Faking long exposure

I hate feeling depressed…

Feathered death

Feathered Death
Baker Beach, San Francisco, California

Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G
1/60sec @ f/18, iso200, 14mm (14mm)

When people ask what sort of subject I like to shoot, I say, “nature,” but it’s been over a year since I’ve done any outdoor photography. I don’t know if my one dimensionality is an escape from or the cause of my mild malaise. In fact, I can’t think of a single good reason why I should feel this way since my life has become monotonically better, including living in a city that I love.

So I decided to wake up at an unreasonable hour, drive somewhere and try to convince myself why my depression is irrational.

Sunday hits San Francisco

Sunday hits San Francisco
Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G
2 exposures, 10 multi-exposures, 1/100sec @ f/18, iso200, 14mm (14mm)

One nice thing about living in San Francisco is Treasure Island doesn’t cost you a Bay Bridge toll. I’ve seen a thousand shots of the city from here, but very few taken at dawn.

[Ultrawide lenses, and multiple-exposures after the jump.]

The other end

Since I took a nap when I got back, I woke up in the afternoon and drove to the other end of the city on my way to catch sunset at Lands End. Since Baker Beach was nearby, I parked there for a looksie.

Baker Beach

Baker Beach
Baker Beach, San Francisco, California

Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G
10 multi-exposures, 1/100sec @ f/18, iso200, 14mm (14mm)

The clouds disappeared, but it was really windy and cold that day. Surprisingly, I did see one die hard nudist on the beach. Good to know that someone is representing the crazy that is San Francisco.

I have some other photos, but they’ll have to wait until DxO Optics Pro 5 Elite comes out for the Macintosh.

How to avoid the ultra-wide

Previously, I’ve already discussed time of day and postprocessing philosophy for outdoor photography, so I won’t talk about that.

Matt has the same lens as the one that took the photos above and Andrei has its older sibling. But someone pointed out that he found the ultrawide lens seems to take same looking shots when they use it.

My favorite photography is landscapes so ultrawide lenses are de riguer for my kit, but with others its not the same. So what is the trick to the ultrawides?

I guess the first thing to realize is that everything gets distorted, especially near the corners. Normal lenses are called “normal” because they mimic the proportions that the eye sees a scene and therefore our way of seeing the (ultrawide) world is one of a cylindrical mapping.

(By the way, I’ve read that normal lenses are normal because the focal length matches the diagonal of the film/sensor image area. By this logic, 43mm (on 35mm film) is the most “normal” of them all. I don’t buy this logic.)

Because of this, the stuff near the edges will seem distorted. Then when shooting, one tends to put the subject in the center to compensate and…voilá… all the photos end up looking the same!

Two tips for ultrawide

Besides background separation, portrait lenses are considered “portrait” because the relative depth between something like your nose and eyes are flattened and flattering. The contrary must hold for wider angles. It exaggerates depth and that exaggeration is exaggerated in the case of ultrawides.

This means couple things:

  1. Parallel lines in the z-axis will tend to converge, or
  2. The relative proportions at different depths will be exaggerated

So the approach is:

  1. Choose a line that recedes because it will create a strong diagonal in your image
  2. Choose something to hold foreground interest in a landscape so the exaggerated perspective can be comprehended.
  3. The the foreground is the subject then choose a background to show the environment the subject is in. Otherwise, why distort the subject so much in the first place?

All three images above were taken with my ultrawide lens at its widest setting and something was put in the foreground: a bird, the rocks at the edge of the water, and exposures of the tide on the beach. When photographing the bird, I chose an angle such that the ocean can be seen in the background, even though that meant shooting into the sun.

Now a feature

I told Matt that I think I every so often I should write about a feature of a camera. I suppose it’s fitting in this context to mention multiple exposure.

The Nikon D3 camera (and others) can do multiple exposure photography. I think it’s important to distinguish this from a time panorama in that in-camera multiple exposures leave a ghost-like photos unless the background is very dark. Here are some great examples of traditional multiple exposure photography. Pretty slick, huh?

The Red Coat

The Red Coat by joe mondello

This is three exposures handheld.

Why I love long exposures

I like long exposure photography.

I was talking to Karen today about my blogging hiatus and tendencies caused by my introversion and it occurred to me how totally unlike a videoblogger or podcaster I am.

I like to write and take photos, but audio and video seem too temporal for this introvert. Basically my life is heavily edited with a traumatic running commentary and dreams—and that’s traumatic enough.

“We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”
Heraclitus of Ephesus

Heraclitus means that both us and the river have changed. The now is a slippery concept (pardon the pun) because everything is in a state of flux.

“If you wait long enough, the mood swings average away.”

With photos I either freeze moments or go the opposite direction until everything is smooth and static. I think it’s so that I don’t have to mourn over what is gone—never to return—that I like long exposures.

So photography (and long exposures) it is.

Photographing the flux

The Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G, is a great lens. But one of the big problems is it doesn’t take any filters. No space in back, and the front has a huge curvature and no room for a filter ring or even a filter plate mount!

This is particularly bad, since Neutral Density filters are needed to take long exposure photographs during the day.

First D3 photo

First D3 photo
North Beach, San Francisco, California

Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S
1/15sec @ f/2.8, iso 420, 14mm (14mm)

With the exaggerated perspective, the lens may seem as big as your head! Unfortunately, you can see there is no place to put a filter.

This is where multi-exposure comes in handy. Set up a tripod, set the camera to multi-exposure-10 images, and then take 10 photos while nibbling on a sandwich between takes. Instant waterblur!

It’s not the same…

Wave returns on rocks, La Jolla Cove

Wave returns on rocks
La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California

Nikon D70, Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G ED AF-S, Vari-ND filter
.8sec @ f/18, iso 360, 14mm (21mm)

A long exposure shot of waves during the day taken with a variable ND filter to slow the shutter down. Notice how it is much smoother than my “Baker beach” photo above. However, I like the one above because the distinct successive waves leave a trail of converging receding lines. Sometimes you just get lucky.

…but it’s great in a pinch. Think of a multi-exposure setting as an 1.0 ND filter. If you don’t have multi-exposure setting in your camera, you can take 10 photos and then overlay them in photoshop.

(By the way, don’t believe the B.S. about this lens going out of production, this lens is here to stay. what Ken Rockwell “forgets” to mention is that the 55mm f/1.2 Noct-Nikkor and the 28mm f/1.4 Nikkor both had a lead glass element in their lens computation and had to be discontinued for environmental reasons and EU regulations.)

Borders and things

You may notice I put borders around my photos (and if you look closely, you can see I’ve resized the 12 megapixel images down to 4 megapixel. The images are still under Creative Commons and they’re not watermarked, but I thought uploading high enough quality images for postcard prints but not good enough for magazines would be a good idea.

Plus since it looks like I’ll never seem to get around to making a WordPress theme, having a black border makes it less ugly.

Thank to Kevin Kubota, Tony Sweet, Russ Morris, Ryan Brenizer, Jim Goldstein, and Andrei Zmievski.

My goal in photography is to make everyone around me better photographers than me. It’s a low bar, I admit, but for those of you who passed me by a while ago, click on some of the people I mentioned above to see who inspires me—maybe they’ll inspire you.


By the way, after going to sfBeta yesterday, and meeting the people at CoolIris, I suggest you download and install PicLens. I used to use the Safari plugin when it came out last year, but the new 3d navigator is very, very cool. And the new border I’m using works great with the PicLens.

Living in San Francisco

I hope the photos shows why I shouldn’t be so depressed. After all, I get to live in a great city where everyone has been so nice to me.

Think of this as a virtual hug and thank you.

I’ll be back to blogging regularly shortly, but first I got to take some more photos.

13 thoughts on “Faking long exposure

  1. Interesting idea regarding the faked long exposure using Nikons multiple exposure feature. That is one thing that Canon is missing that would be nice to have. Still its not the end of the world. For me I can’t help but like using a cable release and bulb mode to get my long exposures. Even if I had the option to try this technique I’d still opt for my standard long exposure method.

    Funny thing is when I was looking at your blog and I saw the framed images I took a double take. If you’re looking to do something further with your framed images I would put a copyright watermark on the image. You’d be surprised how many people lift images and crop them.

    I look forward to seeing more of your outdoor work. Perhaps getting out more will help you feel a little better.

  2. @Jim Goldstein: The problem with the bulb mode is that the image in this case would get overexposed. In multi-mode, the Nikon averages the multiple shots in camera so more exposures doesn’t change the shutter speed. I’m considering buying an 5″ ND filter plate and hacking together a filter from a lenshood.

    I hope I credited you accurately for the picture frame (mouse over your name). The actual framing action comes from Kevin Kubota and then modified by me. I considered watermarking the image (which is very easy to do in Aperture), but decided against it since I don’t have a copyright problem as much as you and other professionals (I noticed a number of them have resorted to a 10% screened copyright). I don’t mind a little lifting of the image (for blogs and such), but it occurred to me that I should at least make it so they ask when using an image for publication.

    If the framing and naming takes too long, I think I’ll have to crack open some books and figure out how to turn it into a Photoshop Javascript (instead of an Action). I don’t plan on framing regular party photographs so that will probably help.

    As I was resizing them down anyways, I thought making an action to provide image data and improve the presentation would be easy. In the future, I’ll probably use the BorderFX Aperture plugin to save some time.

    I hope I can get out more. While it is exhausting to wake up early in the dead of night to take 100 images for one keeper, it’s really nice to be able to talk to myself.

  3. Terry, thank you for taking and sharing those wonderful shots of our incredible city. I hope that capturing the depth and beauty of San Francisco brought a smile to your face. And if you’re still feeling down (or miss me?), give me a shout! We need to hang out,

  4. Terry,
    Your photos are amazing! Wow! You should go out and take more pictures of nature. You are really good at capturing your subject.

    Very beautiful!!!
    Hang in there. I hope you start to feel better.
    All the best,

  5. I’m not sure about the irrational part but maybe you can try depression optimisive – mild depression may lead to longer life spans in women.

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