One of the drawbacks of photographing popular cityscape locations such as Chicago’s very own Cloud Gate (AKA …The Bean) is the shear number of people that wander in and out of your frame. When asked the other week on Facebook how I capture images without people, I jokingly replied that all good photographers should carry a roll of police tape and a CSI hat. I guess having a flare for the dramatic might be useful, as well. Or, for the less dramatic, you can bring a tripod, cable release, and an ND filter for your camera instead.
Here’s a some insight into my approach to capturing the “Bean and I…”:
1. Winter nights are a great time to capture long exposures of popular locations because people are wimps! (Not you, David from Toronto, who drove 15 hours straight for my nighttime workshop and stayed out with me in the cold until the wee hours of the night….you’re a stud!) But, generally speaking people don’t like the cold, so that means fewer people on site. The fact that it gets darker earlier is icing on the cake because long exposures are a breeze when it’s dark!
Some of my favorite black and whites have been long exposures taken at night during the winter.
This image of the Louvre was shot on a cold night in January….
2. You need to create an exposure that’s long enough to eliminate (to the best of your ability) the presence of people. This of course varies depending upon how crowded the scene is, how much the people move, available light, and exposure settings. Not to mention a few inevitable and unintended interruptions: “Hey, you look like you know what you’re doing…Can you take our photo?” But once on task, there is a lot of trial and error involved. Typically my exposure will run anywhere from a couple of seconds to several minutes. Once again, this varies depending on how much movement or ghosting is visible from people (those who aren’t moving quickly enough to be totally “erased” from the image) and if I'm using a ND filter.
Tips: Keep your ISO Low, around 100, to help reduce noise.
Use the Bulb setting with a cable release or a programed shutter release device like IoShutter.
Use a higher f/stop such f/8- f/11 or higher to help establish a long exposure. Your exposure needs to be long enough to erase people while maintaining a decent exposure. If you stink at math (which I do) then I suggest downloading an app such as Photobuddy (or Photo Tools Pro for Android) to help with long exposure calculations. Photobuddy will help you establish the correct bulb exposure based upon f-Stop, Shutter, ISO, and Filter (if used).
3. If you find that you’re not getting a long enough exposure then feel free to use a ND filter to help lengthen the exposure, such as a 2 (.6ND) or 3 (.9ND) stop filter. For the middle of the afternoon when things are quite bright, I’ll often use a Big Stopper (10 Stop LEE Neutral Density Filter).
4. Finally, stick it out. You’ve done all the work and the tripod is set up. Work the scene until you get the shot.
Remember to have fun and experiment a bit. I processed this image in HDR Efex Pro 2 using a single 8 second exposure. You can convert an image to black and white in HDR Efex Pro 2 by either using a preset, or as I did, by simply zeroing out the saturation slider.
I hope that helps. If you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment on the blog or drop me a line.