Landscape photographer and Friends with Vision member David Fieldhouse talks about movement in photography – from trying to capture a precise moment of stillness in nature to conveying the constant, dynamism of a city’s urban landscape.
As a landscape photographer, I would spend so much time and attention ensuring an image was sharp, from the most intimate areas of foreground to the faraway peaks in the distance, that any concept involving movement would seem alien. Waiting for the wind to drop so the branches of the trees cease swaying or speeding up the shutter to ‘freeze’ the passing clouds were some of the many techniques I would employ to achieve the look I desired. However, when I started to shoot the urban landscape, stillness was a concept that suddenly felt strangely out of place.
Rushing traffic, bustling people, even the changing neon light advertising on walls, the city has an entirely different dynamic to that of sitting at the head of a beautiful valley, waiting for the sunlight to catch the tree in the distance (on which your whole composition is carefully based).
There are many techniques we can employ to capture this fast pace, but one I like to use from time to time is what I refer to as a ‘moderately long exposure’, especially at night. I’m not talking a minute or two, or even thirty seconds. Things move so fast in the city that no evidence of actual form would remain. I want the viewer to know what it is they are looking at, not just a bright line across the page, so one or two seconds will often do.
Often referred to as “Light Trails,” the photography community has very split opinions on them. It’s a technique many amateur photographers try as they learn to understand the effect that changing shutter speed has on the final image. With the advent of digital cameras, this has become easier as the results are instantly displayed on the LCD on the back of the camera. This technique is even possible with today’s smart phones. As a result, we tend to see many examples of this on various social media pages – some fantastic, some less so – which may be why this trend, like any trend, is often thought as gimmicky and frowned upon by purists.
In my opinion, used sparingly, light trails are a lot of fun to do, which is what 90% of photographers want from a hobby. With the exception of a tripod, no additional equipment is required and light trails provide a unique perspective on a scene that, once you have altered reality by freezing (or at least slowing down) time for that brief moment, you have complete license to do what you want with the finished image.
Maybe you’ll change the tones of the scene to make it look more cinematic. Perhaps you’ll change the colors in their entirety or add striking contrast. You’re no longer constrained to present to the viewer the reality of the landscape, you are now employing techniques that alter realism to display an image impossible to be seen by the human eye. Avoid using light trails in an attempt to make a bad composition more eye catching. Instead, work on a great composition to create a static image you like, then see what happens when you add a bit of movement with a passing vehicle and a slower shutter setting. Do it well, and you can almost hear the traffic noise and a distant siren.