Slowing Down Time / by Glenn Dixon

A still photographic camera has the ability to record the world in longer instances of time than we experience as humans. It allows for motion to be recorded in ways not visible to the naked eye. This technique detaches the resulting images from our perceptions of reality and invites interesting abstract and impressionistic possibilities.

Ronge´Island - Antarctica, 2012

Four minute exposure at 12.30am. Right next to my camp spot for the night!

In addition to the aesthetic beauty, this technique serves a very important visual storytelling function. Removing the element of recognisable form and definition in moving subjects allows the viewer to focus on the other elements inside the frame. In the case of these photographs created last week in Antarctica, the motion blur in the water establishes a greater visual and conceptual contrast between the bay and the mountains. There is one less element in the photograph competing for our attention and cluttering the story.  The texture in the water and clouds were not important details in my story, consciously removing them through technical decision making allows the other details to take on greater significance.

The technique: (skip this part if you just like looking at pretty pictures)

I did learn one very important lesson the hard way while experimenting with long exposures in Antarctica. When I reviewed my images after an entire day shooting, I noticed all my photographs that used this particular technique had odd colour casts in the centre of the frame. This is something I have never experienced elsewhere even when using the same equipment.

Petermann Island - Antarctica, 2012

Above: 6 second exposure with light leak. Below: 6 second exposure with eyepiece closed.

Let’s take one small step back, In order to capture a long exposure you need some way of controlling and reducing the amount of light entering the lens. In my case I use a neutral density filter from Lee, the “Big Stopper” which removes 10 stops of light from the scene effectively allowing you to select shutter speeds 10 times slower. This affords capture times of anywhere between 5 seconds and 30 minutes depending on the available light. I also use a sturdy tripod as there is no hope of capturing sharp images hand-held when your exposure time is five seconds or more.

When discussing this issue with my photographic pals on the boat with a glass (or five) of fine Mondozan red, we realised that the sheer amount of light in Antarctica was causing problems for our cameras. In the summer time light is everywhere and in such vast abundance for almost twenty four hours a day. It reflects off the ice, the sky and the water, so basically everything in Antarctica. It also bounces in through the eyepiece and wreaks havoc inside the camera.

The moral of the story; when shooting long exposures close the cameras eyepiece and prevent unwanted light from leaking in from behind. If you don’t have a eyepiece cover I suggest putting some kind of covering over the viewfinder during the exposure.