“There is something magical about long exposure photography,” Bertrand Bernager excitedly tells us. “It captures something that is 100% natural, and yet you can’t see it normally with your eyes; it’s the long exposure that creates the magic.”
The appeal is obvious; using a long exposure means you create an in-camera effect that is seemingly random, yet look more closely and there are patterns. The way objects, light and people move around a location is revealed. “The obvious examples are shooting traffic trails - the streaks of light that are created by moving cars or vehicles,” Bertrand explains, “or you can create your own movement, such as this image I took in Kyoto where I moved my tripod during the exposure to create the stunning light trails.”
© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 30s @ f/9.0, ISO 50
The technique doesn’t just work with lights, you can also use it to photograph people and their movements.
“Use a long enough exposure and people will disappear from a location as they don’t stand still for long enough to be part of the image,” he says. “This image was taken in one of the busiest places in the world - a pedestrian crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo. For this I used a 15sec exposure. What I love about this image is that there was one person in the middle the crossing, taking a selfie, who can be clearly seen, whilst all around him are the ghostly silhouettes of people passing as they walk across the crossing.”
© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α6000 + E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS LE | 15s @ f/8.0, ISO 500
None of the locations or scenes that Bertrand chooses to photograph are random. He looks for locations that are busy, where there are moving lights or people, where a long exposure image will reveal these otherwise hidden movements. “I really focus on big scenes with a lot of energy, Bertrand explains. “This is to highlight the atmosphere of a big city. I won’t take a long exposure image in a small local street with ordinary buildings, I focus on big impressive places with the aim of making these places look even more amazing.”
© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 3.2s @ f/8.0, ISO 50
Whilst having an eye for long exposure images is a real skill, the equipment that is needed is quite straightforward. Bertrand uses a combination of his α6000 and his 42 megapixel Sony α7R III to capture his long exposure images, which he pairs with a 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens. The wide-angle lens allows him to capture the whole scene as it moves in front of him.
A tripod is the key accessory that you need for a long exposure to keep your cameras still. “You’ve heard the advice that the best camera is the camera that you have with you, but it really is the same with a tripod,” laughs Bertrand. “The key to capturing great long exposure images is to get a tripod that you are happy to take around with you everywhere that you travel”.
© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α6000 + E 10-18mm f/4 OSS | 3.2s @ f/11.0, ISO 100
With the need to keep the camera perfectly still, a remote release is another essential accessory for long exposure photography, according to Bertrand. This allows you to fire the shutter without even touching the camera, or alternatively, you can also use a smartphone with the Sony Image Edge Mobile app, which means you can control your camera remotely.
© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 20s @ f/11.0, ISO 100
And the final part of the puzzle is a Neutral Density (ND) filter. “If you want to do a long exposure during daytime you really have to use an ND filter,” he advises, “as they reduce the light that enters the lens. If you try to make a long exposure image of around one minute during the day without one, your image will be completely white. I use an ND 1000 most of the time this which reduces the amount of light entering by 10EV. I also use an ND32, which only reduces the light by about 5EV. Using different ND filters will allow you to create different types of long exposure image.”
© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 12-24mm f/4 G | 15s @ f/10.0, ISO 100
Long exposure photography might sound technical even for people who’ve been behind the camera for a while, but Bertrand actually recommends that photographers try it when they’re just starting out.
“It’s a great way to understand how shutter speeds work,” he explains, “and it’s a really nice way to improve your photography and the way you can compose images. Shooting long exposures is more like painting or drawing and you can create anything you want – it’s why I am so passionate about my work.”