Digital SLR Photography

How to shoot minimalist seascapes

By James Abbott. Posted

Minimalism has long been a subject of fascination for landscape photographers, and it’s the coast and water-based locations that provide some of the best opportunities for this type of photography. It’s a style that’s rewarding and provides a welcome contrast and point of comparison in any portfolio.

The key to great minimalist long exposure images is that the majority of the frame is taken up by moving elements such as the sky and/or water, with the focal point of the image acting as a solid anchor that helps to maintain a sense of reality and contrast against the extreme blur surrounding it.

The focal point could be a rock, a branch or structure, while how much of the frame the object occupies is down to personal preference. In terms of composition, it’s common to centrally compose these types of images, but, again, this is another point of personal preference and the subject and scene may dictate that a composition that conforms to the rule-of-thirds is much more effective. As always, respond to the scene and choose the image format, composition and subject size in the frame accordingly.
The subject is, of course, important, but it’s a small part of the technique; the weather is the next most important aspect and something that you have to keep an eye on so you’re shooting in the best conditions possible. Overcast days are ideal so the light is diffused and you’ve less chance of overexposing areas. Also, the lower light levels mean that exposures could extend into minutes long for silky-smooth water and streaky clouds. For this you will need a ten-stop ND, like a LEE Filters Big Stopper,
a tripod and a remote release to hold the shutter open while shooting in Bulb mode. An exposure calculator and timer app, such as the LEE Stopper Exposure Guide and the NiSi Filters ND Exposure Calculator can also be extremely useful.

1 Camera & lens settings

Set your camera to aperture-priority mode at around f/11 with ISO 100. Compose the shot and either focus manually or use AF before switching the lens to manual to lock focus in place. Take a test shot to assess whether exposure compensation is required, apply if necessary, and take another test shot. Once happy with the overall exposure, make a mental note of the shutter speed.

2 Attach the ND filter

It’s now time to attach your ten-stop filter, whether a screw-in or drop-in type. It’s important that focusing and test shots are taken earlier because some cameras can’t ‘see-through’ or focus through these filters. However, many mirrorless cameras can do both, but it remains good practice to lock off everything so that you know that the camera is set correctly for shooting long exposures.

MS Step 2

3 Calculate exposure

Download and open either the Lee Stopper Exposure Guide or the NiSi Filters Australia – ND Exposure Calculator. These apps ask which strength ND you’re using and the shutter speed required under normal shooting conditions – the one you made a note of in step one. The app will tell you the exposure time required for a correct exposure and offer a timer to use.

MS Step 3

4 Camera settings

Set manual mode and make sure the aperture is at the same setting as step one. Next, rotate the shutter dial until Bulb is shown on either the camera’s top plate or the LCD screen. This mode allows you to manually hold the shutter open for durations longer than a camera’s longest shutter speed, which on most, but not all, cameras is 30 seconds. Using Bulb mode is essential for this technique.

5 Shoot in Bulb mode

With the remote attached, release the shutter while initiating the remote’s lock function to hold the shutter open. At the same time, press the start button on the long exposure app to time the exposure. Once the timer finishes, disengage the shutter remote lock to stop the exposure before assessing the image. Zoom in to look for camera shake and to make sure exposure is correct.

MS Step 5

BEFORE
Comparison Panel - Fast shutter speed

AFTER
Comparison Panel - Black and White

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