Long exposures with Tony Zacharias

Tuesday evening talk 13 October 2020: How do you capture the magic of something that the eye does not see? This is what Tony’s talk was fundamentally about as he explained in detail the process of getting creative with long exposures.


Tony showed some spectacular shots of long exposures from astro-photography, landscapes and seascapes where the clouds or water was in motion, cityscapes with lights trails from vehicles and even from inside a car his was driving at night in the city. He also made those pesky people who get in your shots disappear with his long exposures. But be aware of people who walking directly towards or away from your camera as they will appear like ghosts in your shot.


Besides vehicle light trails he also showed shots of light painting – physiograms – where he had attached a torch on a ceiling with a length of string, turned the torch on, set it in motion and shot the result from below. See how it is done here.


Tony then took us through the practical way to take long exposure. You will need a sturdy tripod and a Neutral Density filter of an appropriate strength.


First: set up the shot as normal, frame for composition, carefully consider the edges of the frame (wind can blow stray branches into your shot), think about what will be moving and what will be stationary in your shot, lock the camera down on the sturdy tripod, attach the remote shutter release, turn off any image stabilisation and auto focus.


Second: select a slow ISO, put camera in Aperture Priority mode, set the depth of depth required for the scene, take a test image noting the shutter speed.


Third: attach your Neutral Density filter, calculate the revised shutter speed based on the strength of your filter, use manual mode on your camera to do this, if over 30 seconds use Bulb setting, cover your viewfinder to avoid any light leak, then shoot. Review the image and take some more shots as you never know what each image will be like until it is taken.


Tony then took us through how he edits a shot in Lightroom. No matter what manufactures say, an ND filter will have a colour cast, and so his first adjustment is colour balance. He will then move highlights, shadows, exposure, whites and blacks. Each time he would do a before and after to make sure he is not ‘over-cooking’ the image. He avoids texture, clarity and dehaze. He will add some vibrance as this accentuates less dominate colours in the image but does not use saturation. He will enable profile corrections and remove chromatic aberration and as the example he was working on was architectural image he used transform to correct verticals to his liking.


Tony said that long exposure helped his images stand out as they were different from the norm and that they showed something that the eye does not see and that is inherently intriguing. He also had a particularly good line: it is about ‘creating not taking photos’.


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