Crosby Breakers © Stephen McNally

Shooting long exposure black and white

Hairdresser and Canon enthusiast, Stephen McNally, only took up photography 8 years ago. Now, with his own long exposure black and white photography exhibition, it has all happened so quickly for someone who has mastered the art of taking it slowly.

Watch Stephen as he shows us his favourite scenes and gives advice on how to take long exposure photos.

Stephen McNally shares his tips for taking dramatic black and white photos, using long exposures.

The latest in a series of videos, showcasing Canon owners as they demonstrate how they took some of their favourite photos.

During filming near Liverpool Stephen told us more about his influences and techniques.

Piano Sky, © Stephen McNally

How did you get into photography? What has inspired you?

"I got myself a Canon EOS 450D and a Flickr account to display my photos. I soon realised the site had so many amazing photos by fellow amateurs, but that just inspired me to go online and learn about such things as composition, f/ stop settings, exposure and retouching.

"There is a photographer, Michael Kenna, who was born very close to where I live and I just love his black and white photography. It was after reading about him and seeing his work that I decided to produce black and white photographs myself.”

Do you think being a hairdresser influences your photography?

"I think it has helped me to be self-critical, and always look for ways to improve an image and challenge the way I do things. I also had some art training while I was learning my trade and that helps me.”

Pit Head, © Stephen McNally

Your photographs have a particular style, is there anything you look for in a scene?

"When I scout a location I look for features that can be isolated in the landscape, something to give the scene interest. For example is the sky bland or moody? Does the scene have a lead-in line to the feature?

"If the sky is very cloudy I will make the sky fill 2/3rds of the picture with a long exposure and use the streaking clouds to lead to the feature in the scene with a wide angle setting. If it is sunny, I’ll put my camera away.

"I have favourite trees that I return too numerous times in a year during different seasons. I find the shapes of the tree change as they lose the top branches during storms.

"I try not to make my images too busy because I don’t want to distract the eye with too much detail.

"Of the places we visited during filming Perch Rock is my favourite – with the lighthouse. You have so many angles to be creative with and the sea defences and old fort offer great compositions.”

Light House, © Stephen McNally

What advice would you give to somebody looking to take long exposure black and white shots?

"You need the right gear, technical knowledge, a creative eye and patience.

"Take a tripod and a way to activate the shutter remotely to ensure a sharp image.

"Make sure you keep the ISO as low as possible, at ISO100 if you can, otherwise the dark areas will suffer from ‘noise’.

"Be discerning about where and when you shoot. Black and white images need strong and interesting features, and they really need cloudy days.

"Most importantly you have to learn patience. Particularly if you are shooting at night. The shutter may need to be open for 45 minutes or longer.

"And, what’s more, you’ll probably need to take a test photo first, look at the histogram to see the perfect exposure length and then take it for real.”

Time Square, © Stephen McNally

How much is the image created in camera, and how much on the computer?

"You need to have the right shot already in the camera to be able to enhance it, but I spend a little time on the computer getting it right.

"After I open my RAW file in Adobe RAW I look at the exposure to see if any adjustment is needed. I then slide the clarity up and make slight saturation and vibrancy adjustments.

"Then, in Photoshop I start by adjusting the levels for brightness and contrast, and lift the curves in another layer. I duplicate the next layer and then turn this layer into the black and white image. I then duplicate the B&W layer and do some dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) on separate layers, if needed.

"I will then add a graduation layer through the sky in multiply mode using the opacity slider to get the depth of graduation.

"Finally I flatten all the layers and save a PSD copy as a 300dpi jpeg and a 72 dpi copy. I can always go back to the layers. Once you’ve done it a few times it doesn’t take very long.”

So, what’s next?

"Michael Kenna has spent a good deal of time out in the Far East, in Japan for instance, and I’d really like to go out there one day and shoot.”

Search Stephen McNally to find out more about his photography.