Creative use of long exposures

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It s a technique that requires some trial and error, but using longer exposures to record wildlife can produce stand-out images. Nature photographer Mark Sisson shares his advice

With the bar being constantly raised in the world of nature and wildlife photography, simply capturing a sharp image that freezes the action is not necessarily going to make your shot stand out from the ever-growing crowd. One way to achieve something a little different is to give more considered thought to how you use exposure time to record action. This can help you to convey a greater appreciation of what is happening in front of you.

There are times when optimising exposure time is essential —small birds in flight, for example, are speedy after all —and with cameras offering ever improved image quality at high ISOs, we are able to chase the 1/1000sec-plus settings with greater frequency. Sometimes, however, it pays to slow things down a bit; leave your ISO on a lower setting and consider whether therea more creative image to be had from recording the movement in a different way. Itan approach that requires a fair amount of experimentation and will result in some failed images, but itcheaper to shoot digital than it is film, so itworth trying out this technique within some considered guidelines. You may surprise yourself and find that even common occurrences and well-photographed species can offer something new.


1 lt is essential to try to get at least one element of the subject —preferably the eyes —sharp in a blurry image for it to work creatively.

2 Grey days can offer the best opportunities to experiment with slower exposure times, as they are easier to achieve in dull light. You may, however, still find yourself lowering the ISO or narrowing the aperture at times to get the effect youafter; long lenses dontend to come with ND filters!

3 To record flapping wings as a blur you generally need to use an exposure of 1/60-1/125sec. This does change with the size of the bird, though, as the size/ length of the wing-beat changes proportionately.

4 With this technique, you are using your camera to record things that you don t see with the naked eye —you have to be prepared to think your way through the possibilities, if you don t experiment you won t discover the full creative potential of a scene.

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