Archive for long exposure

Featured Photo – Blue Canyon Star Trails

Posted in Featured Photos with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2010 by macdanzig

Technical Data:

Camera:   Canon 1Ds MkIII

Lens:   Canon EF 17mm TS-E

Aperture:   f/4

Exposure:  1357 seconds (approx 22 min)

ISO:  200

About the photograph:

“Blue Canyon” is another one of the amazing and remote gems in the Southwest that has an incredible array of rock formations which are extremely delicate.   The name is a bit of a misnomer, as there isn’t anything “blue” about it.   During the same photography trip that eventually included White Pockets, my good friend and I headed to this, another part of Arizona seldom seen.   With some extremely helpful information from a great local photographer, we easily found this canyon after a few hours of driving through the highways and back roads of Arizona. – Just in time for sunset.   Unfortunately, the sky was flat and boring, just as it was during much of that week in the Southwest.    Fortunately for me, my friend is a night time long-exposure fanatic like I am, so we hung out for about 90 minutes after dusk and began composing some star trail shots…   Like I often do with star trails, I located Polaris (the north star) and composed my foreground to work with it, thus creating a spiral-like effect over the long exposure.

Normally, I like to shoot star trails under a new moon (that’s no moon at all) or at least during a time when something less than a half-moon has already set below the horizon.  This helps me achieve a very long exposure time without the sky getting blown-out or overexposed…    This time, I shot under a 25% moon which was really great because there was no need to light-paint with an artificial source.   At the same time, I was restricted to a sub-30 minute exposure, but as I am learning- the need to expose for an extremely long time isn’t as important as the other elements involved in  capturing a perfect star trail shot.  The longer trails from 1 or 2-hour long shots aren’t even always that aesthetically pleasing, in my opinion.

While we were there, I also took some moonscape shots with higher ISOs.  I will be posting some of them soon.   In the end, I was very happy with the way this shot turned out.  The need for post-processing was very minimal as well.

One thing I must touch on again is how incredibly delicate these structures are.  This isn’t a place that will hold up to many human visits and because of that, I am not ever going to publish directions to this area.  Unfortunately someone eventually will, and unless the local Navajo council (which governs the land that Blue Canyon is on) does something to regulate visits, we may see a similar situation as what happened in Fantasy Canyon in 2006.   For now, the remoteness of the area and relatively unknown terrain will keep most people away.  But if you do go there, please watch where you step and tread lightly.  This will help ensure the physical preservation of this magical area for future visits.

Thanks for looking



Featured Photo – “Astral Expedition”

Posted in Featured Photos with tags , , , , on December 22, 2009 by macdanzig

© Mac Danzig

Technical Data:

Camera:  Canon 1Ds Mk II

Lens:  Sigma 15mm Fisheye

Exposure:  382 seconds

Aperture:  f/5.6

ISO:  100

Story Behind the Photo:

This shot is part of an idea I had for quite some time. I can’t say it came out the way I planned, but just being here at the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is an incredible experience in itself.   It was only mid-October when this was taken and the wind chill at night was pretty harsh, even for a cold weather lover like myself.   There was so much fine sand and dust being kicked around, you had to change lenses under your coat, unless you wanted a sensor full of dust spots.

We purposely camped here during a full moon and it was a little too bright for my taste… I usually only shoot star trails during a new moon.  Normally I like to get at least 20 minutes on a star trail shot, but 5 to 6 minutes was just about maximum for an exposure here, considering the desert floor reflects quite a bit of moonlight… On top of that, the sky was quick to wash out, so the exposure had to be watched closely.   One positive regarding the full moon was the exceptional visibility we had while searching for foreground subjects in the middle of the night.
I would love to come here some time during a half moon and get the proper illumination of the entire landscape, while still opening up for over twenty minutes.
This is one of those fairly-remote, magical places that really deserves a few trips a year, considering I live only a few hours away…



Heavy Neutral Density filtering for daytime long exposures

Posted in Photography Techniques with tags , , , , , , , on November 10, 2009 by macdanzig

A brief tutorial on using strong neutral density filters…

Toxic Falls

As a true long-exposure enthusiast, I often found myself waiting until the sun went down so that I could take advantage of the lack of light and capture motion in a single frame – whether it be clouds moving across the sky, headlights and tail-lights of moving vehicles in a cityscape, or my favorite: extremely long exposures of star trails while the earth rotates on it’s axis.

But there are too many opportunities to pass up in daytime photography where the scene can benefit from a long exposure.  When the winds are high and the clouds are low, a 30-second exposure at 5pm can be rather dramatic.  The same is true with a landscape scene that includes a fixed subject such as a barn surrounded by a field of tall grass blowing rapidly in the wind.     This is why I obtained a 10-stop Neutral Density filter a while back.  It has since become one of my most used accessories and my old 4-stop ND filter usually never even makes it into my bag when I pack for a photo trip.   Solid Neutral Density filters (not to be confused with graduated neutral density filters or GNDs) simply allow less light to enter your camera’s sensor in a uniform way and are designed to affect color and contrast as little as possible.   (This is the theory, anyway.  But as I’ll touch on briefly, colour casts can be a side-effect to using strong ND filters)…  My enthusiasm towards using this filter for creative photography really adds to my disappointment that the Canon TS-E 17mm does not take front or rear filters of any kind. (Not at the time of this writing, at least).    If it weren’t for that, the 17mm TSE would be a near-perfect lens for my style of shooting.

Anytime I see fast-moving clouds, water, animals, vehicles or vegetation in the wind, I consider using an ND.  The possibilities of creativity are wide open.

Cima's Ghosts

30 second exposure - f/16 - ISO 100 - 17-40 L @ 17mm

My solid ND filter of choice for these type of shots is the B+W brand 110 Neutral Density filter, which reduces the light entering the lens by 10 stops.   This will take an exposure originally metered for 1/125 sec (@f/16, iso 100) and turn it into a 30-second long exposure.  It goes without saying that you’ll need a sturdy tripod for shots like these.  B+W is made by Schneider Optics and makes some of the highest quality filters out there.  Some other excellent glass makers are Singh-Ray, Lee and Heliopan.   Though these are expensive, I don’t recommend using the cheap brands, simply because when you are dealing with exposures this long during the day, the chances of glare and flare are high enough, even with high-end glass, so you don’t want to put sub-par optics in front of your lens because you’ll be increasing the chances of flare, even if you’re not shooting directly into the sun’s rays.

Metering and exposing

There are many ways to achieve accurate metering for heavily-filtered shots like this.  Usually using in-camera TTL with the filter on is fairly inaccurate for ND filters this dense.  With my Canon 1Ds MkII and MkIII, I can accurately meter TTL if I shut the viewfinder curtain…   Mostly,  I prefer to compose the shot and meter at whatever aperture I decide to shoot at (usually something small from f/11 or 22, depending on how long I want my exposure to be in the end) before I put the filter on.  Then (working in manual mode) I will simply re-adjust the shutter speed ten stops overexposed.  I have my exposure dial set to 1/3 of a stop per click, so for me using a ten-stop ND filter, it’s 30 clicks.  Depending on your camera’s exposure settings, you might be set at 1/2 or a full stop per click, so adjust accordingly.

I usually always shoot at a lower ISO like 100 or even occasionally 50.  This is because in most cases you’ll want to open for as long as possible. But even if you don’t, it’s best to stay at ISO 100 and work the exposure around your aperture setting instead of your ISO.  Keep in mind that ISO 50 in most camera bodies isn’t a real ISO setting and will actually cause you to lose a little bit of dynamic range because the camera essentially ends up taking an ISO 100 shot and turning the exposure down afterward.

If the amount of stops reduced by your filter causes you to go beyond 30 seconds for your exposure, you will have to shoot in ‘bulb’ mode.  In this case, every stop is a double of your exposure setting.  For example: if you are using a 10-stop ND filter and you hit your 30-second-limit in manual mode after opening only 8 stops of shutter speed, then you still need to open up two stops longer by going into bulb mode. – One stop more is 60 seconds and another stop on top of that will leave you with an exposure of 120 seconds, etc…   If you want to keep it simple and stay at 30 seconds or less, then adjust your aperture accordingly.

thirty seconds in the valley

30 seconds @ f/9 - ISO 100 - 17-40L @ 17mm

Here, I opened up to 30 seconds @ f/18 and being only 8 stops above my normal metered test, I still had two stops to go.  Instead of going all the way to 120 seconds, I decided to open the aperture to f/9 and leave the exposure at 30 seconds.  This let me capture some movement in the clouds without completely blurring them into a smeared look, which is what a 2-minute exposure would have done.

You’ll want to use a cable release or remote, in addition to your tripod to help avoid soft images.  Enabling mirror-lockup will be to your benefit as well.

Not completely neutral?

Even though these filters are designed to not alter your colors in any way, once you get beyond the 6-stop range, you may have strange colour casts, usually in the purple or magenta range.  This is because of the higher red transmission (up to and sometimes above 700nm).  Some people may like this warmer look, but overall, it becomes unrealistic.  You have two options to try here…  1) You can adjust the tint of the RAW file (please shoot in RAW) to take away the magenta colour cast.  This usually involves pulling the slider in your raw-converter to the left (green side) quite a bit until normal white balance is obtained.   or 2) Simply convert to black and white.   I find the second option is often the best, as surreal images like ones created by a ND filters can frequently benefit from a black and white or split-tone conversion.

owens valley

the magenta cast here caused by the filter has a slightly unnatural look, even when the white balance is adjusted properly.

Vignetting is also a problem with these filters, especially the screw-on variety.  And if you’re using a very wide angle lens, this issue is compounded.   I find myself using my raw converter to reduce the vignetting to a more normal look.  Lightroom 2 is my raw converter of choice.

gold afternoon fix

The vignetting pretty much ruined this shot and it was too strong to repair in photoshop. The only alternative would be to crop it to exclude the top and bottom edges.

reflecting on eighty seconds

The tint in this shot of Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park had to be heavily adjusted to bring the blue sky back to it's normal tone... 80-second exposure - f/11 - ISO 100 - 17-40L @ 19mm - Canon 5D


This particular shot is an example of a scene that benefited from the warmer tones the ND filter produced and did not need to be adjusted. It was shot just after the sun set.


There’s a lot of things you can do with the option of opening up the shutter for long periods, you just have to be willing to experiment and use your imagination.  Moving water and streaking clouds are not the only possibilities.

downtown normal

downtown ND

The first of the above two images is the normal exposure.  The second is the same shot taken with a 10-stop ND filter, letting the shutter open for 20 seconds.  This rendered even the slower moving cars almost invisible.

breezing by red rock

The above image is a blend of two shots…
Both were taken with a tripod within a few moments of each other. … The first was a normal shot @ F16, 1/200th of a second… The second was a long exposure of the same scene for ten seconds. I used a 10-stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed down…
I blended the two together in Photmatix and then processed the stacked shot in Lightroom.

The clouds were moving very fast this day. I really like how the long exposure blended with the normal shot… I wouldn’t have been able to keep the blue sky with just the long exposure, and I wouldn’t have the stretched clouds with the normal shot…


30 sec - ISO 50 -Color-corrected color version


30 sec - ISO 50 -Black and White conversion

Thanks for reading



Featured image – Wyoming Stars

Posted in Featured Photos with tags , , , , , , on November 7, 2009 by macdanzig

Wyoming Stars © Mac Danzig


Technical Data:

Camera:  Canon 1Ds MkII

Lens:  Canon 24mm f/1.4 L

Exposure time:  1204 seconds (just over 20 mins)

ISO: 200

Aperture:  f/3.5


Story Behind the Photo:

I always thought this would be a great subject for star trails… Everyone has seen the quintessential sunrise shot here, but I wanted to try something different.   Me being a long exposure/ star trail enthusiast, I am always thinking of the perfect foregrounds for this kind of capture.

I just shot this in March 2009 in Grand Teton National Park… The first time I time I visited this place in autumn of ’08, it poured rain and the cloud cover was 100% all day and night, so I couldn’t even get a sunrise shot, let alone any night time photos…

As luck would have it, the second time was a charm and with the help of a sky devoid of the moon’s light, I was able to get this shot…

When I shot this, Teton NP was pretty much snowed-in with gigantic drifts except for the main road through the park… I rented snow shoes earlier in that day, and at night made the mile-long trek down the closed-off Antelope Flats road through 2 feet of snow in pitch darkness… (snow shoes definitely help, but they don’t stop you from falling through the snow at least once every 5 minutes, if you’re me)    Once here, it was a great feeling to have the area to myself, without a ton of photographers like there would be in the morning during summer time… Coyotes and Owls called back and forth in the darkness during this 20 minute exposure…

This was my first time using my then-newly-acquired 24mm 1.4L and am am very happy with the results… I light-painted the barn itself with a small spotlight for about 2-3 seconds.   It was difficult to get the light painting exactly how I wanted it, because the snow on the foreground, as well as the lighter wooden posts in front of the barn were easily overexposed on my test shots, due to their reflectiveness…   The barn itself absorbed light rather than reflecting it, so it needed much more exposure to the spotlight than the beams in front…  After a few tries, I found the right light-painting formula for this shot.

If it wasn’t so damn cold, I might have stuck it out for an hour-long shot… Oh well, there’s always next year…



thanks for looking


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