Long Exposure Photography

Lupines along the Twenty Mile River in Turnagain Arm in Alaska

We usually equate long exposure photography with astrophotography, where long shutter speeds are needed to properly expose for stars and moon, the Milky Way, auroras and other nighttime phenomena. However, long exposures (known as dragging the shutter) are also used in daylight conditions, allowing photographers to capture the passage of time in a single image.  It’s a creative way to go beyond what our eyes see in a fleeting moment. Water and fast-moving clouds are typical subjects for long exposures.

At the northern end of the Cook Inlet in Alaska lies Turnagain Arm shown here. In 1778, Captain James Cook, a British explorer, was on a voyage to find the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  Thinking the Arm would lead to the passage, he sent out a scouting party. Thwarted by the large tidal swings of 35-40 feet — the second largest in North America — they returned defeated. Based on their experience, Cook’s sailing master, William Bligh named it “Turn Again.”  Besides extreme tides, the surrounding mountain ranges funnel air currents. As a result, Turnagain Arm frequently experiences high winds, occasionally exceeding hurricane force.

In early summer, lupine are in full bloom along Turnagain Arm. The wildflowers make for a great foreground element to add depth to the mountain landscape, and I have captured many static images before. On this occasion, however, I decided to take advantage of high, sporadic clouds and windy conditions to make a long exposure photo.  I used a 10-stop neutral density filter to extend the base shutter speed to 30 seconds. To convey the movement of the flowers in the wind, I placed the camera as close as possible to the nearest lupines. Shooting at 35 mm allowed me to fill over half the frame with lupines in the foreground, with enough room left for the elongated clouds over the Kenai Mountains in the background.

It took several shots to time the gusts of wind to get the right look to the moving lupines and the clouds. By using long exposure, the photo is emblematic of the weather and topography of this scenic area.

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