This exercise looks at the impact of slow shutter speeds on the image.
The famous images of the D-Day landings in Normandy are evocative of that important part of our collective history. The blurred images from that day are viewable at Magnum Photos. The weather on that day was grey and raining, and given the relativeness slowness of film emulsion then, the movement in the images comes from camera shake due to nerves and the physical movement of the photographer dodging bullets to capture these images. It is unlikely that the movement apparent in the images is deliberate but more likely due to the adverse circumstances.
In contrast to Capa, Sugimoto actively chose to photograph films in cinemas using a timed shutter release lasting the whole duration of a movie, (Contacts, 2009). Coupled with his large format film camera and small apertures, the startling black and white images result show a white glowing cinema screen and ghostly empty cinemas where the movement of people during the screening has rendered the people invisible showing just the chairs and interiors of the hall. Talking on YouTube, Sugimoto states how “vision and concept together” have to happen before he takes any photographs. In his images of the movie theatres, the theatres become “… the cases that hold the nothingness, the emptiness …” created when you have ” … too much of a thing so that it becomes nothing…”.
Sugimoto’s concept really resonated with me. I have long had the idea that I wanted to use slow shutter speeds to show the beauty of the motorway landscape. This desire is rooted in a childhood experience of walking along the newly constructed M25 with a friend – not yet open to the public I felt the shock of the human engineering juxtaposed against the green backdrop of the London green belt to be a beautiful thing; showing the awesome power and capability of human beings. But motorways are nearly always covered in vehicles and that moving traffic creates a visual noise that interferes with the perfection of the landscape in front of us which is only truly revealed when the traffic is absent and during daylight. I have a cleared defined vision and concept ahead of capturing these images.
With this in mind these images are my first attempts at capturing these landscapes. Not far from where I live there is a bridge from which I can view the M1. It is not the most dramatic of these potential landscapes but it was close and despite the weather being less than helpful (2deg C and raining) I thought I would try it out. I have taken some images before the slow exposures and you can see those in the contact sheet below. The 10 and 15 stop neutral density filters that I used created a blue cast which is visible in the contact sheets and the light generally was less than ideal. The circles images are my chosen images which I have edited to correct the colour balance.
The metadata for the 2 images I have selected to show in full below show that the exposure times are 27 and 30 seconds respectively. I didn’t fully appreciate that my camera is limited to 30 seconds as standard. I can access even slower times like 1-5 minutes which will help eliminate completely the residual traces or some of the more slowly moving vehicles like lorries, which especially when white high sided articulate lorries, leave a ghostly trace. This in itself might be worthy of a project but I would like to explore even longer exposures on a brighter day to complete the surreal nature of a vehicle free motorway landscape with images captured all around the UK. I have used the wide angle lens (24mm equivalent) for these images though I did find the field of view too wide and cropped the image slightly – I would have preferred a more natural 35mm equivalent gentle wide angle lens.
The first image looks north towards the intersection of the M1 and the A414 at Hemel Hempstead. A ghostly trace is visible on the far right carriageway in the image.
In the second image I have crossed the bridge and am looking south. If you look carefully you will see the speed restriction signs indicating a 40mph limit although there are no cars! However, there is one visible stationary car in the hard shoulder, a motorway maintenance van.
This exercise has really whetted my appetite for continuing this project. The colour casts are quite challenging as is getting the right time exposure. Very long exposures will reveal movement in the trees on a windy day and indeed the wind on this day means that the image is not perfectly sharp as there were vibrations apparent in the tripod such was the force of the ice-cold wind on the bridge. This will become a long-term project for me as I continue to practice technique and search out locations and access points to continue capturing these images.
Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision. OCA 2017, p.47
Contacts (2009) [YouTube] Created by Hiroshi Sugimoto., Nov 2009, at: URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY3nGoZqw9U, Accessed 19 February 2018
Magnum Photos, Robert Capa. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/conflict/robert-capa-d-day-omaha-beach/ (Accessed on 19 February 2018)