I recommended reading my how-to on night landscape photography here.
Motion Blur in Water
Try experimenting with your shutter speed while capturing waterfalls, rivers and the sea.
You can use a very short shutter speed to freeze the breaking of the waves on the shore.
Or a longer one to make them appear foamy and smooth, like in the photos below.
Avlaki beach (Kerkyra, Greece). Panasonic DMC-GF2 with 14-42 kit lens.
You can even use longer exposures to completely smooth the waves out to get a flat and static sea.
Dock in Kalamaki beach at dawn. (Kerkyra, Greece). The waves got smoothed away by the long exposure. Here, the act to record the sea movement resulted in a motionless, zen-like, minimalist image. Canon 50D with Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM.
Fast-moving streams of water, like waterfalls and rivers, can assume a silky appearance.
Rapids under the Devil’s bridge in Bobbio, Italy. Olympus OM-D EM-10 with Samyang 12mm f/2. // Rapids under the Devil’s bridge in Bobbio, Italy
Capturing Motion Blur With Lights
The cars are moving faster than the exposure time.
This allows them to vanish in the final image, leaving only their trail of lights.
Boulevard de Waterloo by night (Brussels, Belgium). Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2.
Try creating an urban carousel by capturing the passing traffic framing a roundabout.
Urban carousel in Place Royale (Brussels, Belgium). Panasonic DMC-GF2 with Samyang 7.5 f/3.5 fisheye lens.
Present famous landmarks in an alternative way. Capture light trails in front of them.
Light trails in front of the Bullring shopping center in Birmingham, UK. Panasonic DMC-GF2 with 14-42 kit lens. //Light trails in front of the Bullring shopping center in Birmingham, UK.
Luna Parks provide plenty of lights you can use to create trails.
Turn an otherwise boring cityscape into a great panorama. Capture the slow-moving Ferris Wheel with a long exposure.
The photo is a blend of an HDR photo done for the city and the sky with a long exposition to get the wheel spinning. Canon EOS 50D with Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 fitted with a B+W ND110 filter for the long exposure.
Ferris Wheel in front of the Midi Tower in Brussels, which is the tallest skyscraper in Belgium.
To achieve this shot, I took photos following the day to night cycle. Once you have your shots, merge your photos together to express the flowing of time.
This kind of photography gives better results with large, busy cityscapes. Below are a couple of “golden-to-blue” shots I took in Brussels (Belgium).
The Atomium (Brussels, Belgium). Olympus OM-D EM-10 with Samyang 12mm f/2 and Formatt HITECH GND filters.
Here is what you’ll need to create a photo with motion:
A photo camera – digital is easier. If using a film camera, be aware of film reciprocity failure with long expositions.
A sturdy tripod is ideal for long exposures. Panning is more suited to a monopod.
A lens (I recommend a telephoto lens for panning).
A remote control/intervallometer for long exposures using bulb. This is also used when photographing star trails.
A set of neutral density (ND) and graduated neutral density (GND) filters.
Technicalities of Long Exposure Photography
Long exposures are photographs taken using a very slow shutter speed. This is from 10 seconds to several minutes.
In daylight, do this by stepping down your lens to the max (note: higher F-number, narrower aperture). And lower your ISO settings to their min.
Using this technique means that you cannot control your aperture. This negates your ability to control your depth of field.
To produce a long exposure photograph, you need to use neutral density (ND) filters. Examples of these are the Lee Big Stopper, the B+W ND 110 and the Firecrest ND 4.8.
The Firecrest is the darkest filter available. It will cut your exposure by 16-stops. Stacking several filters will also achieve this and can offer you increased flexibility. An ND set of 3, 6 and 10-stop filters would be ideal.
Note: When you reduce your exposure 1 stop, you are halving the amount of light hitting the sensor. A 10-stop filter will reduce your shutter speed by a factor of 1000.
This will increase your shutter speed from 1/1000 of a second to 10 seconds. A 16-stops filter will further reduce your original 1/1000s shutter speed. It will go down to 10 minutes and 55 seconds.
There are two main families of filters: screw-in filters and plate filters. The main difference is that you can combine a plate filter with a graduated plate filter (GND). This will help even the light across a contrasted scene.
In my experience, the downside of using plate filters is that they are more prone to light leakage. The plate filter is not in contact with the lens due to the presence of the filter holder.
You can get rid of this problem. Add a foamy frame. This will not be enough for bright conditions and long exposures.
Screw-in filters leave no gaps between the filter and the lens. Or between stacked filters. The system is better sealed from the light.
I took the photo below with a plate 10-stops ND filter. Light leakage will appear in the form of the magenta halo at the center of the frame.
There is also general loss in contrast and sharpness.
This lens cannot take screw-in or plate filters. Placing a handheld filter in front of the lens may work with GND filters. But for long exposures this isn’t viable.
A solution could be to tape a small piece of a gelatin ND filter ( 3-stops) to cover the back elements of the lens. I had no gelatin filters at that time.
Instead, the photo is the result of averaging eight single exposures, each 1/200s long.
The resulting total time is (1/200) * 8 = 1/25. This does not make the photo a long exposure. The shutter speed is slow enough to motion blur the waterfall.
In these conditions, to get a total time of 5 seconds, I would need to take about 1000 photos which was not possible. I needed to turn to Photoshop.
After editing the photo in Lightroom, I reimported it into Photoshop. I duplicated the level and used a moderate light blur filter (distance pixels = 45). I applied this to the main direction of the waterfall to make it appear more dynamic.
Then I applied a mask to this layer to reveal the original image in the layer below it. Except for the waterfall.
The image below shows a 100% comparison of the water before and after the use of the motion filter.
Before (left) and after (right) the use of the motion filter in Adobe Photoshop CC to further smooth and blur the water.
If you have an iOS based device, these are some useful apps to help you in this kind of photography.
A simple and effective film reciprocity calculator for photographers. Select a film type and metered exposure time. The calculator will provide a reciprocity compensated exposure time.
The app includes an exposure timer so you can time your long exposures. You can also use a slider to adjust exposure when you have filters attached.
Not all movement is bad in photography. Grab your camera and start experimenting with motion blur.
Improve your photographs by adding an extra punch to them.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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