What is your definition of abstract photography? Is it simply photographing something that we don’t recognize? Or perhaps does it need to be blurry for it to be considered abstract? Whatever your definition may be, it’s something that I have become interested in from about two years ago. I later found out though, that making an impactful abstract photograph is harder than it seems. Why? I’ll explain below.
Waterfalls are always fun to photograph especially when the weather cooperates. One fine day I came upon Webster’s Falls out in the Dundas area. The sky was blue with few clouds around. It was an ideal time for some great waterfall photography—except for all the people milling about!
Regardless, I came here with my tripod and gear in hand so I had to make due with what I was confronted with. There were so many people there was no way I could get any shot of the waterfalls by itself. Just to the right of this frame, a few dozen people just sat by the rocks admiring the view, wondering if they should risk everything by taking walk behind the waterfall.
Equipped with my 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 6-stop ND filter, and a polarizer, I climbed up the side of the hill so I had a nice vantage point of the entire falls. I stood my tripod precariously on some rocks and started taking some photos.
The only problem was if I extended the shutter for too long, the people would go blurry so I compromised and under-exposed the shot so that I could get the silky smooth waterfalls but have the people still looking sharp. This 0.6 second exposure was fast enough for these people to stay still for that period of time. And since the water was falling at a rapid speed, 0.6 sec. was slow enough to get that silky smooth water movement. I knew this photo could be lightened up in post-processing, so that’s what I relied on, in order to get this shot that I was after.
Now, I hear this place looks pretty nice in the autumn season as well. Perhaps I will have to come back in the near future.
You may think that taking pictures of fireworks is as easy as pressing the shutter button—and sometimes it really is that easy—but if you’re really keen on taking some great shots, there are a couple things to note in terms of settings and equipment.
Go early to claim your spot
There’s nothing worse in going to see and photograph fireworks only to have your view blocked by a few heads in front of you. You have to go early, scout the area for the best vantage point, and stay in that spot until the fireworks start. There’s really no other way around this unless you have some sort of special access that the general public does not have.
Setting up your equipment
Once you claim your location, be sure to set up your gear well in advance of the start of the event. This will ensure that you’re not fidgeting with your camera settings when the fireworks are going off in front of you.
Ideally, you should have a tripod, cable release, and if you’re trying for an extended exposure, a black card to block light from your lens while the shutter is open—I’ll explain more about this below.
The cable release comes in handy because it prevents you from shaking your camera by having to press down on the shutter button.
There are a couple ways of shooting fireworks. But whichever way you choose to go, be sure to keep taking those photos because fireworks go fast, and they don’t wait for you to ready your camera!
A simple long exposure of about 1-2 seconds will give you a decent display of fireworks that will work for the most part. The photo above was an exposure of 1.2 seconds on my tripod using a cable release.
Given the long exposure nature of fireworks at night, you may instinctively think to set your ISO to a high amount because of the amount of ambient light available. The higher your ISO, however, the more noise you bring into the photo.
My settings above brought in just amount of light without yielding too much noise. My ISO of 200 yielded in a fairly dark image at first, but I was able to open up the shadow areas within Lightroom without producing too much noise. I much prefer to do it this way than increase my ISO from the beginning as it almost always tends to produce cleaner images.
I mentioned a black card earlier in this post. This technique can come in handy if you want to stack multiple fireworks over each other by leaving your shutter open in Bulb mode, and covering the lens with this black card when you don’t want any exposure. You only take the black card away from the lens when you want to capture the fireworks. The photo below is a 4.6 second exposure where I used the black card method. This is why you see the coloured explosion on the top, and the white fireworks from the bottom.
You really have to be careful with this though, since you can easily over-expose certain areas of your photo, like you see in the photo below. You will have to figure out in advance how many seconds will give you a properly exposed photo.
A little post-processing helps
When you’re done shooting your photos, no doubt a little post-processing will help give your photos that extra oomph. This particular photo was editing completely within Lightroom CC 2015. I opened up the shadow areas while reducing the highlights. I boosted the saturation slightly, and added some overall clarity. And finally, the new dehaze feature of Lightroom really worked well in this case to remove some of the haze produced from the smoke of the fireworks.
The level of post-processing is always different for each photographer, so you do as little or as much as you want to make the final image what you envisioned.
One final note
Remember to enjoy the fireworks while you are there! They happen very quickly so try not to be totally consumed with getting that perfect shot. You can easily be distracted by fiddling with your cameras while the beautiful colours explode above you, preventing you from actually enjoying the evening. But with a little bit of preparation, you should be able to fully enjoy the event and take decent shots that you are happy with.
Long exposure photography has long been an interest of mine since I’ve been taking photographs. In particular I love taking long exposures at night to enhance the overall scene. However with the ever-so-advanced iPhone cameras coming out year after year, creating long exposures on my Nikon has become more and more tedious and sometimes more a task.
With my Nikon, I no doubt need a sturdy tripod that can withstand the weight of my camera and lens. Depending on the scene in front of me, I will need a Neutral Density filter to filter out enough light so that I can get a reasonably long exposure during the day. Otherwise, I will have to wait until the light goes down to be able to take any sort of decent long exposure. Once the shooting scenario is found, I then need to ensure that I don’t move the camera throughout the duration of the exposure. This includes any external camera shake or vibrations from the slap of the shutter, which often yields in the use of a shutter release cable, and the “Mirror Up” mode.
With my iPhone however, I only need a simple lightweight tripod that can fit in my shirt pocket, and a single app. That’s it! No filters, cables, or large and heavy tripods. Often times, the long exposures coming out of my iPhone are very impressive even though I will admit these are not true long exposures per se (iPhone long exposures are created by overlaying a number of photos on top of each other, rather than truly leaving the shutter open for a long period of time).
The quality of the resulting photo, however, is still a big factor in why I like to use my Nikon for photographs. An iPhone, no matter how advanced the app or camera is, still cannot compete with the quality of a dSLR camera. And that’s why when I travel, I still carry around my heavy and bulky Gitzo full sized tripod, cable release, filters, and multiple lenses so that I am prepared for any long exposure photos.
When will I eventually succumb to fully relying on my iPhone for photography? Only time will tell, but for now, I still do admire my Nikon and its ability to take fantastic photographs.
As the fog rolled in, I caught myself taking a long exposure of this view. With the fog overtaking the landscape, the overall image became so faded making it somewhat of a surreal moment. The glow from the sunrise just moments before still lingered on, giving the overall atmosphere a magical feel.
You’re not done yet
That’s the beauty of fog. It literally transforms your view as it quietly makes its way into the scene, sometimes unexpectedly. When you think you’re done your photoshoot, look around you one last time and take a closer look at what’s happening to your surroundings. You may find there’s more to catch than what meets the eye at first glance.
Taking in the view from a different vantage point will also introduce new life to the scene. A different composition can give you an unexpected surprise as well.
This has happened to me a number of times: I pack my camera in my bags and start heading back to my car, only to realize after looking back that an amazing photo opportunity is sitting right at that moment.
Always be on the lookout so you don’t regret any moments.
- Thanks so much @smaku. Very informative and well written....February 21, 2018 - 6:58 am by Jacquie
- Thank you so much Angelina. I’m so happy to hear you are...February 8, 2018 - 11:30 am by Taku Kumabe
- Oh my.. For a moment it felt like i can not breathe.. ...February 8, 2018 - 6:30 am by M. A Ryviani ZK