Long Exposure Photography

This evening, I joined a group from the RA Photo Club at the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. We were there to learn about night photography and painting with light.

I met the group at the parking lot of the RA Centre. From there, we convoyed to the estate. I unloaded all the equipment I brought and put the spare battery in my inside coat pocket – coldness decreases the capacity of a battery – and headed into the estate grounds.

I have not been to the estate before. William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s Prime Minister during World War II, had a long interest in architecture, and he brought examples to his summer residence in the Gatineau Hills. There are various imported ruins on the grounds of the estate.

When I arrived at the first ruin, everyone was trying to take pictures of the same thing, and I felt it was too crowded. We started the evening learning to paint with light. Mount the camera on a tripod and set the exposure to be a few seconds. Focus by using a flashlight, although apparently a red laser pointer also works, and then set the focus to manual (so that the camera wouldn’t try to refocus). Trigger the shutter with an external shutter release cable (so that the camera doesn’t shake) and then while the shutter is open, use the flashlight again to paint the area with light.

A few of the experienced people in the group also brought coloured gels for their flashlights to add colour to the photo.

I wanted to find an area that had fewer people, so I went further into the grounds and found a few interesting locations where I could experiment. Working by myself, I was able to figure out how to effectively paint with (a flash)light. After each attempt, I would check out the results on the back of the camera and then try again.

I followed a small group to another piece of architecture with columns. In a smaller group, I could get in and take a few pictures too. With an open shutter, you can take pictures while someone else is painting – i.e. sharing their light.

Painting with Light and Stars
Painting with Light and Stars (f/2.8, 17mm, 20s, ISO800)

I broke off from that group to work on some more experiments on my own. I am very pleased with the results – the evening clouds parted enough to see the stars.

Lastly, I set the tripod down in a field, pointed it towards Polaris, and tried to get star trails. The first few (shorter) attempts were ok, so I set up for a much longer exposure – 30 minutes. I was glad to have my iPhone – it gave me something to do while I waited – play Angry Birds and surf the web. The trick to good photos of star trails is to include something in the foreground. In my case, I used the tall trees around the field.

Star Trails
Star Trails (f/8, 17mm, 32 min, ISO 200)

Around 10pm, it was starting to get cold and late. After the last long exposure for star trails, I packed up and headed home. I am very satisfied with the results and want to try it again sometime. I’ll go to Henry’s and see what sort of coloured gels they have.

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