Shooting long exposures at the Lonsdale Quay

DSCF2208(Fuji X100T, 10 stop ND filter, 180 second exposure)

I have always loved long exposure photography, especially when the scene involves dramatic clouds and water.  Last night I was heading down to the Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver to shoot a skyline of Vancouver, and went an hour earlier to shoot some long exposure images.  (As always, all images in this post can be clicked to view larger and without WordPress compression).

My gear for shooting long exposures is very simple these days:

Here is a quick shot showing my setup:


It’s very simple:  Camera on a small travel tripod.  ND filter on the front of the lens.  Threaded cable release to open and close the shutter.  Timer on my phone.  Done.

For those not familiar with long exposure photography here is a brief explanation of the process (please skip if you are familiar with it):

A properly exposed photograph is based off of a specific amount of light (for a given scene) hitting the sensor of your camera.  When more light is present the camera only needs to record the light hitting the sensor for a short period of time.  When less light is present the camera needs to hold the shutter open longer to allow the sufficient amount of light to record.

A neutral density filter reduces the amount of light coming through the lens (think of it as dark glass), so the camera needs to expose the picture longer.  While this longer exposure is recording, the motion of any water or clouds blurs together and creates the smooth glass like effect you see.

There are different thicknesses of ND filters, so a timer is used to calculate the length of time the camera’s shutter needs to be open to see through the filter.  A remote control (in my case a threaded cable release) is used to open and close the shutter to avoid camera shake.

And now, back to our story…

It was very cloudy when I arrived, and the colours were washed out from the grey sky.  I chose to stay with black and white until the light changed:

DSCF2204(Fuji X100T, 10 stop ND filter, 180 second exposure)

I love the juxtoposition in this image:  The old pilings in the water, and the leading lines they create bringing the eye toward the modern city of Vancouver in the background.  The first image in this post also takes this approach, with the lines created by the pilings leading toward the crane in the background.

Here is another shot from almost the same perspective:

DSCF2213(Fuji X100T, 10 stop ND filter, 170 second exposure)

Long exposures tend to smooth out water, creating a glassy perspective.  When the wind is blowing you can also get great movement in the clouds.

As the evening progressed the sun burst through the clouds just before sunset, backlighting a nearby marina:

DSCF2223(Fuji X100T, 10 stop ND filter, 75 second exposure)

Shortly after this image was taken I set up to shoot the city skyline.  I needed a longer lens, so I switched to my Fuji XT-1 with the 55-200mm lens.

I must say was a bit disappointed with the skyline shot.  We were still under cloud cover so the light was very mute, and the lights in the buildings didn’t come on in time to balance well with the falling ambient light:

DSCF6720(Fuji XT-1, 55-200mm lens, 6.5 second exposure)

The picture is ok, but lacks punch and contrast to my eye.

But then, in one of life’s happy accidents, I turned around and saw some of the city lights reflecting off of the marina and made one of my favourite shots of the night:

DSCF6729(Fuji XT-1, 55-200mm lens, 25 second exposure)

Long exposure photography can be a lot of fun, and can invoke a different feel in your images.  David Allen Harvey says “Don’t shoot what it looks, shoot what it feels like”.    Long exposures are a great way of creating a different feel to your images.



6 thoughts on “Shooting long exposures at the Lonsdale Quay

    • Ian says:

      Hey Jason!

      There is a no secret sauce or trick unfortunately. It depends on the wind, the amount of movement in the water, etc. All you can do is adjust your shutter speed appropriately (with some trial and error) until you get to a place where you are happy with both the water and the boat…. or at least happy with the compromise between the two.

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