Long Exposures and Bokeh

Long exposures have always fascinated me. It was the first style of photography that I was instantly drawn to, and showed me how versatile this craft can really be. When I started to apply bokeh more often to my work – not by choice really, more by accident – I wanted to see the results of combining long exposures with extremely shallow depths of field. I had expectations, but had no idea how intriguing the results would be until I went through several rounds of trial and error.

Using a long exposure combined with wide apertures can create a surreal blend of colors and tones.



[/one_third]The main reason why I chose these two trees as my subject is not just for their symmetry, but also for their isolation from the forest in which they stood. They were distanced from the other trees, and easy to define against the sky in terms of color and value.

Isolation was important for this kind of photo. The autumn wind was very intense, and I wanted to use a long exposure to capture the moving leaves and tree branches. If I was in the thick of the forest, this kind of movement would be lost among the other trees.

Since I was working very wide – f1.4 – I had to use not one, but two ND400 filters, which gave me an image that was 18 full stops less than the unfiltered exposure. My shutter speed was 52 seconds, which gave me enough time to photograph the trees in constant motion, resulting in this painterly environment.

At 24mm on a full frame, this prime lens was wide enough to allow the other tree to be seen in the same shot. Another benefit to this focal length is that it will exaggerate the distances between elements – so more distance was put between the tree in sharp focus and the matching tree on the left. If they appeared to be closer, the tree on the right would not be as dominant and would change the overall balance of the image.

The framing of this shot was very unconventional. My camera was mounted within inches of the tree, and angled almost completely vertical. This allowed for a dramatic perspective, and the wide angle made the tree appear taller and travel further into the sky than in reality. The gradual narrowing of the trunks’ width was exaggerated, and added more visual interest. An added bonus to the very close focal point is that my depth of field became extremely shallow, which only added to the dreamlike environment that the long shutter speed and windswept tree tops provided.

This post is an excerpt from my eBook The Portfolio of Bokeh.


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this Chris! This is something I’ve thought about trying before but sadly haven’t done yet. I love the look and feel of your images using this technique.

    • Christopher says

      Hi Jenny –

      When you shoot in bulb mode, you have to hold down the shutter button during the exposure, which could be why your camera appears to lock up. An easier way to do this without camera shake is to use a remote shutter. There’s a lock on the remote shutter, which you can activate to hold down the button for you while you expose your image. When done, release the shutter lock and you’ll be good to go :)

  2. says

    This is great! It’s something I haven’t thought of. Love the angle you’ve used. I’d love to know where the sun was it looks like it was low in the sky?

    • Christopher says

      Hi Bec –

      Thanks for the kind words. It was late afternoon during autumn, so you’re right, rather low in the sky – just behind the trees towards the bottom of the frame.

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