I thought it would be time to take people through my process for what I have been working on lately. So here goes. I will describe my vision, my gear, my process.
1) what is my goal for my recent work with Long Exposures?
Long exposures are all about light and movement. There is no point in taking a long exposure of something that does not move. So there are 3 things that you can count on to have movement: a) the ocean or lakes; b) clouds; and c) rivers.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses so lets start with big bodies of water. A long exposure will blend all the water movement and soften it. If it is a lake, that will mean all the little movements will disappear leaving the illusion the lake is deadly still. If you combine that with some cloud movement you get a dichotomy. You also can get some beautiful contrasts of light on the water vs objects.
2) how do I capture?
I use a Canon 5DII and usually the Canon 24 TS-E. That sits on top a Manfrotto 161MK2B Tripod (the beast) with a Sirui K-40X Ball Head. I then compose and level the camera with a hotshoe 2 way level. I then conect the camera to a Camranger wifi hub so I can control the camera remotely with my phone. A large lightproof drape is placed over the camera and clipped leaving only the lens accessible. The Lee Filters holder is attached and the filters added. Depending on the intensity of light that will be either the Formatt Hitech 16 stop IRND filter or some combination of the Lee Big stopper (10 stop) + 3 stop ND. For a landscape with foliage I might use the Lee Circular Polarising filter but this does strange things to blue sky in a very wide angle shot so it only works in some scenes. I may then also use a 2 or 3 stop graduated ND filter to reduce the brightness of the sky. I set my manual focus to 3 Meters and set my ISO high enough (between 800 and 1600) and take a frame at F8 at between 15 and 30 sec. If that is properly exposed I then step the ISO down to 50 and increase my exposure time to between 2 and 4 minutes. I may then shift the lens up/down or left/right and do additional captures which can be used to make a bigger panorama.
3) How do I process the images
In Lightroom: basic things like exposure, highlights and shadows are optimised. I do not adjust noise or sharpness. I will get rid of any dust spots. I will then do lens profile correction and Chromatic Aberration and fix any levelling issues. If doing a panorama or HDR I will do this in lightroom to create a 32 bit raw file.
I then move to Photoshop.
I de-noise with Noiseware and then use Nik Color Efex Pro Contrast to neutralize any colour shift and boost the contrast slightly. This is not so important with the long exposures as the filters have a strong colour cast and because they are usually going to black and white. I then take another pass at dust or noise spots.
I now look at the image and visualize how the tones should look and how they can be enhanced to make a more powerful image. This usually means separating the sky, ground/water and the object. So while it is still a colour image I carefully create selections of the parts of the scene I want to control the brightness (eg Sky, ground and parts of the object.) If it is an architecture shot, that means making individual selections for each part of the building.
The colour image is then passed through Nik Silver Efex Pro 3 times to create a Neutral, Overexposed and Underexposed version. Then using the selections I modify parts of the image to create the mood and lighting I want using the ISGM method of Joel Tjintjelaar or Luminosity masks (Lumenzia by Glen Benz. The image will then be sharpened selectively (ie not sky, not water)