While I was in London, Richard Harrington took me to the National Gallery. The art was amazing! I asked permission to take photos and was told I could, as long as I didn’t use flash. I set up for my shot and waited for people to move. At first I thought I could take several shots over a period of time and let Photoshop analyze them and only keep what was consistent which, of course, was the painting. The only problem: we didn’t have that much time. I thought for a moment as I watched Harrington set up his shot.
10-Stop Neutral Density Filter Plus Long Exposure
The solution was only a few feet away. Harrington had a10-stop neutral density filter on his lens and took a 30-second-long exposure. As people moved in and out of his frame, he had a grin from ear to ear. He saw my confusion and after 30 seconds he said, O-o-o-h look, its magic. The people were gone from the scene! I realized it was that simple: take a long exposure of the scene.
Why long exposure worked
Most people didn’t stand in one spot for more than a few seconds, so the camera didn’t capture them. For them to be captured, they would have to stay in one spot the entire time. You will notice a little ghosting of people that stood a little longer. If its a high traffic area, take a couple of shots and fix it in Photoshop.
Indoor Long Exposure Settings
I didn’t have a 10-stop neutral density filter like Richard, so I stopped down to my maximum aperture, f/22, and an ISO of 64. These settings gave me a 30-second exposure. Fortunately for me, my Nikon D810 has a very low ISO. If I had shot with my D700, I would have had to use a neutral density filter or shoot in bulb mode with a faster shutter speed of around 20 seconds. The trick would be to place your hand or a piece of black foam core over the lens and wait for people to move. When you lift your hand or black foam core, begin your count and stop when you place it back. Continue until you reach 20 seconds.
Processing Long Exposed Images
I had time for two shots, wishing I had time for three. I brought both images into Photoshop and layered one on top of the other. I applied a layer mask and painted out ghosting of people that stood in one spot too long. Once I had the image looking the way I wanted it, I applied my go-to filter, Perfectly Clear.