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How to Use Google’s Pixel 6 Action Pan and Long Exposure

How to Use Google's Pixel 6 Action Pan and Long Exposure

The Google Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6 camera has several features that help you fake some of the coolest photo styles and techniques out there. Whether it’s removing things from your photos or blurring the background in your selfies, Google’s clever software makes complicated photo effects surprisingly easy. There’s some other fakery to play with on the Pixel 6 range, too — adding motion blur to photos of moving objects.

There are two modes to play with, Action Pan and Long Exposure. Although both rely on your photos having motion in them to work, the execution and end results are quite different. But is the fake effect convincing enough to justify the effort it takes to learn how to use these features?

Where to find them

These modes are accessed under the Motion option in the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro’s camera app. Action Pan, “focuses on a moving subject and adds a creative blur to the background,” while Long Exposure, “adds a creative blur to moving subjects in the scene.” Put more simply, Action Pan blurs out everything around something that’s moving, while Long Exposure blurs the thing that’s moving and leaves everything else in focus.

Action Pan and Long Exposure mode on the Pixel 6.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

We can also consider them to be variations of Google’s Portrait mode, where image recognition and A.I. decide what should be kept in focus and what should be artistically blurred out. Both these Pixel camera features have Beta tags, so consider them a work in progress and don’t expect flawless results immediately.

Action Pan

We’ve all seen those photos by motorsport photographers where the car appears frozen in a blur of motion around it, and that’s what Action Pan attempts to replicate, just without the expensive camera equipment and skill usually required to take such shots. There’s no real skill needed to use Action Pan at all, but there is a knack to getting it right. The feature works in the same way whether you use the Pixel 6 Pro or Pixel 6, and the results are broadly similar.

You can use Action Pan with the normal camera, the wide-angle camera, and the telephoto. What you need to remember is to follow your subject as you take the photo, otherwise the final picture doesn’t always add a convincing blur. There’s also a fair amount of trial and error here, and not every photo will be what you hope for. It’s the timing that makes it difficult, as there’s no guidance on when to snap the best shot, especially when the subject is not very close.

The examples above were taken with the Pixel 6. The software saves both a normal photo and one with the Action Pan blur effect added. It’s surprisingly realistic, adding motion blur to the wheels and the body of the vehicle, while keeping the front fender closest to the camera in focus. The background rushing past and the effect on the road completes the look and emphasizes why it’s important to track the moving subject when you take the picture.

By looking at the Pixel 6 Pro’s photos in the second gallery, you can see that there’s no real difference in the effect, but the original photo does differ a little due to the sensors on each phone not being the same. Here’s a top tip to make Action Pan photos stand out even more. Find the picture in Google Photos, go to the Tools menu, and select Sky, where you can adjust the ambience of the image. The version below was taken during the day on the Pixel 6 and has the Ember Sky filter added, making it look like it was taken at sunset.

Action Pan mode on the Pixel 6 with Ember sky.
Action Pan with Ember Sky filter Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Action Pan is fun to use, but mostly if you’re interested in taking photos of cars. It struggles to add the same motion effect realistically to people, cyclists, or animals, which does limit the feature’s appeal.

Long Exposure

If Action Pan is rather limited in the situations where it can be used effectively, it’s no different for Long Exposure. It’s also slightly harder to get the best from it. The best way to explain how it works is to imagine Action Pan but in reverse, where the moving object is blurred out, and the surroundings remain in focus. Professionals take photos of car lights streaking down the road at night or smooth photos of flowing water using this technique.

You can shoot Long Exposure photos using all the camera lenses on the phone, but timing and composition is even more important to get a good photo here. The reason is that the method of shooting a Long Exposure photo is inconsistent. You tap the shutter button, and the camera appears to watch for movement, but it doesn’t always recognize it, so it either stops shooting too early or continues shooting after the moment has passed. I haven’t been able to figure out how to make it work well.

In the gallery above, there is an example of how Long Exposure gives moving water a sheet-like look. This was taken with the Pixel 6 Pro using the 4x telephoto camera. The software keeps the water separate from the pipe and the rocky edge, and you can even still see the fish under the water’s surface. Technically it’s quite good, but I’m not sold on the effect, and prefer the look of the normal image.

The timing issues show up more when you’re taking photos of moving traffic. It’s not a mode where you can just take one photo and be happy with the results. You have to take quite a few, and even then, you probably won’t get many that look good. There are just too many variables, from the movement of the subject to the time the software allows for image capture. You can get an idea of the effect in the examples, which also show how it can have difficulty separating the moving object from the background.

How about at night? Long exposure times are used to capture the light trails of passing traffic, so can Long Exposure mode on the Pixel do the same? It can, but once again, you have to take a lot of photos to get one decent one, and the conditions need to be exactly right to be successful. The photos in the gallery above were taken with both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. To get the best results, it needs to be as dark as possible and as busy as possible. Unlike manually controlling the exposure, the software isn’t great at isolating one vehicle in the photo.

Are they worth using?

Yes, both modes are worth trying out, but I don’t think there is a lot of long-term appeal in either. They’re definitely not gimmicks — the effect can be very convincing — but only a niche audience is going to make a point of using them. For example, I have found Action Pan more fun to use than Long Exposure, but that almost solely comes down to me enjoying taking photos of cars.

I have not really found many suitable situations for Long Exposure mode yet, and the photos I have taken haven’t inspired me to really try. Unlike Magic Eraser on the Pixel 6, which I believe most people will use at some point, there’s a good chance many people will never use either of these modes more than once. Despite liking some of the results, even I probably won’t use Action Pan very often after I’ve finished writing this article, but there’s no denying how technically impressive the Pixel 6’s motion camera modes are.

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How to Simulate Long Exposure with an iPhone Without ND Filters

How to Simulate Long Exposure with an iPhone Without ND Filters

Right off the bat, I’m going to add the disclaimer that this tutorial will probably not be for every type of photographer out there. If you have no interest in exploring the creative opportunities that mobile photography offers, then this video may not be for you.

But, I’d like to challenge you to at least consider it because mobile photography really has come such a long way over the years — and I’m not advocating that you should replace your camera gear with a smartphone camera.

However, I am advocating those who have been closed off to it, to approach this with an open mind because there are so many fun photographic things that you can do these days with your smartphone camera. Here are two photos that were recently taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Spectre app (which I’ll share more about in the next paragraph). I imported both photos into Lightroom mobile and edited them on the fly. I mean, that’s just such a cool workflow to have at your disposal, right?

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Speaking of photography workflow apps, one of my favorites is called Spectre, made by the same folks who develop the outstanding Halide camera app. It is important to note that both apps only work in Apple’s iOS and iPadOS ecosystems, but I suspect that there are some Android equivalent apps.

Spectre allows you to take simulated long exposure photos using three different shutter speeds: three seconds, five seconds, and nine seconds. What is more impressive is that you can get these photos without having to use an ND filter and the exposures won’t get blown out. The functionality is similar to what you can achieve when recording Live Photos in Apple’s own camera app, but the Spectre interface is much more robust and functional.

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With that said, a lot of the real fun happens when you marry creating these mobile photos with the power of desktop apps like Adobe Photoshop. Suddenly, you have access to an arsenal of ridiculously powerful tools that aren’t currently available on mobile devices, or they’re not close to being equivalent in terms of performance, and that’s what the above video is all about.

I wanted to explore a start-to-finish long exposure workflow that starts with my phone (I’ve since upgraded to the iPhone 13 Pro Max) and ends in Adobe Photoshop on my laptop. I’m not necessarily trying to convince anyone, but I’d ask you to keep an open mind. I think the results are really impressive and I’m very curious to hear other photographers’ thoughts on it.

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About the author: Brian Matiash is a professional photographer, videographer, and published author based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His passion is to serve other photographers by helping them grow their own visual pursuits. Learn more about Brian by visiting his website, on Instagram, and on YouTube.

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How This Photographer Creates His Light Painted Halo Long Exposures

How This Photographer Creates His Light Painted Halo Long Exposures

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Photographer and filmmaker Will Ferguson has shared how he took his passion for long exposure light painting to the next level with the help of a drone and a small LED light.

Ferguson, based in the United Kingdom, has held an interest in long exposure photography from a young age. He first started with more traditional shots of cars driving along a motorway at night and has since progressed to technically more advanced photos.

How This Photographer Creates His Light Painted Halo Long Exposures 6How This Photographer Creates His Light Painted Halo Long Exposures 7

His latest experiments involve light painting a halo into images using his drone and a safely attached small but bright LED light. It has allowed him to combine his love for light painting and drones into one. It also hasn’t gone unnoticed on social media, with his behind-the-scenes TikTok videos attracting interest and amassing over a million views.

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Ferguson explains that the most difficult part of taking a photo like this is to achieve the correct amount of brightness. A balance is needed to ensure the drone LED properly lights up the subject of the photo without under-exposing the stars in the night sky. Also, the size and speed of the drone need to be taken into consideration to match the length of time the camera requires to take a correctly exposed image.

In the behind-the-scenes videos, Ferguson demonstrates how he created the two shots, using his Sony a7R III, DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, and LumeCubes.

@iwillfotoHow to Drone Lightpaint 🛸⚡️ #learnontiktok #photomagic #photography #drone #lightpainting #photographytips♬ original sound – iwillfoto

Ferguson makes a point that it is crucial to take the necessary steps to safely fly a drone at night. Although in the United Kingdom it is legal to fly a drone at night within the Civil Aviation Authority laws, he makes sure to do a pre-flight check of the location during the day. This way, he can ensure there aren’t any safety hazards, such as electrical pylon wires or tree branches, which may go unnoticed in the dark.

So far, Ferguson has picked St. Michael’s Tower which sits on top of Glastonbury Tor in the English county of Somerset, and a tall tree in a park as his subjects. He tells PetaPixel that tall tower-like structures do particularly well for this method of shooting because the LED light helps to illuminate the subject and create a magical yet eery look.

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@iwillfotoDrone Halo 😇Want to see more of this? ⚡️Comment below 👇🏼•#lightpainting #learnontiktok #drone #photography #photomagic #photographytips♬ Endeavour – Azaleh

Although this was a passion project for Ferguson, the interest he received from the community on social media has not only helped him educate and inspire other creatives but he has also received interest from brands who want to collaborate in the future.

“You create your own luck,” he says, hoping to inspire others to share their work with the world.

Ferguson plans on shooting more drone halos in the future because this type of light painting photography helps him create something that the audience can only witness from a long-exposure photograph.

“I think this is why I am so drawn to the magic of light painting,” he says.

More of Ferguson’s work can be found on his website and Instagram page.

Image credits: All images provided courtesy of Will Ferguson and used with permission.

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The secret to long battery life – Top 15 Tips!

The secret to long battery life - Top 15 Tips!

October 5, 2021

If you’ve got a mirrorless or compact camera, then you may be wondering how to get longer battery life from your batteries. Mirrorless and compact cameras often eat through battery power quicker than a DSLR does, but Angela Nicholson has 15 top tips to help you keep shooting for longer.

Whether you’re shooting stills or recording video, these tips can help you extend your cameras battery life, which can be particularly useful when shooting in cold weather!

Engage ECO or Power Save Mode for better battery life

Engage ECO or Power Save Mode for better battery life

1. Engage Eco mode

Most mirrorless and compact cameras have an Eco, Economy, Power save or Power management mode which, when activated, instructs the camera to go to sleep or shut down after a specific period of time of it not being used. In most cases you can set the time frame and selecting a short time such a s 1 minute saves battery power.

Optimise power saving settings

2. Optimise power saving settings

In some cases, there are a few additional power saving options that are worth investigating. For instance, with Panasonic S-series cameras, you can set the camera to only got to sleep if the control panel is displayed or in any display mode.

Switch the camera off when you're not using it for longer battery life

Switch the camera off when you’re not using it

3. Switch the camera off when you’re not using it

Even if you have power save mode engaged, if you’ve finished shooting and you’re heading to a new location or setting up another shot, why wait for the camera to turn off automatically? Save even more power by turning off the camera between shots.

4. Turn off pre-AF

When Pre-AF is activated, the camera attempts to focus even before you half-press the shutter release. That can be handy, but it also consumes power, so to conserve it, turn this mode off unless you need it.

5. Set rear screen to control panel mode

If you primarily use the viewfinder to compose images, it’s worth setting the rear screen to show the control panel as this consumes less energy than showing the live view.

6. Minimise Wi-Fi use

While it’s useful to connect your camera to your phone to enable to take remote control and transfer images, it’s a power-hungry operation so minimise it as much as possible.

Turn off auto transfer for longer battery life

7. Turn off auto-transfer

I love using Nikon’s SnapBridge to transfer images automatically to my phone, but turn it off via ‘Connect to smart device’ in the camera’s menu to conserve battery life.

Turn off remote control mode

8. Turn off control with smartphone mode

Sony cameras have the option to remain connected to a paired smartphone at all times, which saves you diving into the menu when you want to take remote control via your phone. However, it drains the battery more quickly than when the option is turned off.

9. Use the viewfinder or rear screen?

Some cameras use more battery power when the viewfinder is used to compose images while others drain the battery quicker when the rear screen is used. According to Sony, for instance, the A7 III has a battery life of 610 shots when the viewfinder is used and 710 when the rear screen is used. For the Lumix S5, however, Panasonic quotes a 440-image battery life with the viewfinder and 470 images with the rear screen. So it’s worth checking the claimed battery life in your camera’s specification sheet to see whether it’s better to shoot using the viewfinder or the rear screen when energy levels are critical.

Reduce the viewfinder refresh rate

10. Reduce the viewfinder refresh rate

A high refresh rate is a bonus when you’re photographing a moving subject, but if you’re out for a day of landscape photography, you don’t need it. Setting a lower refresh rate will extend the life of the battery.

Use the optical viewfinder for longer battery life

11. Use the optical viewfinder (if you have one)

If you have a Fujifilm X-Pro series camera such as the X-Pro3, you have the option to shoot using an electronic or an optical viewfinder. Switching from the electronic to the optical viewfinder extends the claimed battery life from 370 to 440 images.

Buy reputable batteries for longer battery life

12. Buy reputable third-party spare batteries

As tempting as cheap batteries may be, they don’t tend to last as well as the camera manufacturer’s or those from a reputable brand such as Hahnel. If your batteries are several years old, then battery life is likely to have dropped.

Carry a USB power bank

13. Carry a USB power bank

An increasing number of cameras can charge their battery in situ and be powered via a USB connection. This means you can shoot for longer if you carry a fully-charged power bank such as the BioLite Charge 80 PD which can charge a battery such as the Fujifilm NP-W1126S that comes with cameras such as the X-T3, X-Pro 3, X-T30 and X-S10, almost ten times.

14. Carry a USB charger

Coffee shops and cafes often allow customers to charge items such as a laptop or smartphone while they have a drink or a bite to eat, so if you carry a small USB charger, you can do the same with your camera. Many cars also now have a USB port for charging devices, or you can use a cigarette lighter adapter to let you charge your mirrorless camera as you drive between locations.

Keep the batteries warm for longer battery life

15. Keep the battery warm

Batteries don’t like cold conditions so if you’re in a cold environment, try to keep your camera and any spare batteries warm. Carry your camera in a well-insulated bag and carry spare batteries in an inside pocket close to your body.

Additional reading

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‘Living in Long Shadows’ is a New SmugMug Film Featuring Andy Best

'Living in Long Shadows' is a New SmugMug Film Featuring Andy Best

SmugMug has debuted its latest film that features photographer and filmmaker Andy Best. Called “Living in Long Shadows,” the film follows the Best family as they trek across the American Southwest.

Andy Best is likely most accurately described as an adventurer and explorer as much as he is a photographer. He often lives in a camper as he road trips across the country with his family — he has a wife and two kids. Best, who is also one of Sony’s founding Alpha Imaging Collective members, has photographed countless outdoor adventures thanks to the nomadic lifestyle he chooses to live.

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He has partnered with National Geographic Adventure, ROAM, and other well-known adventure media outlets, all while maintaining a family and living a life without a firmly planted “home base,” a type of lifestyle few can say they successfully keep. Not many would say they even would want to, but for Best, it is the only way.

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“I’ve always been into photography,” Best says in an interview with Alpha Universe in 2019, “But I never really wanted it to be part of my daily job because it was such a passion. I was afraid if it became work, it wouldn’t be as meaningful and I wouldn’t find as much joy in it.”

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Best says that he has studied art his entire life, starting with pastels, sketching, and oil painting dating back to his time in his grandmother’s studio. He attended film school in Portland, Oregon before working as an independent commercial filmmaker. Eventually, he transitioned to photography as well.

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'Living in Long Shadows' is a New SmugMug Film Featuring Andy Best 18

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Today, Best says that his location-independent living is key to his success. He tells SmugMug that he is able to take work wherever it presents itself and focus on his mission of capturing photos and videos that highlight the beauty of the Earth along the way.

Best has spent the better part of a decade on the road and says he continually seeks inspiration in our wild places and the different people he meets along the way.

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'Living in Long Shadows' is a New SmugMug Film Featuring Andy Best 22

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“Creating experiences for my children, while having the unique opportunity to work from the road, allows me to be more present in my family’s lives and produce the best work possible,” he says. “This is a chapter we’ll never forget! I hope you enjoy our story.”

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Image credits: Behind the scenes images courtesy of SmugMug. All other photos by Andy Best. All images used with permission.

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Elia Locardi’s New Eight-Part Long Exposure Tutorial Series Is Here

Elia Locardi's New Eight-Part Long Exposure Tutorial Series Is Here

Today, Fstoppers has teamed up with NiSi filters to launch a brand new, free tutorial series with landscape photographer Elia Locardi. Not only are we releasing new video lessons every week, but we are also giving away over $600 worth of free gear with every video. Welcome to our long exposure adventure in Puerto Rico!

Hey, everyone! Elia Locardi here, and aside from the few times Patrick tricked me into doing some Critique The Community episodes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted something new here on Fstoppers. That’s why I’m excited to announce the first episode of an eight-part video tutorial series about long exposure photography and how to use different types of filters to create unique results. We will also be giving away awesome prizes with each video release, so read through the post to find out how to enter each contest.

Elia Locardi's New Eight-Part Long Exposure Tutorial Series Is Here 25

A few weeks ago, NiSi was kind enough to send us a huge box of all their newest gear, including a collection of their best neutral density filters and the freshly redesigned V7 Filter Holder Kit that was just officially released today. They were like: “Hey! Can you guys teach everyone how to use this gear, like Photographing The World style?” Patrick and I said: “Hell yeah! We can do it right here in Puerto Rico.” As usual, Lee was skeptical: “I don’t know, guys. I mean, it’s so hard to wake up before sunrise, and there are mosquitoes, and I’ll miss my bath time, and good grief, what if I don’t have time for breakfast?” Thankfully, it was two against one, and here we are.

Elia Locardi's New Eight-Part Long Exposure Tutorial Series Is Here 26

Long exposure photography is an amazing art form by itself, but it can also be intimidating when you’re first starting. There are many different types of filters to use. While it can be a bit overwhelming at first, NiSi sponsored this video series so we could show how it’s actually quite simple to get amazing results, even with just a few select filters. This first video introduces what will be covered in the field as we release each episode of this series and all of the gear we’ll use to get there.

Along with this episode, we’re giving away a Nisi V7 Kit, a Bluetooth Wireless remote, and a free tutorial from the Photographing The World series. You can enter the contest here, and with each action you complete, you will gain an additional entry into the contest:

We’ll be covering a lot of ground in this series, along with highlighting some high-quality gear to enhance long exposure photography. Head over to the Nisi Optics website if you’re interested in any of the gear we feature. Also, make sure you subscribe to the Fstoppers Youtube Channel or at least follow the Elia Locardi / NiSi Long Exposure Playlist to follow along as each episode is released. Good luck to everyone who enters the contest, and I hope I’m able to give you some insight on how I like to use filters out on location in my own work!

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Why I Use Stacking Instead of an ND Filter for Long Exposure Photos

Why I Use Stacking Instead of an ND Filter for Long Exposure Photos

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In this article, I’ll share a technique that I learned many years ago and that I still use occasionally. You can use it for removing people from a scene, but in this case, I will be using it to mimic one of a neutral density (ND) filter’s main purposes: longer exposure.

There are disadvantages to using an ND filter for longer exposures.

First, if the camera has moved or if something happens in front of the camera, those changes will often be permanently saved in the resulting photo.

A second problem is the noise that’s introduced when shooting longer exposures. Yes, higher-end cameras and sensors can help you avoid some of the noise, but even on those cameras, using image stacking instead of a single ND filtered exposure can help you achieve cleaner results.

To create the following photograph, I first captured 247 separate photos:

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I then stacked the photos in Photoshop after making simple adjustments to my raw files.

Here’s what you do:

1. In Photoshop, under the File menu, go to Scripts, then Load Files Into Stack.

2. If you have opened your files from Camera Raw, click on Add Open Files. If you have tiffs, then hit Browse. Make sure you check the boxes to automatically align source images and to create a Smart Object after loading the layers.

3. After Photoshop does its magic of aligning, go to the Layer menu, select Smart Objects, then hit Stack Mode. Choose Median or Mean. You have to make your choice based on what works best with your work.

Note: If you’re stacking large numbers of files, you may need a computer powerful enough to handle this kind of task.

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Making basic adjustments across the individual photos before stacking them.

So instead of using an ND filter for longer exposures, you can capture a longer cumulative exposure time across multiple photos and then stack them for a combined longer exposure.

The main advantage of this technique is the control you get when you have so many frames to choose from and work with.

For example, if someone walked in front of your camera during the shoot, you can easily delete the frames that have the person in them.

If your photo contains moving subjects such as trees, those objects would be blurred with a long exposure shot through an ND filter. But if you have a large number of photos captured with shorter exposure times, you could bring back detail and sharpness to things like trees and skies if you’d like to.

But one of the biggest advantages of using this technique for me is the fact that it allows me to do minimal retouching.

Say you captured the same lightning photograph seen above, except you used an ND filter and one long exposure. If there were more flashes of lightning than you wanted, you’d have to remove those lightning strikes in post-production. If a boat in the water stayed too long in the same place, you may be forced to remove the light from that boat in post-production if you want a clean river.

These types of things would ordinarily force you to clone and retouch your final photos.

By using stacking for long exposure photos, I am able to avoid all of that. I only choose the frames that I want in my final photo, and I did not need to do any retouching whatsoever aside from my usual color correction and dodging/burning.

I’ve been using this stacking technique for my long exposure look for a long time now due to the increased control it gives me.

About the author: Alexander Light is a photographer focused on street, travel, and landscapes. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Enthralling 3-Minute Long Single-Take Drone Tour of the Cowboys’ Facility

Enthralling 3-Minute Long Single-Take Drone Tour of the Cowboys' Facility

Long, scripted, single-take drone videos are becoming must-have shots for high-end productions, and HBO’s series Hard Knocks has shared the latest: an impressive tour of the Dallas Cowboys NFL team’s massive facility.

Hard Knocks is HBO’s reality sports documentary television series produced by NFL Films and HBO. The show has been running since 2001. Each season follows a National Football League (NFL) team through its training camp and covers how the team is preparing for the upcoming season. This season’s focus is the Dallas Cowboys.

As part of the production, HBO and NFL Films produced a long, single-take first-person-view drone video that flies over, across, and through the massive complex in Frisco, Texas. It is a 91-acre campus with everything from the 12,000-seat indoor stadium to a boutique shopping center and luxury hotel.

While it might not be the longest such video that has been produced, it might be the most impressive due to the combination of its length and the detail of the production. Earlier this year, Manchester City’s soccer club produced a slightly longer single-take video to celebrate the team’s Premier League title, but it is devoid of any people or action other than the motion of the drone.

HBO takes things to the next level by nearly matching the length but also scripting a large number of actors to add more dynamism and interest to its shots. The result is a video that is much more engaging for the average viewer to watch. The complexity of the shoot matches the quality of what Jay Christensen of the Minnesota-based Rally Studios, who arguably pioneered this style of video, produced in his bowling alley and the Mall of America videos.

The drone flies into the entryway of the facility, over and through the stadium, and through numerous rooms in the massive complex that showcases the sheer magnitude of the Cowboy’s program.

While the finished product appears to be a single take, there are a few moments in the video that appear to be digitally altered in some way, but regardless, the video is no less visually spectacular. Clearly, the trend that Christiansen started earlier this year has caught on, and any production that needs to show a vast, sprawling, intricate space now calls for the first-person drone view he pioneered.

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Ditch the Filters and Create Long Exposures in Photoshop CC Instead

Ditch the Filters and Create Long Exposures in Photoshop CC Instead

Lens filters are useful for achieving a variety of photographic effects in camera, such as long exposures of moving subjects. But did you know you can achieve the same great results with Photoshop CC?

Neutral density filters are great for darkening the whole of your frame when shooting, either to allow for wider apertures in bright situations or to extend shutter speeds when wanting to shoot long exposures of moving subjects. For example, a 6-stop ND filter might make it possible to shoot a 30-second exposure even while shooting during the day.

But what happens when you stumble across the perfect scene but don’t have your filter with you? Or perhaps you just wish you could put that same long exposure effect on an image you’ve already taken. Luckily for you, it’s relatively simple to do this in Photoshop CC using basic editing techniques you probably already know. So, follow along below to discover how to do it yourself.

1. Select Your Scene

I took this shot of a sunset in the rolling Cotswold hills in the UK a while back. At the time, I didn’t have my ND filter with me. I saw the clouds were doing something special, though, and took a snap all the same. Looking at it now, I realize it would benefit from some long exposure movement in the clouds. So I started by first importing the photo to Photoshop CC. Once open, I went to the Quick Selection tool (W) and used the click and drag method to select the entire sky.

Be careful when using the keyboard shortcut for this tool, as there are three different options nowadays: Quick Selection, Magic Wand, and Object Selection. I used the Quick Selection tool because Magic Wand was a little too selective given the tones I have in the clouds, and there is no real object to speak of to use Object Selection. But, you may find one of the other tools works better for your photo.

2. Zoom in and Refine

Though the sky selection process was simple and it seemed to do a good job, I was aware that there were distant mountain ranges and hills that were much more subtle due to the haze in the sky. I zoomed in (press Z to select the Zoom tool, then click and drag to the right) and noticed that the Quick Selection tool did, in fact, miss these areas. So, I held Alt and deselected the mountains so that only the sky had a marching ants selection around it. Alternatively, you can just click the Remove Selection button in the toolbar at the top of the window. Adjust your selection until only the sky is highlighted.

3. Duplicate the Layer

Arguably, you could do this step first, but I like to include it now after I’ve already made my selection, because sometimes, I prefer to just duplicate the selection first. For demonstration purposes, though, it’s easier to show you how to mask effectively in the coming steps if we duplicate this layer now (it also makes it future-proof should you notice a mask wasn’t exact in the first place). To duplicate the layer, right-click on it in the layers palette and click Duplicate Layer.

4. Add a Mask

Now that you have your duplicated layer (appearing above the original imported “background” layer), click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the layers palette to apply the mask. Zoom out to fit the window by pressing Ctrl + 0 and then hold down Alt and left-click on the eye icon to the left of the layer; this will make only that layer visible. Take some time to look over the mask and check for any inaccuracies in the selection process. If you notice anything drastic, hit Ctrl + Z a few times to undo until you get back to the marching ants selection and use the above steps to refine it.

5. Come on and Blur it Up

It’s now time to add the blur effect. With the image thumbnail selected on the newly masked layer, head to Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. I prefer to use the Zoom blur method as this is most realistic when matching up with real-life long exposure effects (clouds generally blow in just one direction, not circling as they move as you might get using the Spin method).

I also like using the best quality option because, well, why wouldn’t you want the best if you have time for it to process? I’ve used a heavy blur amount here, set to +83, but you may want to experiment with this depending on how intense you want the effect to be. The last step is to pay attention to that little white example box on the right; from here, you can click and drag the middle focal point to wherever you like. I placed it just above a beautiful hill with a small copse on top. That’s because I wanted the blurred lines to sort of point towards this area as I think it’s the most attractive part of the frame. This is another benefit of Photoshopping the effect rather than relying on filters and natural movement: you get to choose where the movement occurs and in which direction.

6. Time to Review

If you’ve made a good selection to start with and the blur filter is perfected, you should be pretty much done at this point. Occasionally, though, you might notice that the gorgeous radial filter you added may have unintentionally lifted some of the background colors or shapes into the blurred section. I purposely did this to show you how to get rid of it (do you believe me?), as it’s relatively simple. Let’s zoom in and take a closer look at the problem.

7. Refine That Mask

Now zoomed in, I can see that the edge of the horizon was just being dragged into view in the affected layer because I had set the intensity amount of the radial filter so high. It’s a simple job to fix, though. Just click on the layer mask and use your brush tool (B) to paint away the ghosting effect. Don’t forget: white reveals, black conceals. If you want to see where you’re painting while doing this, hit the key on your keyboard to reveal the red layer mask.


Ditch the Filters and Create Long Exposures in Photoshop CC Instead 30

Ditch the Filters and Create Long Exposures in Photoshop CC Instead 31

Now that I’ve refined that layer mask. the mix between blurred and original layer is now indistinguishable. The effect, though not natural, is quite realistic, and the benefit is that I can do this with as many different photos as I like. It’s also customizable, so I can increase or decrease the intensity in any photo I choose. Also, the direction and placement of that radial focal point is interchangeable, so you can create perfect long exposures every time, no matter the composition or subject placement.

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Long Exposure Photography: 8 Questions Answered

Long Exposure Photography: 8 Questions Answered

Seascape with slow shutter speed



Using long exposure can create some cracking shots when used correctly but the smooth, almost dry-ice look using longer shutter speeds gives to water isn’t everyone’s cup of tea or idea of fun when they’re heading off for a day of photography outdoors. So, if you’ve never tried this technique before and are wondering if it’s for you, have a think about the following questions to help you decide.


1. Are you a fan of the outdoors?

This technique is all about leaving the shutter open long enough to turn movement into creative streaks and blur to give you a landscape with an almost graphical twist. For this reason, many types of these shots are taken where there’s a wide expanse of water (the coast mainly) but you can also capture inland landscapes when you have a sky dotted with clouds or scenes with waterfalls that can add a feeling of movement and direction to the shot when taken with longer shutter speeds. The coast does give you many other still objects you can use to guide the eye and add interest to your shots though. Think tall piers sat in a mist of water, rocks adding foreground interest and several groynes or even a jetty leading the eye.

If you prefer city shooting, you can use the same technique to create streaks of colour from traffic.


2. Do you have a tripod?

If the answer to this is ‘no’ and you don’t intend purchasing one anytime soon then long exposure photography isn’t for you. Why? Well, with exposures in access of 30 seconds, these types of images aren’t something you can really successfully take hand-held as shake will just ruin your shots.


3. Do you have a remote / cable release?

This isn’t as important as owning a tripod but owning and using one will mean you don’t have to actually touch the camera’s shutter button, reducing the chances of shake spoiling the shot. However, if you want to use your camera’s Bulb mode, you really need to have a remote / cable release in your kit collection. If you have a camera you’ve purchased more recently then it may have the option for the shutter to be controlled via an app from your Smartphone, eliminating the need for a remote to be purchased.


4. Do you have an ND filter?

To get the really long exposures, particularly when working out of the hours of dawn and dusk, you’ll need an ND filter. These come in various strengths and will extend your shutter speeds to the length needed for capturing silk-like water and clouds streaked across the sky.

If you don’t own an ND filter but do have a polariser you can still try this technique but you’ll have to do it at the start or end of the day when light levels are lower. You’ll also need to use a low ISO and keep your apertures small.

Polarising filter can work if just starting out or shoot at dusk with a low ISO and narrow aperture.


Selwick Bay


5. Do you have patience?

This technique isn’t for someone who likes to take a quick snap and move onto the next thing as you will end up standing around for a while waiting for your camera to capture and process the image. With exposure times that can often extend well beyond a minute, you can find yourself twiddling your thumbs quite a lot of the time. However, if you enjoy quiet moments of contemplation or just like to watch the world go by, then maybe playing around with longer shutter speeds is for you.


6. Do you have an eye for composition?

When working with longer shutter speeds, landscape scenes can often take on a more graphical feel/composition and you have to ensure there are elements in the frame which will show movement as well as items to guide the eye and add balance. Without clouds moving across the sky or some form of water element, there won’t be any movement which when combined with a slower shutter speed is what gives you the nice streaks and soft, blurry water effect.


7. Do you mind working out calculations?

Although this statement isn’t relevant to everyone any more, if you don’t own a smartphone or forget to take it out with you, you’ll find yourself scribbling down shutter speed calculations when working with Bulb mode. So, if you’re not a fan of maths, you’ll need to invest in one of the many apps that will work out calculations for you.


8. Do you have Live View?

Cameras that have a Live View function make the set-up for this technique much simpler as it often still works even with a strong ND filter attached to your lens. If you look through a viewfinder with an ND filter attached you won’t be able to see anything which means to set-up, you have to remove the filter to compose and focus (manually) before carefully fitting the filter back in-place which is obviously doable but not as straightforward as using Live View.  


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