A Tale of Two Exposures

May 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Late Saturday night a friend and I hiked up to Crystal Reservoir in Colorado's Front Range foothills and just off the Pikes Peak Highway.  A popular stopping point for tourists making the drive to the summit of America's Mountain, Crystal Reservoir creates somewhat of an idyllic setting that is easily accessible just west of Colorado Springs.  Our hope was to capture the starry sky over the reservoir and Pikes Peak and conditions were perfect.  Cirrus clouds drifted across the sky most of Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning and the water on the reservoir was calm enough to get a reflection of Pikes Peak.  All the elements were there to make for a great photo outing.  We experimented with different perspectives and exposure times, letting several hours pass before hiking back to the car around 3 AM Sunday.  For this particular blog post, I thought I'd show two different images captured with very different exposure times to highlight the effect shutter speed has on the final image.  

When shooting at night, you typically see three types of exposures: one shot at high ISO (1600+) and a large aperture (f/1.4 - f/4) for about 20 seconds to freeze the movement of the stars (maybe with some light painting to paint the foreground); one shot at low ISO (100-400) and a smaller aperture (f/4 - f/8) for a number of minutes to capture streaking stars and any other movements that add dimension to the final photograph, like clouds or water; and one shot with a combination of the above settings and then stacked together to create really long star streaks.  I haven't experimented much with the latter type of image, but below is an example of the first two types I mentioned:

ISO 3200, f/4, 25 seconds, 35mm, Canon 6D + Canon EF 17-40 f/4 L

ISO 200, f/5.6, 6 minutes, 28mm, Canon 6D + Canon EF 17-40 f/4 L (this image was underexposed and ended up being roughly a 7 and a half minute exposure after some adjustments in Lightroom)

Do you have a preference?  Each length of exposure has its own appealing elements.  In the first image with the shorter exposure you see just how many stars there are.  I am always amazed by what these modern cameras can capture in the dead of night.  The second image with the longer exposure creates a more subjective artsy feel because of the streaking clouds and stars that appeals more to some people.  Whatever you prefer, at least experiment and try different exposure times to see what works for you.

If you've made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read!  Feel free to leave any comments or feedback.  If you're interested, I've included some other night images captured over the last few years:


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