Long exposure black and white photography tutorial

September 29, 2016

 

Daytime long exposure tutorial for black and white fine art photography and post processing guide. 

Your composition and quality of light is key to a great long exposure black and white photograph
Understand the light you are capturing, learn the difference between hard and soft light, and the impact this will have on the scene you are photographing and your choices available when post processing. Images captured with harsh lighting conditions are more difficult to post process. Make your compositions bold and striking, use leading lines and symmetry for impact and to draw your viewer through your composition. 

Clouds are not only great for movement in long exposure photography, but also useful for setting a mood to your image. Fast moving clouds add drama and give an added dimension to architectural and cityscape photography. Learn to read the weather conditions around you, are the clouds fast moving? or slow? this will have an impact on your exposure times, and you will need to adjust them accordingly
My exposure times range from 30 seconds up to 8 minutes depending on the conditions, a guide is 2-4 minutes fast moving clouds, 4-8 minutes slow moving clouds.

When photographing water these are some of the conditions you may face, is the water still or fast flowing? are there any specular highlights from sunlight? or reflections? you might need to make adjustments to exposure and composition to make full advantage of the scene. Reflections are great for adding symmetry to your composition.

The correct in-camera settings, light metering mode, aperture, accurate manual focus and focal length of your lens are critically important. A common mistake in lens choice is to shoot everything at very wide angle, this leads to very boring compositions. My choice of focal length is to compose my scene at between 24mm and 50mm, with 35mm being my go to and most used focal length. Wide angle lenses are great if you can get close to your subject and have foreground interest, always try to fill the frame with your subject, it's not about going as wide as possible, long lenses over 50mm are not well suited to very long exposures of over 30 seconds, due to the magnification on the sensor, any slight movement will cause your image to be blurry, keep your exposures to under 1 minute

Calculating exposure times during changing light conditions can be very challenging, use shorter exposure times with changing light, such as at sunrise and sunset. Your exposure times will vary depending on the conditions and environment you are shooting in and ultimately how stable your camera and tripod are, any movement during an exposure will cause the image to be blurry and not sharp. Very windy days make for difficult conditions, adjust your exposure times when shooting in these weather conditions. A sturdy tripod and head is a great investment and will lead to sharper photographs, don't ruin your images with an unstable tripod. 

Make a decision on what density of filter you will use for your photograph, a 10 stop, or a 16 stop filter will give a drastically different look to your image. The use of graduated filters and polarisers can make capturing difficult lighting conditions far easier and ultimately easier to post process. I use Format Hitech Firecrest filters for all of my images as they give the cleanest raw files direct from camera, with very little colour cast or artefacts with the black tonal range being true black, this is very important when making a black and white conversion. 16 stop filters produce very surreal and dream like images due to the very long exposure times.

When you post process a black and white long exposure photograph have a vision for the final Image you are creating, use a post processing workflow that can be adapted and not one that is robotic and repetitive, or simply pushing sliders around in Lightroom, after all we are creating fine art photography.

The use of a good raw converter and colour correction for your RAW files is an important one, I use Adobe camera RAW and DXO optics pro for the more challenging and difficult RAW files. Never overdo the processing at this stage.  The second step in the post processing workflow is the B&W conversion where I like to set the mood for the image, there are many methods for making conversions to black and white, starting with a simple desaturation of the image, but this method gives you little scope for adjusting the tonality and luminosity in your image. Remember we are dealing with 256 shades of grey from pure black to pure white precise control over the shades and light is very important. My preferred method for black and white conversions is to use the channel mixer in either photoshop or an external software editor such as Nik Silver Efex Pro. This method gives you complete control over the RGB channels. The third step is the most important part of my post processing workflow, selections, layers and luminosity masks in photoshop, this enables you to have precise and complete control of the light and tones in different elements of your photograph, with the use of editing tools such as gradient tool, dodge and burn let you make more localised adjustments. The final step is output sharpening.

 

I go into great detail, teach and demonstrate my post processing workflow to my students on my workshops


About the author. Jay vulture is a black and white photographer based in central London, he specialises in long exposure photography, and runs workshops and teaches all aspects of long exposure fine art photography and then post processing. This tutorial is only a brief outline of what he teaches his students at his workshops. To attend one of his workshops visit his website at www.vulture labs.photography

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