My name is Mark Gvazdinskas (AKA “Silent G”) and one small piece of dark glass has changed my photography and how I see the world. Forever.
I’m a landscape, architectural and concert photographer based in San Luis Obispo, California. When I’m not shooting product or working with other photographers at Really Right Stuff you can usually find me shooting up and down the coast. Along with taking pictures I love to teach and I was recently invited to be an instructor at the CLICK! California Photo Festival, focusing on long exposures seascapes. This was an incredible experience as some of the leading instructors in the industry take part in this week-long workshop. Now to my obsession…
Milky water and cloud movement in photos has always intrigued me. These elements give a somewhat dream-like effect to images, creating a unique contrast between static and dynamic subjects in a frame. Especially with seascapes the blurring of crashing waves and clouds really help in getting the viewer to focus on the main subject in an image, even if it’s something as simple as a single rock in a high tide. So what do you need?
My most used tool to achieve these effects is the b+w 10 Stop ND Filter. It lives on my Nikkor 24-70mm/f2.8. Perhaps the most popular 10 Stop is the “tough to come by” Lee Big Stopper and lots of big name photographers are now writing wonderful reviews on the new Formatt Hitech 10 Stop ND Filter. These pieces of glass are DARK. You will need to compose and focus before putting the dark glass on the front of your lens.
Being that these filters are so dark it goes without saying you’ll be moving into exposure times ranging from a couple seconds up to several minutes, so a cable release/intervalometer is definitely a necessary tool.
A sturdy tripod is also required as there’s no way you’ll be able to handhold the camera for these types of photos. A sturdy tripod is perhaps the most crucial factor in achieving quality long exposure photos. Some of the best conditions for the most dramatic results occur during harsh weather and blustering winds. This is why I’ve opted for the Really Right Stuff TVC-33 Tripod and BH-55 LR Ballhead, even though my largest lens is a Nikkor 70-200mm/f2.8. I know that in these windy settings I can walk away from the tripod, keep my shutter open for several minutes and still end up with a tack-sharp photograph.
As with so many types of photography a graduated neutral density filter is extremely important, most notably during the high contrast light of sunrises and sunsets. A good graduated ND will allow you to expose for the foreground without losing highlight details in the sky. I use Lee 0.75 Soft Grad ND, Lee 0.9 Soft Grad ND, Lee 0.9 Hard Grad ND and the Singh-Ray 0.9 Reverse Grad ND. Soft graduated ND filters are strongly recommended—they have a much less harsh transition from no ND to the dark side of the filter. Hard graduated ND filters typically have their place when there’s a straight horizon line with no objects protruding over that line. Placement of these hard graduated ND filters must also be much more precise than placement of soft gradated NDs. Reverse graduated NDs are fantastic for sunsets, especially when the sun pokes out under the clouds just before setting. With Reverse graduated NDs the darkest part of the 4×6” filter is at the center of the filter and the ND power lightens up towards the top.
I also rarely shoot without a Circular Polarizer from b+w.
With skies the effect of moving clouds can really add a ton of depth to a shot, and even more drama when the clouds are moving towards the camera. Clouds like these are the best, in my opinion, as they appear to be jumping right out the top of the frame.
Long exposure work opens the doors for shooting at just about any time of day, and it has also made me appreciate fog and overcast days, especially when shooting for black and white transitions. Moody, minimal, black and white long exposures are some of my absolute favorite images, and surprisingly they’re some of the most difficult/time consuming types of photos to get right in post production.
Other than the surreal results, I’m a long exposure enthusiast because they make me concentrate on my composition and exposure time much more than I otherwise would. Since a slight change in composition requires me to remove the filter, refocus and then re-attach the filter, I take less photos, but also leave a shoot with less throw-a-ways (at least by my standards). Less shots also means less opportunities to get the desired result. Not too long ago I shot a sunrise in Morro Bay and had maybe ten minutes of good light as the sun started to hit famous Morro Rock as it peaked through the fog. About two minutes into the good light I switched to my telephoto, set the timer for a little over three minutes and crossed my fingers the vibrant color would stay through most of the exposure. The seabird was a nice touch as the little guy barely moved the entire morning!
It’s an obsession. Once you get that first even exposure just right you’ll be hooked. You’ll start spending more time looking up at tall buildings, studying water patterns and on the whole, examining subjects you may not have ever noticed in the past. After a day of shooting in San Francisco’s Financial District my neck is sore. I’ll spend so much time walking around, looking straight up and trying to envision how the moving clouds will play off the structural lines of the buildings.
Long exposures require A LOT of patience as you’ll be waiting around for up to several minutes per shot. This gives me so much more time to sit back and enjoy the scenery. This is why I really love long exposures. I’m primarily a landscape photographer because this passion takes me to beautiful spots. Standing around watching a sunrise or sunset and only having to occasionally be bothered to press a button lets me focus on what it’s all about: appreciating our planet’s gorgeous natural wonders.
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