Featured,  Long exposure

Three Legs to Stand on: Experimenting with Long Exposures

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My editor at DC Focused likes to joke about how I’ve developed this rep as “the street portrait guy,” and it’s true. Stopping strangers on the street and asking for their photos has become my M.O. However, in an effort to avoid typecasting, and in keeping with DC Focused’s first New Year’s resolution, I’ve been looking at things in different ways.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with long exposures — anywhere from half a second to nearly a minute — and it’s opened up a new world of possibilities, as well as some challenges. Let’s start with the bad news first…

  • Camera Shake: No one can keep their hands perfectly still when taking a photo. That usually means that you’ll see camera shake  (blurring) at longer exposure times. The best way to avoid this is by using a tripod and either your camera’s timer or a remote trigger.
  • Moving Objects: Most of the world doesn’t keep perfectly still either. A long exposure means that you won’t be able to freeze motion in moving objects and, in many cases, your camera will capture nothing but a blur.

Now some good news:

  • Night Photography: Taking photos at night usually means either using a flash or increasing the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor by raising the ISO, which could make for some seriously noisy photographs. With longer exposures, you can avoid that and take clean and vibrant night photos at low ISO.
  • Moving Objects (part 2): Some moving objects, like clouds and running water, take on an appealing, otherworldly quality at long exposure times.

For more on taking photos at night, be sure to check out this excellent post by Geoff Livingston.

All images © Miki Jourdan

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Here are some of my early experiments with long exposures…

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AM Trading Co. (.8 second exposure time). Capital City Market looked even more forlorn than usual during Snowzilla 2016. The camera caught tiny details, even falling snow near the bright light, without the noise you would get at a higher ISO. The street light is dramatic.

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View of the Anacostia River from Yards Park (25 sec. exposure). I like the way that the longer exposure makes the running water look like ice.

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Factory and Yards Park (10 sec. exposure). The clouds have an eerie blur.

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The Capitol with Occasional Traffic (40 sec. exposure). I hadn’t planned on having cars drive through the frame, but you can tell they were there by the light trails they left behind. Some of the street lights have a starburst effect because, with a tripod, you can shoot at higher apertures (f/18 here), even at night.

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Dania on the Waterfront (15 sec. exposure). My wife stood very still for this long exposure but her face still came out just slightly blurred.

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Statue at Union Station (.6 sec. exposure). The longer exposure captures the fluttering flag in an interesting way.

A photographer since 2013, Miki goes by "Miki" to avoid all the Michael Jo[u]rdan jokes.

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