95% of visitor’s to Australia’s Northern Territory and the Outback come to see Uluru – otherwise known as Ayers Rock. The rest? They come for the camels. Or the snakes. Or the red sand.
The Down and Dirty:
If you’re a fan of long-exposure photography but never knew where to begin – if the process of setting up and shooting such an image has ever seemed intimidating – this walkthrough should please you. It’s deceptively simple to put together a frame like this, and if you follow these steps, you’ll be out the door and firing away in no time.
The first thing to consider when planning a long-exposure image is just what you want the final frame to look like. Take a look at your scene; are the clouds moving quickly? Do you have have running water somewhere in the frame? If the answer is yes, a long-exposure image should be able to lend a feeling of motion to your photograph. But also keep in mind elements that can become distracting. Do you have trees, grass, or other foliage in the frame that can be affected by the wind? If the answer is yes, then there’s the potential to add distracting blur with a long exposure.
The morning I shot this image of Uluru was perfectly still; there was no risk of adding blur to the trees and brush, so my only real variable were the clouds. I began this exposure just as the sun was rolling over the horizon (out of frame, to the right) and continued on through for 145 seconds; I knew this would allow the clouds time to streak across the sky. How did I know this? I started the timer on my phone, looked up, and watched how far the clouds went in 15 seconds, then guessed at how quickly they’d move across my entire frame. Not an exact scientific measure by any means, but I usually shoot on emotion and intuition, so I had a good feeling that this would yield the results I was after.
Now, if you’ve done any sort of long-exposure work on an DSLR in the past, you know that most cameras can’t go past the 30 second exposure limit without a timer; you could easily pull off this same shot with a simple cable release, but I prefer to do all of my timed work with a Trigger Trap Mobile Dongle + App; this bit of kit is invaluable for long-exposure photography, and is my go-to gear for star trails, bramping, timelapse video, and more. Now, knowing that your camera can only make an exposure reading for a maximum of 30 seconds, you need a way to exposure properly for anything longer than that. You don’t want to guess at correct exposure when shooting for 3, 5, or 10 minutes at a time – that’s a long time to wait while you goof up an image, especially when good light is so fleeting. A bit of rudimentary math will help you out in this scenario.
First reading: At an aperture of f/4 and ISO of 200, my exposure is 30 seconds.
I use a large aperture for my first reading so that my exposure times aren’t crazy long – this allows me to take a quick test frame to see what my light is going to look at.
Second reading: At an aperture of f/8 and ISO of 200, my exposure is 60 seconds.
I doubled the aperture, which automatically doubled the length of time the shutter needed to be open. You can see just how easy this is.
Third reading: At an aperture of f/18 and ISO of 50, my final exposure is 145 seconds.
I rolled the aperture to f/18 to ensure sharpness throughout the frame, tweaked my ISO just a touch (I wanted to be a little darker than the “proper” exposure reading so I didn’t blow out the sun) and was left with an exposure length of 145 seconds.
Step by Step:
1. Compose your scene. Lock in the “look” before you start fiddling around with exposure, timers, etc. so that you can be confident you’re going to get the image you want. Oh, and make sure you’re set up on a sturdy tripod.
2. Lock your focus; I focus these scenes manually (I often do this in Live View and “peak” to ensure pinpoint accuracy).
3. Set your exposure length via your timer (buy yourself a Trigger Trap. It will change the way you do this sort of work).
4. Open the shutter, and relax. Grab a coffee and marvel at your surroundings. Do what you do with time to kill in one of the world’s most beautiful places.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 145 seconds
Focal Length: 24mm
For the Making of:
4. Trigger Trap Mobile Dongle + App
Special thanks to my friends at AFAR Magazine, USTOA, and Goway Travel for sending me on an incredible assignment out into Australia’s Northern Territory. Australia had been at the top of my bucket list for years, and it was even more incredible than I could have imagined.
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