An introduction to working with long exposure and the tilt-shift lens exemplified through the creation of my image Fluid Time I – Chicago Skyline
Many thanks to SmugMug for featuring my image Fluid Time I together with the story behind it. I’m really honored by this feature, as SmugMug is a true leader in the field of photography sites and in promoting inspiring photography.
Read here the full text of “Fluid Time I – Making Of” – The story behind the photograph and how I realized it, step by step.
Introduction to the process of creation of Fluid Time I – Chicago Skyline
Millennium Park, Chicago – Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Arch. Frank Gehry) & Aon Center (Arch. Edward Durell)
Vision and Technique:
tilt-shift LE – A Tilt-Shift Long Exposure image, part of a new series called Fluid Time, where my intention was to use the T/S lens blur effect to show architecture as a dream, a parallel reality that can lead me to its essence. This is one of the images that shows best why I name my style of photography (en)visionography™ , a term that I will explain shortly.
141.0 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100,
Camera: Canon 5D MKIII
Lens: Canon Tilt-Shift Lens TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II – 8.5 degrees horizontal tilt, 12mm rise shift,
Filters: 2 stacked Hitech ProStop IRND filters 10+3 stops
The story of the image
I took this photo in Chicago in September, during the fine art architectural workshop I was teaching together with the Vision Explorers team and my intention and vision here was to show the quintessence of what Chicago is, an amazing architecturally city, full of history but also of modern audacious structures, a place where creativity flows and that provides so much inspiration.
I didn’t take too many photos in Chicago, I was there for my students and I wanted to give them as much time as they needed and not necessarily focus on my needs as a photographer but on my duties as a teacher. However, this made me be more selective and look around more even if I photographed less. This workshop was an opportunity to be working with long exposure and the tilt-shift lens in a very inspiring city like Chicago.
The result is that the images I have from this city reflect its essence, or the way I see its essence, and this is in fact my goal in architectural photography, to reach this essence, to touch the very soul of the building I’m studying and photographing and to capture it, so to be able to interpret it through my processing and give it back to the world as a sample of how this building made me feel, how it affected my soul.
Processing is for me the tool I use to speak about this emotion and what you can see here is how I use the camera and my processing method (a special method I’m using for working on my Tilt-Shift images, which consists in the combination of my main processing method Photography Drawing™ with some specific tilt-shift related techniques) to express this emotion and try to evoke it in others.
This is also what I teach my students, be it in international fine art architectural workshops, private workshops or mentoring courses: to make art for themselves and to introduce the artist as a subject of the photograph. Because this is what we are, we are subjects in our creations, either we realize it or not.
You can have a glimpse over what my teaching work means in the workshops section of my website.
What I intended to achieve with this image is to do something original and to use the Tilt-Shift lens in a different way than it is generally used in architectural photography in order to realize a vision I had in my mind for quite a long time.
In most cases when someone shoots architecture, one of the main goals is to have everything in focus and as sharp as possible so to be able to see the details clearly and this is what I aim for too generally. This time though it was different. I wanted to forget about detail so to be able to reach what is beyond it: the dream, the imagination, the melted time. I wanted to add a new dimension to the image, the dimension of time, but not only by using long exposure but also by using 2 particularities of the tilt-shift lens, one: its very characteristic blur that can’t be reproduced by any other lens and two: its very special focus plan whose shape is not circular as in the case of all other lenses but linear.
This quality of the tilt-shift lens made it perfect for what I had in mind and that was applying this linear focus plan on buildings in order to extract them from the surroundings and emphasize them, at the same time creating a dreamy surreal world by using the special tilt-shift blur, a world that goes beyond reality and beyond whatever we know about how a building should look like.
This is a characteristic example of what I aim to do in my work.
In my photography, I intend to show both the subject and my interpretation of the subject.
I consider this to be the quintessence of fine art photography: showing not only the subject but also your reaction to seeing it. This is what delimits fine art photography from documentary photography, photo-journalism or else.
I’m not documenting, I’m interpreting. I don’t want my images to look like reality, but like myself, I want to show my own reality and make others understand it.
And because my own reality has a name and this name is “vision”, my photography also has a name and the name is “(en)Visionography”. This is a term that I created to be able to explain in just one word what my credo is in photography, in architectural photography but not only.
What is (en)Visionography?
(en)Visionography is the process of using reality as a tool for translating one’s inner self and representation of the world into an art object that can make others resonate.
In a way, this is an alternative name for photography, the name I give to fine art photography which is not only photography but a whole artistic process that starts from an impulse, the artistic impulse and ends with creating an image that represents the artist as much as it represents the subject if not more. How I do it? In a very simple yet complex way: I don’t take anything for granted: color, shape, volumes, light …reality …they are all there to serve me as tools to create something new, they are just a base, just an outline, a sketch on which I will draw my own world.
What I do is to transform everything to be in line with my vision and this gives me the final image that matches the image I had in mind from the banning.
Working with Long Exposure and the Tilt-Shift Lens
Technical aspects & Set up of the shot
Even if I’m an adept of creating art in post-processing and of using reality only as an outline, I still need this outline to look the best it can so it can become the image I had in mind when I started. This is why 2 of the tools I use most to create the results you see in my work are the long exposure technique and the tilt-shift lens. Both can recreate the world I have in mind when I start conceiving an image. Especially for this series I created by using blur combined with the sharpness of architecture, the tilt-shift was essential and it gave me the special aspect of the blur this lens creates.
You can read more about how to work with a tilt-shift lens in my Essential Guide for the Tilt-shift Lens . Also much more info, other tips and pieces of advice can be found in my book.
To get the best result in my initial image that I will process subsequently, I need to I give a lot of attention to setting up my shot and to getting everything right in the camera.
What I first need to get right in the camera is the composition and the exposure, especially that I work with long exposure and getting the right long exposure effect in the clouds is very important. I usually shoot very long exposures of 7-8 minutes but in this case I made a shorter exposure of 2 min 21 sec so I can retain the dynamism in the movement of the clouds and match this very lively combination of volumes that you see in my image.
To be able to lengthen the exposure and create this effect in the clouds I used 2 stacked (10+3 stops) IRND Formatt Hitech filters, filters whose qualities and lack of color cast I highly appreciate, namely the kit of 3 IRND Hitech filters (10+6+3 stops) that allow any possible combination of intensities so they cover every long exposure scenario one could think of (from a few seconds to hours).
Hee is an extensive review of the new 16-stop Formatt-Hitech Firecrest ND filters that you can use as a guide also for the 10-stop and 13-stop ND filters.
You can now purchase any Formatt-Hitech product, filters, holders, accessories, as single products or in kits, with 10% discount by using the discount code “JULIA10”, that Formatt-Hitech offered me exclusively for my students and followers. To use the code all you have to do is go to Formatt-Hitech website , choose the products you need and then use the code at checkout. Very simple steps that can save you a good amount of money, considering that the Formatt-Hitech products are high-end professional products with a price tag obviously higher than other regular filters. This way you can buy Formatt-Hitech filters spending as little as you would for regular filters.
If you want to learn more about long exposure photography you can read my Long Exposure Photography Extensive Tutorial that is a complete guide to this fascinating technique, and you can also purchase my video tutorial Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)Visionography that comes with my 50-page eBook “Advanced Black and White Processing” where I present in detail my workflow for black and white photography and long exposure photography.
Steps in setting up the shot
Place my camera on a sturdy tripod to be able to easily frame the shot and get perfect verticals and generally perfect composition.
Meter the light before tweaking the tilt-shift lens (which is something you always need to do when shooting with a tilt-shift, if the lens tilts or shifts the light meter gets confused).
Set up the tilt-shift lens (namely, I applied 8.5 degrees horizontal tilt and 12mm rise shift).
Calculate my needed exposure time considering the intensity of the filters I used and introduce the data in my shutter release control. I use a release control with timer so I don’t need to keep my eyes on the camera and be able to do some scouting for the next shot instead.
Place the holder with my Hitech IRND filters on my lens and press the shutter button of my release control.
Check the captured image on my LSD screen and make sure it is sharp and well composed.
After 2 min and 21 seconds, I had captured the perfect base for my future image. I took a few more shots of the same subjects from other angles, but this one was the one that showed the best my intentions.
Processing my images is a true adventure for me. Sometimes this gives me even more satisfaction than capturing them because it’s through processing that I make them look like myself. I use processing to do just that, modify the image, “manipulate” it in order for it to reflect my personal experience when looking at the subject or when thinking about it.
The image I will end up with will be the imprint the real image left on me.
In other words, I will always see this image of Chicago as I created it in my image and not as it was in reality.
This is the power of art. To transform things and see beyond what is obvious.
Black and white processing with Photography Drawing (PhtD)
As for my technique, I call it “Photography Drawing” and that’s exactly what I do, I DRAW my photographs, I do not process them in the sense this term is considered. I do exactly what I would do on paper with a pencil, but this time I do it on the screen. I use the same principles of light shaping, of rendering a volume, even the passes I do with my brush in Photoshop are very close to the technique I use when drawing in pencil. This is why I’m talking about drawing my photographs instead of processing them. And this is what you can see in my whole body of fine art work. This is what I “preach” and this is what I teach also.
You can read more about my process of creation in this article about the 15 steps I follow when creating an image with Photography Drawing.
Final advice on black and white processing
If I were to give an advice on how one should look at architectural photography, at black and white and at photography in general, that would be: “Look at the volumes and look at the light.
Understand what light does to volumes and you don’t need anything else than applying this light shaping on the volumes in your image.” There’s no other secret than that.
But because in order to know how and where to look to discover this and how to use it afterwards one might need to have a base that comes from studying art and practicing it by working with volumes (what I am doing for many years as an architect), I’m suggesting to whomever would like to know more to read my book “From Basics to Fine Art”.