Stillness vs. Movement

Juxtaposition, that is placing opposing or contrasting elements side by side, is an interesting concept to use in visual communication. Some of the most common juxtapositions seen in photography include tradition vs. modernity, old vs. young, rich vs. poor, local vs. global, big vs. small, and so on.

One photographic juxtaposition that has intrigued me lately, and that I think has a lot of potential, both aesthetically and conceptually, is the contrast between stillness and movement. There are several ways to render movement photographically, but a way to achieve a good contrast between stillness and movement in a frame is to extend the exposure time. With a long enough exposure moving elements will show motion blur, whereas still ones will be tack sharp.

But how do you extend the exposure time? Although it’s relatively easy to use long exposures in situations of low light, if you want to take a long exposure in daylight you may need a Neutral Density (ND) filter. ND filters are neutral grey filters that, once applied on top of your lens, cut the amount of light hitting the sensor making the scene darker – needless to say, a tripod, or any other way to keep your camera steady during the exposure, is crucial. (For the curious guys, I have a filter which cuts the light by 10 stops – It’s a B+W ND110 – allowing me to take 30 seconds exposures even in broad daylight, and a Manfrotto tripod.)

The technique can be applied to many situations, including scenes with people, but in the last few days, during our family road trip to Western Sicily, I had a chance to use it while photographing landscapes. As we were travelling through the windy Trapani province, I noticed how fast the clouds were moving in the sky: this of course posed a challenge, because the light was changing so quickly (ie clouds blocking the sun at irregular intervals, projecting shade and muting colours), but it also gave me a great opportunity to capture interesting clouds trails and the foliage’s motion (the moving elements) within the 30 second exposure.

Stillness vs. Movement

Stillness vs. Movement

Stillness vs. Movement

Stillness vs. Movement

Stillness vs. Movement

Stillness vs. Movement

  • Lovely shots. Even if I don’t use it all that often, the ND filter is one of my favorite tools just because there are these moments where you *must* have it to make the shot you want. I also find it supremely useful at too-popular tourist sites… on a super-long exposure the majority of the people run through the shot so quickly that they barely even show up.

    Ex. from the Acropolis: http://www.flickr.com/photos/slioy/8710054038/in/set-72157633406097675

    • Thanks Stephen – I also don’t use it that much, but the idea of slowing down the exposure in daylight intrigues me and I think I’ll experiment more with it in the near future.