ISO 100 | 30 sec | F3.5 (Credit: Gim Liu)

For beginners, the prospect of creating long-exposure photos involving different light sources may seem rather daunting. Not knowing the result in advance can discourage photographers from attempting them, with the result that they avoid doing them altogether. I've had years of experience shooting complex light paintings, and in this article I present an easy-to-understand process that anyone can use to plan their shots.

My modus operandi

The way I think about what to shoot comes from the philosophy behind my work. My perception of photography is that it is like art and poetry. Along with capturing moments, it can and should be used to express yourself. Long exposure photography is a way to do exactly that; it gives you the ability to create and capture something unique in an artistic way.

I've had years of experience shooting complex light paintings, and I present an easy-to-understand process that anyone can use to plan their shots.

The beauty of long exposure photography is that you are restricted only by your own imagination. It is my favorite type of photography because I am forever fascinated by the vibrant colors and the different light streaks and trails captured by the camera.

ISO 200 | 30 sec | F4 (Credit: Gim Liu)

That said, when I come up with an idea of what to shoot, it must have the potential to do at least one of the following:

  • Create the illusion/impression of movement
  • Bring a static object to life in some way
  • Produce an image that is unique and unusual in appearance
  • Have qualities that intrigue and captivate

Presenting the after-dark photography formula

To facilitate the creating and capturing of long exposure photos, I developed my after-dark photography (ADP) formula. I made this in order to have a simple and straightforward process from start to finish. It was important to outline the process systematically to ensure that each necessary action is undertaken.

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Below is a graphic representation of the ADP formula that reveals the four stages and steps within them:

Now that you've seen the overall formula, we can get into each step.

Stage 1 – Plan

(a) What Will Be Created – decide on the photo and think through how to create/capture it.

(b) Location – choose the best place to take it.

(c) Equipment – gather all equipment needed.

Stage 2 – Set up

(a) Positioning – decide where you will stand (If you will be in the shot) and/or where your camera must be to capture what is intended.

(b) Camera Settings – set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and self-timer.

(c) Focus – set the focus to the center of the general area where the action will occur.

(d) Take Test Shots – these allow you to refine the procedure and know when everything is ready.

Stage 3 – Execute

(a) Press the Self Timer – depending on your setup: start the recording just before the moment you want to capture; OR start the self-timer, then go to your position; OR go to your position, then start recording using a wireless camera remote.

(b) Perform the Action – Either wait for the camera to capture the action, or perform the action yourself to create the photo.

Stage 4 – Analyze

(a) Examine Photo – look at what you have captured.

(b) Make Adjustments – after analyzing your photo, make adjustments if any are necessary.

(c) Repeat – redo Stages 3 and 4 until you are satisfied with the photo.

The ADP formula has been an invaluable tool that has helped me create and capture countless long-exposure photos over the years. Here is a selection of them:

ISO 100 | 30 sec | F3.5 (Credit: Gim Liu)
ISO 100 | 6 sec | F11 (Credit: Gim Liu)
ISO 100 | 8 sec | F10 (Credit: Gim Liu)

I hope you found these tips informative and that they've helped inspire your own creativity. To learn more about my ADP long-exposure method, see my recently-released debut book, A Beginner's Guide to After Dark Photography with Gimagery.

Gim Liu, a.k.a. Gimagery is an internationally known, multitalented professional photographer from the UK. Although he has an extensive portfolio, he is a long-exposure specialist, regarded as an expert in the field. His debut photographic technique book is available now in paperback, and you can follow him on Instagram to see more of his dramatic nighttime photographs.