Sunday, February 21st, 2010 by Reed Hoffmann
When I got started in photography, I was lucky enough to find a local photographer willing to take the time to teach me the basics and more. One of the most valuable things I learned from Kent was to try to figure out solutions on my own. He always said, "you just have to outsmart it." That's the best photography lesson I ever got.
This came to mind about a week ago when I was in Phoenix to teach a seminar. Going back to my room in the evening, I saw through the window at the end of the hall that there was a good sunset behind downtown. Walking over, I could see that from this angle there was a nice stream of traffic on the highway in the foreground. Problem was I didn’t have a tripod with me, and the picture I envisioned would require a multi-second exposure. Thinking of Kent’s old quote, I knew I could come up with a work-around.
Running to my room (the light was fading fast), I grabbed my camera and lens (Nikon D300S and 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR) and a large bath towel. Getting back to the window, I made a bed on the windowsill for the camera to lie on. To reduce reflections as much as possible, I removed the lens hood so I could have the front of the lens against the glass. Now I had a good stable spot for the camera, but I had to worry about causing blur when pushing the shutter button. No problem.
An old photographer’s trick when you don’t have a cable release is to use the self-time. Set it (I use five-seconds), press the shutter button, and leave the camera alone. Any movement you introduced by pushing the shutter should be gone by the time the camera fires. For a little added benefit, I turned on “Exposure Delay Mode.” Many Nikon digital SLRs have this feature, and when it’s turned on, the camera lifts the mirror, pauses briefly, then fires the shutter. The purpose is to reduce any vibration caused by “mirror slap” when the mirror flips up.
With this combination of towel, self-timer and exposure delay, I was able to shoot up to twenty-second exposures, giving a nice blur to the headlights and taillights on the highway. Thanks again, Kent, you were a great teacher!