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.
I came across a movie by Peter Hurley about the importance of jawline in portrait photography. Looking at the examples he provide it is clear how a portrait can change fundamentally with the slightest movement from your model. I highly recommend this move/tutorial for all photographers wondering why their portrait photos just wont look professional. Myself; I learned lots from it!
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.
The Bokeh-effect is how blurred you can get the background in contrast to the main object.
In tests and reviews of lenses one often run into the term ‘Bokeh’ which is refered to when the aspects of a lens is to be explained. The word tells nothing about what it means and it is one of those words many amateurs just ignore beacause it sounds too complicated. The truth is that the ‘Bokeh’-effect is something that probably most photographers have faced, both planned and unplanned and can be used to create really good portraits and close-ups.
Look at the merged photo above taken by me at a beautiful flower. The upper left-part of the photo which was taken using an f-number of 22 have almost the entire area in focus and you can even notice objects in the background. This is not the case in the lower right-part of the photo which instead was taken with an f-number of 1.8 where the entire background is blurred onto a soft colorful cloud. In short the ‘Bokeh’-effect is how blurred you can get the background of a photo in contrast to the object which you have in focus.
Often you find lenses with great Bokeh to be fixed lenses with a low f-stop value. This effect can also be applied in post-production by adding selective blur to parts of the photo in a photo edit application like Adobe Photoshop.
I ran across this article over at Lifehacker about using techniques that snipers are trained for even when taking photos. The example they had in this article was about the breathing-cycle used by sharpshooters to be as steady as possible in the moment of firing. By utilizing this technique also when taking photos you can reduce camera shake quite a bit.
So, the sniper is said to breath calm and normal. While taking aim, place the finger which is to be used to shoot on the trigger and keep breathing normal. Pre-aim as good as possible to keep a good view on what you are about to shoot. When the moment is approaching to take the shot aim during an exhale and squeeze of the trigger during the breath so that you finish off just before you need to breath in again.
To apply these rules to a photographer you just have to do exatly the same with your camera which was described with a weapon. Locate your target in your viewfinder, squeeze of the trigger during an exhale and have the photo taken just before your breath runs out.
At first you may feel a bit silly to practice this technique but after just a litle while you may feel it to be a quite natural way to take photos. And by getting it as your normal way of taking photos you will see that even your normal freehand photo-sessions may increase in quality.