A photograph of a single object is a case where we want to get all the focus in the photo on the object while we want to reduce all other pars so that they do not interfere with our object. This is often done using a blurred background and you see this very often in portrait photography.
When taking a photograph the f-value we set the camera on is often used to blur or not blur the background. It is easy to think that to get that beautiful blurred background we just need to set a small f-value and we’re done. This is however not the entire thruth.
When we are to take a photograph of a flowing waterfall, the waves of grass on a field or perhaps the dreamy slow flow of a small creek it is easy to end up with an image where all seem frozen. The feeling of the location that was so clear at the site disappear completely when the photo has frozen the motions that was visible. How to counter this to bring a photo back in which we can save the feeling and the look of what we actually saw?
The reason is that cameras often in automatic modes use a short exposure give us a sharp image where motion often is reduced or removed all together. By instead increasing the exposure time we can bring back the motion into these images and end up with a photo which includes what we tried to remember. A night at the beach by a concrete pier can end up with a photo as below.
Since we will be open up the sensor for quite some time a tripod or something to hold your camera in place is a must. Also, if you are out in daylight or in a setting which is already lit a neutral density filter can prove to be much helpful.
Long exposure photography, a quick guide
Turn the mode dial of your camera to manual mode.The manual mode is often shown as an ‘M’ on the dial on your D-SLR where you can also find modes for aperture priority, shutter priority or the preset modes. Also place the camera body steady using a tripod or similar, all to reduce the shake which will cause blur when we are using longer exposures (lower shutter speed).
Lower your ISO to the lowest possible setting, often between 80 and 200 depending on your camera.Since the ISO is a measurement of the sensitivity of the sensor in the camera a low value will require more light to enter the camera to sow up in the photo.
Reduce the aperture to the lowest setting you can use, often about f/22 but can go even higher depending on your lens.The aperture is how big or small the opening or iris is in the lens to let through light into the camera. Beware however that on very small apertures the quality of the photo might be reduced.
If you have neutral density filters, apply these to your lens.The neutral density filter is a filter which goes on your lens which then reduce the amount of light which can pass through the lens into the sensor of your camera. By doing this you can open the shutter for a longer time without getting to much light into the camera and by that, get an overexposed image.
Set an exposure time between two and thirty seconds.The exact amount of time you need to open the shutter is depending on the light conditions you are in. If you are taking photos at dawn the light will change for every minute that pass so you can’t even use the same value for two photos to get the same result! Simply start with a value of a couple of seconds to see if you need more or less. A too dark image need a longer time with an open shutter and a to bright image need a shorter shutter time or that you as a photographer wait until the sun has set some more.
Use a remote trigger. To reduce camera shake even further use a cable release or a remote control or if you have none of these use the timer mode in your camera to delay the photo being taken for a few seconds after you press the shutter release.
Before you start taking photos, walk for a bit and look for settings which would be a great photo. For long exposure photos of water personally I find locations where items are in the water which the waves can crash against to look most stunning.
Always think about photo composition when looking for a location. Foreground and background is just as important as the main subject in shots where you want to show a large area. If you are on a beach, look for stones and drift wood.
When photographing an object it is easy to aim the camera with the object dead center in the viewfinder and snap. Our main concern is on keeping the entire object within the borders of the viewfinder, getting good light and keeping our object in focus. The final thing needed to make the photo stand out is composition.
There is a technique used in photography, painting and most cases of design which is called the rule of third. This rule is based on the fact that when we look at something we tend to focus not on the dead center but slightly to the side of the far center. There is a natural urge in us to look for the final flaw which makes something unique.
To use the rule of third we can imagine two vertical and two horizontal lines over the scene we are about to photograph. While doing this we try to find a way of placing the main object in on of the four intersections, bringing in the rule of third into the composition. If the object itself can not be placed in the intersection, try to pick out a point in the object to focus on. If your object for example is a portrait of a person you can place one of the eyes in one of the intersections.
Remember though that the rule of third is not really a rule. It is a guideline which can be used to compose a better scene to photograph but there will always be photos which get even better by not go by the rules. An easy way to use the rule of third is to always ask if it can be applied for each photo taken. It can also be used but varied to match like in the instance of full body portraits. For these many photographers use more the shape of a cross where the body is centered horizontally and then placed so that the eye-line is located one third from the top. In a way a vertical variation of the rule of third.
Many new digital cameras today have an option to show guidelines in the viewfinder to make the composition easier. Please refer to you manual to find if your camera has this option or not.