spend a whole day to remove such pixels in Photoshop.

You set the shutter speed of your camera to ‘Bulb’ when the exposure time is longer than 30 seconds (some Olympus cameras let you set the shutter speed up to 60 seconds without going into bulb mode. I think every manufacturer should copy the feature). To shoot in bulb mode, I recommend you to use a cable release with timer functionality. I use Nikon MC36As for my D800E. It is compatible with the Nikon D800, D800E, D810, D4, D4s, etc.  Chinese knockoffs are also available in the market. I bought two of them but they broke easily and the timer functionality wasn’t precise at all. I encourage to get a genuine product. Note, however, the MC-DC2 remote release code for the D3000/D5000/D7000/D600 series has no timer functionality. I had to get a third-party cheapo, which boasted greater functionality than the genuine product.

You don’t know what to come out until the shutter is closed when shooting long exposure shots, which is I think great fun. It will make you a thinker as you have plenty of time to think while waiting for the shutter is closed or long exposure noise reduction is complete.

“Long exposure is philosophy.” – Yuga Kurita

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  1. 江頭美鶴 says:


  2. yuga says: