Painting with Motion: Long Exposure Photography

A fun thing for photography enthusiasts to try is long exposure photography, which is a cool technique that allows you to capture contrast in motion. For instance, if you’re shooting the pier at Folly Beach with this technique, the waves will appear milky and smooth, which looks really cool against the static pier. Most people just think of the contrast between colors or between light and shadow when creating a composition, but the contrast between something in motion and something still can also be really beautiful.

In order to do something like this, you’ll need a camera where you can set the exposure manually, and you’ll need to set your camera on a tripod. Once you find your composition, go ahead and make sure your tripod is secure. To illustrate this example, here’s a shot we did of the pineapple fountain at Waterfront Park downtown.

In this first photo, we had our shutter speed set to 1/60 of a second (a pretty hand-holdable shutter speed), and got a good exposure with that setting in place. These settings freeze the motion of the water pretty well, but we really wanted to capture the smoothness of the water to get that contrast we’re looking for.


For this next shot, we set our shutter speed to .3 seconds and set our exposure accordingly.


As you can see, the motion of the water is smoothed out considerably. That’s because the motion is captured over a longer period of time. To get the motion to smooth out even more, just increase your shutter speed and adjust your exposure to compensate for the amount of light the camera is letting in.

Just like varying your angles, long exposure is a great technique you can utilize to get more interesting photos. You can use this technique with clouds, lights on a car at night, water, and really anything that moves over a period of time. Just think of it as painting with motion.

Get out there and try this technique! If you do, send us your photos on Facebook (@VisitCharlestonSC). We’d love to see what you guys come up with.