long exposure photography

Timing is communication in Landscape Photography

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This is one of many shots I took on the Diamond ice beach. My formula is basic, but effective. I find an attractive piece of glacier ice in the black sand. By attractive, I mean interesting textures and shape. Something that will look nice on a LARGE print (this is the part you are missing out by only seeing these online). I look for ice that is being hit by every 4th or 5th wave.  I also look for smooth undisturbed sand so that any lines created are solely from the piece of ice.


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Once, I have the nice ice, I try to blend it into the best part of the sky. This involves getting low to bring the ice and the sky together. But on this shot I was not too low to obscure the middle ground. The middle ground is the wet sand and ice beyond the foreground feature. My camera is waist height but still close to the foreground feature.  Photography has a lot of power to Communicate.  Whereas most of the communication is achieved through composition, there is a strong case for ‘Timing’ in photography and it’s power to communicate.  The elements in a composition can help the photographer to communicate three dimensional depth in a photo, the ‘Timing’ of the shot can add the fourth dimension of ‘Time’.

Camera Settings

  • ƒ/6.3
  • 24 mm
  • 2.5 sec
  • 800

Mode: AV mode with +5/3 EV over (compensation +/-).
Focus: Approximate Focus Distance – 1.8 M This is close to the ice.

Glacier beach long exposure


Timing is the main point of this article. You can see that the second photo which was taken just a few seconds later has 60% less drama. The image still has something, there was a swell of ocean and the sand was wet and there are feint trails. But it has nowhere near the potential of the featured image.

Timing is communication

Comedians will tell you how important timing is in communicating a joke.

In photography we all know how different shutter speeds will have effects on moving objects such as waterfalls, waves and traffic. Timing is important to achieve the desired effects. By considering your shutter speed, you are opening a world of creativity. You start to view movement differently and think of things that would look good with a really fast shutter or a really slow shutter. Then the world starts looking different on the back of your camera… you are communicating… you are presenting a different reality.

Ansel Adams said that Great Photography is all about standing in the right place, but I will add to that … at the right time.

Photo Analysis

Well here I am at the right place at the right time, but lets have a look at the difference a few seconds make in terms of communication.

Leading Lines
The featured image has stronger lines. This is the most immediate communication advantage. It draws the eye, grabs attention, underlines. The communication of movement is much stronger because of the white trails.

How important is colour for communication? Just see how almost all animals use colour for sexual attraction or fighting. In many ways this is the epitome of visual art, ‘colour’ has the biggest emotional charge. Because of the ‘timing’, the featured images has more emotional impact because there is a better presentation of the available colours. Simply because they were reflected in the wetter sand.

The composition is the same in both shots. There is nothing out of the ordinary, I am roughly composing with thirds and the shapes and lines lead into the image. I hope you can see that even at the right place at the right time with a good composition and settings, it is the timing that enhances the communication of the scene.

Magic Cloth

This is such a nice technique if you are this situation of trying to catch trails of receding waves is to copy the wave action with your cloth. For example, as the wave comes in, move the cloth lower and raise the cloth as the wave recedes. This way you prevent big white blobs of surf that not always, but often send my shots to the trash.

But, the best trails come from 1 or 2 second exposures. I spotted the potential of a trails coming from that beautiful ice shape. In my shot, you will see how I have jacked the iso to give me a shorter exposure. 2.5 seconds is not enough time to play around as described above. This was a karate chop – quickly down over the whole scene and then slowly up with the receding wave.

Long Exposure Gear

Canon 5D – full frame

Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 l

Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod

B+W 77mm SC 106 ND

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