The Deserted World - Ten Stops Of Solitude

on March 15, 2015

We all remember that famous picture of the Parisian boulevard taken at the start of the photographic era - wide, clean, deserted, with only a disembodied leg propped up on a box on one sidewalk...eery...

It wasn't an 1840's zombie apocalypse - it was the extremely slow speed of the first photographic plates that required such a long exposure that every moving object failed to imprint upon it. The buildings and pavement did not move and so eventually made their mark.

The detached leg belonged to a man who was getting his boots shined on the street. He had the foot on the bootblack's box long enough for it to be the first record of a person on a street. I daresay he went to his grave all those years ago without ever knowing his fame.

Nowadays it is also fashionable to stretch exposures to the breaking point - though modern digital cameras and film emulsions can not go down to the low sensitivity of those first metal plates. We need extremely dark filters to allow the technique to work.

The Lee company make them - so do the Kenko and the B+W companies. 8, 9, and 10-stop neutral density filters that you screw or slide onto the front of your lens to dramatically reduce the light falling on the sensor. If you camera will keep the shutter open for as long as you wish - and many of them will - you can experiment with cleaning the people out of the world.

You can't focus through these filters, and neither can your AF mechanism. Focus with the manual focus setting on your lens before you attach the filter.

You can't hold your camera steady for 20 minutes - zombie apocalypse aside - so put it on a good tripod. I use a Cullmann Concept.

You can't keep your finger on the button for that long either, so use a remote release with a locking mechanism or the "T" setting if you camera has one. Cable remote releases are most reliable. Mr. Hahnel is your friend.

Now this long exposure technique will soften water, clean out skies, and make trees into fantasy cotton wool balls. Waterfalls become veils of mist. Consult any amateur photography magazine of the last two years to see these effects...

And when all else fails, pick your time and place carefully....and you don't need a filter. Just put the camera on a tripod, make the panorama shots, and then hold hands and try to contact the living...

* Maylands on Saturday morning. They hope the water will stay there rather than seep back into the land they built those big houses on...