Long exposure photography allows us to show motion in a still image, especially in urban environments. Shooting light trails at 10 to 30 second exposures, for example, creates red and white laser beams streaking across the photo (see this article I wrote for Alpha Universe about how I do that), but it can also create a photo where people become ghosts or disappear altogether. Try shortening your exposure between 1/5-sec. to 2-seconds for a completely different perspective. The look is reminiscent of slow-sync and rear-curtain sync photos, but without the need for a flash.
The look is reminiscent of slow-sync and rear-curtain sync photos, but without the need for a flash.
Sony α7 II. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens at 16mm. 1.3-sec, f/11, ISO 320
The idea is to make the moving car, bus, boat, etc. look like a blur while still being able to tell what it is and at the same time showing people in the shot as people, not ghosts. The ‘perfect’ shutter speed will be dependent on how fast the object is moving, so don’t be afraid to experiment between shots. Depending on how dark it is, you may need to boost your ISO a bit, and I wouldn’t go lower than f/4 for the aperture.
For this kind of long-exposure shooting, I like to go wide. The wide-angle perspective and the streaked light and subject create a very strong effect with wide and ultra-wide angles. The Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master is my go-to because it’s super sharp across the frame at 16mm and it gives me flexibility.
For most long-exposure shooting, I suggest using the timer to eliminate camera shake. BUT for this kind of limited long exposure, I don’t do that because timing can be challenging with a shorter shutter speed. Just be gentle and try not to move the camera as you press the shutter button. I set the camera to manual focus to be sure the focus doesn’t shift. Be patient and don’t get frustrated by having to do some trial and error. You’ll walk away with a shot you really enjoy.
Sony α7 II. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens at 16mm. 1/2-sec, f/16, ISO 2000