The water cannons at night at Coolidge Landing in downtown Chattanooga, TN

Lesson 108 (All Cameras): Long Exposures

Note for iPhoneographers: the SlowShutter app will allow you apply this information to the iPhone, although stabilizing the iPhone (even in an iPhone tripod) can be challenging.  See Lesson 101.

When I teach beginning photography workshops, one of the things I spend a lot of time working with students on is the relationship between exposure and artistic expression.  Shutter speed is one of the big ways in which we control both exposure and motion showing in our images.

Slow shutter speeds leave the shutter open for longer periods of time, allowing more light to reach our sensors for exposure.  They also allow any motion in the subject to blur.  Most of us strive for tack sharp images, so why would we ever use long shutter speeds?

First, sometimes you have to use a slow (long) shutter speed if you’re shooting in low-light conditions.  Second, allowing motion to blur can create some cool artistic effects.  And third, if you need lots of depth of field, you’re going to need a small aperture.  The age-old analogy for the relationship between the shutter speed and the aperture size is to think of a water faucet.  How long you turn the water on is like your shutter speed.  How wide you open the valve is like your aperture.  If you turn a water faucet on wide open for a split second, you can get the same amount of water as if you turn the water on at a trickle but let it run for a much longer time.  That’s how aperture and shutter speed work together to control the total volume of light that will reach your sensor and why using a small aperture usually means a slower shutter.

Let’s start with an example that was both low-light and a small aperture, but with no motion:

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This example was shot at twilight with a 1 second exposure at f/18.  F/18 is a small aperture opening and 1 second is a slow shutter speed.  By using a tripod and a 2-second delay on the shooting mode, I was able to keep the camera still and avoid introducing motion blur.  I got the exposure I wanted and kept everything from the rail in the foreground to the building in the background sharp.

Now let’s take a look at what happens if you don’t keep your camera still:

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In this example, I literally picked up my camera/tripod and moved it in about the last second of a 25 second exposure.  Because the building in the background is so much dimmer than the lights going up the path, the building did not blur while the lights, being so bright, created trails across the image.

Now let’s talk about using long shutter speeds to show motion in the subject itself.  Waterfalls are a popular subject for this technique.  By putting the camera on a tripod again, everything in the image that is still remains sharp but the moving water blurs to a soft “flow” through the image, visually communicating the movement of the water.

Compare this image (shot at ⅙ of a second) to the one after it (shot at 1/320 of a second):

The fast (1/320) shutter speed freezes the splashes of water while the slower shutter speed (⅙) allows the water to blur into softness.  Which one you prefer is a matter of taste (in this case, I like the faster shutter speed better, but that’s partly because it’s slightly less exposed and has less flare from the sun).

Now let’s look at an example of low-light, moving water, and lots of depth of field:

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This was a 20 second exposure shot at f/16.  The small aperture not only provides more depth of field, but it also turns the lights on the bridge into stars.  The slow shutter allows the water coming out of the water cannons to blur into soft streams.  Also notice the surface of the river–the splashes and ripples have also smoothed out into soft lines.

There are many more fun things you can do with a long exposure, but I’ll save those for future posts.  🙂

Big waterfall or small dog?

Lesson 95: A Change of Perspective

 

How many times have you seen or taken a picture of a dog that looks a lot like this?  (You could probably replace the word “dog” with “child” here as well.)

02 Tisen grateful for Jack

Now, I don’t mean that all dogs (or children) look alike.  Rather, I mean that our default way of looking at a dog is from a standing position looking down at them.  Most dog photos dog owners snap are taken very quickly, spur of the moment without time to think or plan how we want to shoot.

This is usually because each of our dogs is the cutest, most brilliant canine kid in the world and we want to capture that hilarious thing he or she is doing that makes him or her that much cuter.

However, sometimes changing the perspective just a little can make a big difference  For example, compare these two photos:

In the first one, we have a funny expression that still cracks me up every time I look at it, but notice that the camera is above the dog’s head shooting down and the angle of his head to the camera makes it look considerably skinnier than it does in the photo on the right.  The one on the right was taken about level with the dog’s face, straight on to the nose.  If these were the only two pictures you’d ever seen of my dog, would you still feel certain these were both of the same dog?

Let’s compare a couple more:

Notice how in the image on the left, we have a cute snapshot of a dog rolling in the grass.  The camera is held almost parallel to the dog, leaving us no sense of the height of his body relative to the ground (except perhaps because of the stray foot that snuck into the shot).  But look at the leash that starts at the lower left corner and creates a line down to the dog.  It looks like it could be 10 feet long!  (It’s only 4 ft.)

Now look at the length of my dog’s front legs.  The are folded and parallel to the camera.  Compare that to the front leg in the photo on the right.  Notice how the leg now forms a similar angle to the lens that draws the eye back to the dog.  But this time, it’s his leg that looks exceptionally long.

Next, let’s look at wide angle perspectives that create a sense of size.

In the photo on the left, you could argue that the dog (and man) look really small, or, if you imagine the dog and man to be average sized, you might see this more as the waterfall looking really big.  On the right, we have an example shot tighter, but again, it’s wide, the camera is further back, and it’s shot from a standing position angled downward.  This creates the impression that the bench, man, and dog are all a little shorter than they really are.

Finally, here’s a perspective that creates a little bit of an optical illusion:

Both images were shot from the floor looking up at my dog hanging over the edge of a sofa.  In the photo on the left, the back legs are not visually connected to the front end of the dog.  They visually look like either there is a second dog in the photo or the visible dog was cut in half with his back legs moved to the side.  I can assure you that no animals were harmed in any way in the making of this post.

In the photo on the right, I got up tight to my dog’s back paws and created more of a silhouette effect.  By changing the perspective so that I am both closer and looking up, the paws look huge!  Notice that the one on the right looks significantly bigger than the one on the left.  This is because it was closer to the camera and it’s turned at a slightly different angle that makes the full breadth of the pad visible, but angled to the camera.

Your Assignment:  Experiment with the visual effects you can create by changing where you’re angle to the subject.  Move up, move down, move all around.  Try shooting from above and shooting from down low.  Try head on, too.  None of these angels are right or wrong; they just create a different perspective that affects the way the eye perceives the shape of the subject.  Bonus Tip:  want to look taller and thinner?  Have the iPhotographer get down low and shoot at an upward angle.

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Lesson 92: Heavenly Bodies

 

Every once in a while, I take my dog out after dark (which happens a lot more often this time of year), look up, and am inspired to take some photos.  To be honest, the amount of noise in the iPhone night photos continues to frustrate me, even with the iPhone 5S.

But, recently, I was teaching a workshop and I asked if anyone had seen a creative use of noise (all the grainy speckles) in photography and a couple of folks commented that it could be used to create an antique effect.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get to where I make noise a goal, but it does open up some possibilities.

So, tonight, I looked up and saw Venus chasing the moon.  I immediately pulled out my iPhone and gave it a shot.  The images in the gallery were edited using the free, iOS version of iPhoto on my iPhone (see Lessons 84, 85, 86, and 87).  As you can see, they are noisy, but Venus and the moon are worth some noise.

Although the crescent moon turns into a blob, I’m pleased that Venus shows up in most of the images.

Your Assignment:  Don’t be afraid to go for broke on night images just because you’re using an iPhone.  Don’t let any Nokia Lumia-owning friends intimidate you!  However, as you may recall from Lesson 3, zooming on the iPhone is a digital zoom, which will make the noise factor that much bigger.  Instead of trying to zoom in to get a close-up of heavenly bodies at night, try artistically placing landscape features in the scene, giving the sky some perspective.

30 second exposure where foreground boats were very brightly lit

Lesson 91: Use a Tripod

Long ago, in Lessons 25 and 34, we talked about holding your iPhone to maximize stability and even using a tripod, particularly for using a telephoto attachment lens with your iPhone.  Well, if ever there was a time to use a tripod with your iPhone, it’s with the Slow Shutter app.

Because I was on a shoot with my DSLR on a tripod, I was able to capture some cool light trails to share with you in the gallery.  However, I was without the tripod for my iPhone, so the best I could do was to prop the phone up on a rock wall and try to hold it still, resulting in this:

15 second exposure while trying to balance the iPhone on a rock
15 second exposure while trying to balance the iPhone on a rock

Let’s talk about what happens when you use a slow shutter.  “Slow” means the shutter will stay open for a long time (relatively speaking) before it closes again.  When we use a “fast” shutter, the shutter only stays open a fraction of a second.  The shorter the duration the shutter remains open, the less the subject can move in that fraction of time, so the less blur you will get.

When the shutter stays open for a very long time, like in these images (shot with 15 and 30 second shutter speeds), as the subject moves, the shutter is still open, so it records the moving image.  If you’re moving around, you get a complete mess.  Or, you can get some fun art if you’re particularly talented at moving your phone around.

I mentioned in lesson 90 that you can use Slow Shutter to get light trails, such as cars driving by at night.  Since I don’t have examples of that yet, thought I would go ahead and share the light trails from a lighted boat parade even though they were taken with my DSLR.  Don’t worry–I will eventually get light trails with the Slow Shutter app!

Your Assignment:  Find a location where you have a clear view of a street where cars drive by on a regular basis.  Go after dark–this is a great time of year for this assignment in the Northern hemisphere with the early sunset.

Either use an actual iPhone tripod or come up with a way to prop your iPhone so it will not move.  You need to be able to completely let go of the phone or your movement will jiggle it.  Set your exposure time for about 15 seconds–this depends on how much traffic is going by.  You can do 30 seconds if you have a long line of cars that keep passing or fewer seconds if all lights pass through the frame in less than 15 seconds.

Are you able to get a nice, sharp light trail from the headlights and tail lights of the cars?

 

Lesson 90: Slow Shutter

In Lesson 83, I showed you how to look at the shutter speed used when you took a photo by looking at the metadata in iPhoto iOS.  But, we didn’t have any choice about what shutter speed was used; it was picked by the camera app we used.  Today, I want to introduce you to an app that allows you to choose slow shutter speeds for fun effects.  It’s called SlowShutter and it’s available in the app store for $.99.

Using a slow shutter speed allows you to create interesting effects like light trails when cars drive by or to pan with a subject in motion, allowing the background to blur behind your subject.  For today’s example, I thought I’d start with something fun–drawing with a light source.

To do this, you need a light of some kind in darkness.  I have two examples.  For one, I found a healthy use for a lit cigarette–use it as your light source for a light trail.  For the other, I used a small light for a bicycle and handheld it.  In both cases, I set the SlowShutter app to a shutter speed of 8 seconds and then drew a heart shape in front of the camera.  I propped the camera on a steady base for both images, although a tripod would have been better–my hearts are a little shaky!

Because the light source is so much brighter than the rest of the scene, it registers in the image while the rest of the scene remains dark.  To change the shutter speed setting, tap the lens icon in the lower left corner of the SlowShutter app and then select the shutter speed you want.  I started with the “light trails” category to get to the 8 second shutter speed.

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Your Assignment:  Try downloading the SlowShutter app and then using a flashlight or other light source to see if you can capture words drawn with light.  Hint:  you’ll need a second person to draw the words or operation the camera so you can get enough distance between you and the light source to fit a word in the frame.

Lesson 89: Retromatic Wallpaper

Moving along to something just a bit too funky for me, but fun none-the-less.  Today, we’re going to take a look at the Retromatic app.  This app is designed to help you create really funky, retro creations.  They aren’t really photos anymore when you’re done, but they could make for fun cards, flyers, etc.

I decided to take an image I thought was cute but maybe not really a wall-hanger and see if I could make it wall-worthy by turning it into some silly wallpaper.  I can’t quite visualize what wall I would ever put this on, but I certainly had a good time playing with the capabilities of the Retromatic app.

The one challenge is highlighting just the parts of my subjects with my finger–this was especially tricky on my dog’s legs.  A stylus would probably make this much more accurate.

 

Your Assignment:  Try following these steps (an improvising) to create your own funky wallpaper:

Helga Viking C-Type Plate

Lesson 88: Hip Heads

In yesterday’s lesson, I took a rather mundane photo of the recent sculpture addition in my local park, a giant head.  I did several edits on it and showed you what I did.  Now, for those of you who are not particularly excited by the prospect of following 17 steps to make your image more interesting, don’t forget about Hipstamatic.  This gives you the ability to create many effects in a point-and-shoot way.

We first looked at the Hipstamatic app back in Lesson 13 and again in Lessons 14, 24, 29, and 30.  The thing about Hipstamatic is that you choose the “film” and “lens” you want to use, which is the same as picking a collection of editing effects and the camera does all the work for you.

In the 3 examples shown here, I used the same lens:  Helga Viking and 3 different films.  The first is the Ina’s 1935 film.  It gives the image more color and makes the sculpture pop out more.  The second example used D-Type Plate film, which simulates an old black-and-white Tintype photo.  Finally, in the 3rd example I used the C-Type Plate film, which intensifies the contrasts and shadows and also adds a touch of color.

Your Assignment:  Dust the cobwebs off of Hipstamatic and choose a lens/film you want to use.  Take an image of your favorite subject and then try changing to a different film.  Experiment with the film that creates an effect that works best with your subject.