When it comes to low light and long exposure photography, there are some classic subjects that never fail to give rewarding results. So this week we’re going to look at five great low light subjects whose exposure times can be measured in minutes and even hours!
Where to start?
Unless you’re wanting to make fully abstract images, then one of the basic requirements of this type of shot is at least one totally static element. That can be a tree, a bridge, a rock formation… whatever. But the point is that whilst everything else moves this one piece will give the composition some rigidity and point of reference. Ideally, this solid element can also be used to help balance the composition.
Fun fairs and fairgrounds
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a permanently ensconced fun fair, then get down there and start shooting! Fairs, piers, Ferris wheels and such like are perfect subjects for long exposure shots as they have all the key ingredients: static elements, moving elements, illuminated elements and candy floss. (OK, the last one isn’t essential to the photograph).
With a long exposure time, the stationary parts of any fairground ride will stay perfectly in focus, but the moving parts (and people) will blur to create a sea of motion and colour. And because fairgrounds are intrinsically illuminated affairs, there are hundreds of possibilities for amazing light trails or Catherine Wheel effects.
Getting stunning, ethereal watery shots is mostly a case of getting a good location and decent (or apocalyptic) weather. The composition needs to have some solid parts such as rocks, bridges or cliffs in order to give the motion of water something to rage against. Look for fast moving rivers, waterfalls and incoming tides. With slower water, you’ll need even longer exposure times.
If your still having trouble with exposures, find yourself some ND filters (to allow for even longer exposures) or some grad filters (to stop the skies from burning out) and away you go!
Traffic and cityscapes
The city at night is awash with opportunities for low light photography. Whether its neon signs, illuminated offices or a plethora of moving cars, when it comes to long exposures, a fast moving city can create stunning imagery.
If you want to shoot light trails, find yourself a good vantage point where you can see a long stretch of the road. The longer the view, the longer you can make the trails. Also think about finding a road with lanes in both directions as this will give you both red and white trails.
Star trails: Photographic Van Gogh’s
Back when photography first appeared, exposure times could be measured in tens of minutes or even hours. These days we’re far more used to talking about 100th or 1000th of a second. However, for photographing star trails we’ll be back to measuring times in hours!
You’ll need a cable or infra red release, a really sturdy tripod and a camera that can shoot in bulb mode. Plus a free evening and something to do whilst you wait for the magic to happen.
Get creative or even abstract
Another great way to play with long exposures is to use a single bright light source to draw in the air. This technique has been used many times, from Gjon Mili’s famous shots of Picasso to more recent examples like Darren Pearson’s skeletal light figures. You can make these light drawings with sparklers, LED bike lights or even oncoming car lights.
If you’re out shooting photos at night consider your own safety too! Sometimes taking a friend along will add a bit of extra security and also give you someone to chat to during those long exposures. And if you’re perched by the roadside, also consider a Hi-Vis vest!
Now you’ve got an idea of what makes a fantastic low light subject, why not enter your best shots into our Nokia Low Light Photography Competition. We’re running it in cooperation with Dazed & Confused and we’ve got Nokia Lumia 925s, amazing trips and fantastic magazine features lined up for the three lucky winners. Up for the challenge? If, so you can enter here.