Long exposure photographers draw inspiration from many sources, but none is more important than the scene of the shoot. From powerful overarching waterfalls to clear and colorful seascapes, the search for new backdrops is an endless challenge. After all, the location of a shoot can often make or break an image. This article will break down how we assessed our shooting locations while on our 500-mile route through Oregon. By using our choices as examples, you will be able to find interesting subjects of your own that convey the essence of the locations you’re shooting to your audience.
What we first look for is the relationship between moving and static subjects in a scene. For long exposure photography, there are three major elements to combine that make for a unique long exposure composition — background, midground, and foreground. The goal of quick on-site location scouting is to find a spot where you can frame these three elements to create your ideal photo.
Seascapes - Thor’s Well
Seascapes offer an endless amount of creative opportunities to capture the natural motion of waves. Due to their constant motion, controlling the appearance of waves and the overall mood of your composition depends largely on controlling camera shutter speed for the desired effect. If you treat a seascape as a landscape, you will get an ordinary photo, but with some attention to the motion of the waves, you can get some extraordinary pictures that illustrate their fluidity through time. When you get to the coast, take a few test shots and make sure to keep an eye on the histogram to ensure your exposure settings align with the mood you are trying to create.
Thor’s Well is a highly sought after location for any adventure photographer. This famous spot is located about two hours due west of Eugene on the coast of Oregon. This “well” is a hollowed out bowl in the rough terrain of the shoreline. We recommend visiting at high tide when the waves produce an impressive spray that shoots out of the top of the well. After the dramatic display, the water then returns down the opening creating a never-ending cycle of photographic opportunities. When shooting this subject, using a slower shutter speed can result in giving the water spray a nice motion blur and smooth feel. This results in giving your shots a very dramatic and unique look.
Waterfalls - Moon Falls & Tumalo Falls
Photographing long exposure waterfalls can be an exhilarating experience with captivating results, however, it is important to be mindful that slow shutter speeds can introduce a ghosting effect and create unwanted motion blur on other backgrounds, midground or foreground subjects, like foliage. For example, on an overcast day slower shutter speeds of 4-6 seconds can create motion blur on faster moving subjects while retaining crisp focus on foliage and slower moving subjects.
To achieve a slower shutter speed in daylight conditions, a neutral density (ND) filter must be used. ND filters come in different strengths and reduce the amount of light entering a camera’s sensor to make a more balanced exposure. If you need more help on ND filters, check out our Filter Calculator App
Coastline - Natural Bridges (aka Samuel Boardman State Corridor)
The seemingly endless vista points that line the U.S. 101 (Pacific Coast Highway) make for great long exposure compositions, and Natural Bridges provides an elevated and dynamic vantage point to set up your camera to capture the powerful motion of waves crashing off of rugged cliff tops. Shooting from a high vantage point gives you the flexibility to change the framing and scope of your long exposure.
*Pro Tip: If the waves are not firing at high tide, a longer shutter speed around 30 seconds may be more ideal to exaggerate the more subtle motion of the scene, like the clouds moving slowly across the sky, or the rise and fall of an ocean swell.
Long exposure photography can be fun, giving you a chance to channel your own creative vision, but it takes practice and patience to fully master the technique. Fortunately, today there are plenty of digital tools and software that allow content creators to bring true-to-life colors to their final product like the PolarPro Filter Calculator App (link).
A set of quality ND filters, a sturdy tripod, and remote shutter control are also indispensable tools for capturing the best long exposures, so make sure to pack those in your camera kit. While Oregon possesses some of the most natural, pristine sceneries along our Pacific coastline, our scouting techniques for assessing a long exposure shoot location can be applied to any landlocked scene as well as other genres of photography. Let us know in the comments below where you plan on shooting your next long exposure photos.