I caught the Long Exposure bug in 2008. It was the kind of photography that seemed to originate from two separate worlds yet capable of bridging the two. The unrealistic, surreal streaky clouds and white silky smooth water made the image step enough steps back from reality that intrigued the imagination and was a breathe of fresh air of something different and new, yet the sharp precise photography detail of the stagnant objects brought it back to reality of the familiar classic photography. I was mesmerized by this technique. Without hesitation I took a Long Exposure course and was passionately driven to get out and shoot whatever I could. Living in Vancouver, BC, there was no shortage of sceneries. The clouds are regular visitors to the local skies and Vancouver is surrounded by water – I was in Long Exposure heaven!
Side-note: For those not familiar with LE photography, it is a technique in which Neutral Density filters that reduce light (from all wave lengths equally) are placed on the lens of the camera. Since the amount of light is reduced by as much as 16 f-stops (according to the filters you place) you can significantly extend the time in which the shutter is open in broad daylight, a 10 minute exposure can easily be achieved. This creates an image where moving continuous objects like white clouds ‘draw’ streaks as they move across the blue sky and water ripples completely disappear to create a smooth ‘marble slate’ like effect.
I must admit that when I started out with Long Exposure (LE) photography, it made me a bit of a ‘lazy’ photographer. I will clarify what I mean by that. I started my photography career by taking classic hand held still shots (as opposed to LE). And when shooting, one of my personal missions was and still is, to hold myself accountable to the highest standard, always trying to show something in a new and original way and my numerous awards can attest to that. However, when I started shooting LE, I felt that the dramatic streaky sky that was now WOWing my image was enough to create a great photo, all I had to do was show up at the scene and set up my gear and God did the rest. Of course there was post processing and completing the vision of the image, but when in the field, it was straight forward. I was confusing the use of the LE technique with Vision. Then one day I asked myself: Why not use the LE as what it really is, a technique? As a means to an end, A tool to convey a vision and not the vision itself. At this point of my realization, my LE photography took a leap and transcended the conventional.
This is the part where some readers of this article might be confused. What does she mean by ‘a technique and not a vision?’ So lets take a few steps back and allow me to define, according my mind, what I consider as vision. I consider myself to be an artist before a photographer. If I knew how to paint I could have just as much been a painter, my camera is my brush to convey my artistic expression. An internal idea, emotion or concept that I wish to convey from my internal world in a two dimensional form as an artistic expression. This calls for another definition, what is art? There are multitude of definitions that can answer this question, be it the artists need for self expression, illuminating a social change or just esthetic beauty, these are just a few. For the sake of this article I would like to refer to the famous Parisian street photographer Brassai and his definition of the purpose of art: “The purpose of art is to raise people to a higher level of awareness than they would otherwise attain on their own.” Wow, quite high standards! But I tend to agree with Brassai, Art and creativity represent an inherent dimension of human consciousness itself and developing our aesthetic sensibilities is just as crucial as our moral maturity or expanding our scientific knowledge of the world. As such artists plays a very special role in our lives as interpreters of this present moment, preservers of our shared past, and arbiters of tomorrow’s unfolding. Sounds lofty? Well it should. If you decide to call yourself an artist, you undertake the task of ‘interpreting the present moment’ in an original way. A way that others do not see, shed new light on an unseen situation, otherwise why would your work be interesting? If you cannot tell or show me something I haven’t seen or realized, you will loose my interest.
Now lets get back now to Long Exposure photography, the first time I was trying to use LE as a tool for my vision was when tackling the subject matter of wind farms. I knew I wanted to photograph it as a LE image since the streaks of the clouds would give the sense of wind that fuels the turbine. However, when shooting a LE, I knew that a LE would completely wash out the blades of the turbine, so my pre-vision was conceptual and I wasn’t quite sure how I would work out the details. It was only a few years later when I actually encountered wind farms in Portugal that the idea of combing a LE plus a still image superimposed came to me. I would use the LE for expressing the wind and the still shot to show the detail of the wind turbine.
Note: when shooting LE, if something is moving sideways along your frame most likely it will not appear, this will depend on the time it takes to cross, so if for instance you are exposing for 4 minutes and someone is walking by for a few seconds, this amount of time is not sufficient for them to imprint on the film / pixels so they will not appear. However, if something is moving towards the horizon, then the core of that subject will appear and its perimeter will be blurred.
After creating that image of the Wind Farm, I now took on the challenge of creating more images that combined LE plus a still image superimposed. I found that this technique gave me more tools in my toolbox which enabled a wider range of expression for the limited two dimension pallet of photography. One of the biggest limitation of photography that I found this technique helped overcome was the capture of time. A photograph gives us a split second moment with no hint of what came before or what will happen after the shutter was pressed. By combing LE plus a still image, I could convey the eternal essence of time along with the current moment. In my image below of the Kite Surfer, I actually added a third dimension of time. The first two were, a LE for the sky (which again, expressed the eternal time), the still shot for the surfer and kite, representing the ‘in the moment’ and the third, the water which was a semi long exposure that bridged the two earlier phases of time.
Below are more example of Long Exposure plus a Still image:
This was my first attempt at creating a LE plus still image of boats so the LE isn’t too long as you can see that the clouds still have a defined form rather that looking classically streaky. Also, I was afraid that a longer exposure would wash out the boats, as I wanted to maintain the ghostly image of them in the background.
I took the image of the single boat on the same day as the image above, however I envisioned having an image with a solitude boat sailing the smooth seas as a serene and confident into the distance. So to capture the sky I wanted (as you can see the original stormy sky from Southern Straights #2) I had to come back to this location on a different day.
I include this image in my Long Exposure plus Stills portfolio as the sky is a composite of four different skies and one of the is a Long Exposure.
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