Lightroom Tips

Behind the Scenes: New York City Long Exposure

I’m in New York this week for the annual PDN PhotoPlus Conference and brought my camera along in case I got the chance to shoot. Well, if you didn’t know already, I’m a sucker for a good long exposure scene. For me, anything with a strong (and not moving) foreground and a cool background, along with some moving water, makes a great long exposure photo.

Finding a Location
After doing some research on, I stumbled across a location at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Not really knowing much about it, I hopped on the subway to the High St. stop, and figured I’d see what I could find.

The Setup
After walking along the waterside about 30 minutes before sunset, I found these pilings that I’d seen in some other photos on 500px. I set up my tripod, my D800, and my 18-35mm lens. The first photos were kinda blah. For starters, if you’re shooting a skyline you really need to wait until well after sunset so you can see all of the lights on. And hopefully it’s a weekday, because you don’t tend to have as many lights on during the weekends. Oh, and sunset is best because you typically have more people that work late, rather than having a lot of lights on at sunrise when most people aren’t in the office yet.

Long Exposure
I used a Tiffen 3-stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed and really smooth out the water. I originally tried a 30 second exposure, with no ND filter once it got dark, but the water still wasn’t smooth enough. So I put the 3-stop ND filter on and ended up with a 90 second exposure. Oh, and I used the ND Timer app to help out with shutter speed times and it worked perfectly.

Once it got dark, it was hard to focus, so I used Live View, zoomed in on the skyline since it’s the most critical to the photo, and manually focussed.

(click to see the photo larger)

Post Processing
The post-work was pretty simple. I used Lightroom to adjust the overall exposure and tone (shadows, highlights, whites, blacks). I also used the Radial filter on the buildings (with negative exposure), so that they appear brighter and everything else is darker. From there, used onOne’s Perfect Effects 8 beta and the Dynamic Contrast settings to get that detailed/sharpened look to the photo.

That’s about it. If you’re at PhotoPlus make sure you check out my Photoshop Compositing Secrets class from 4pm-6pm today. And I’ll be speaking at the Sony booth on a panel from 11-12pm tomorrow (Friday). Have a good one!