Anatomy of a Photograph-Long exposure and white balance

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By Arnab Banerjee, July 2011

Spring flow  

©Photo Copyright: Arnab Banerjee

The above photograph was taken in Long Pond Ironworks State Park in New Jersey. When I show this image to others, many often guess that it is taken in some rainforests-like setting - either in Oregon or Amazon or at least some other lush green areas like Smokey Mountain NP. But the fact that the scene is actually in our backyard, right here in New Jersey - is the testimony that beauty is everywhere - you just have to find it.

 When I found this scene in a spring afternoon, I knew that I have to come back after rain (as the greens look really saturated when wet) and in the morning (to get a calm, non-windy condition). I came back 2-3 days later on this overcast, calm morning. There was a lot of rain the night before making the environment really wet. I decided to try a long exposure - to blur the water in an artistic way to emphasize the contrast between the two sections of the image - static (trees) and dynamic (water flow), dark (green) and light (water), sharpness (in the trees) and softness (in the water). For me, it's the two different worlds or themes merging in a single frame.

To get a really long exposure, you have to use a tripod and depending on the available light, a ND filter (neutral density or ND filter is just a black glass which reduces the amount of light going into the camera without introducing any color cast). Here I used a polarizer (which cuts down 3 stops of light and also saturates the color on the leaves by eliminating reflections) and a 6 stop ND filter  - making it a 9 stop exposure change. I was able to use a nice 25 sec exposure at f/8 to capture the scene. I made multiple exposure using various shutter  speeds, but this one I liked most.

To emphasize the contrast more, I processed the shot twice - once with a warm white balance (to make the greens warmer) and once with a cold white balance (to make the water blue). This is where shooting in RAW comes very handy. Your camera should have an option to shoot in RAW (where camera does not do any processing on the image and store the original digital data) and then, in processing software (e.g. Photoshop or Lightroom), you can choose a white balance (which is really the color temperature - e.g. tungsten light is warm, fluorescent light is cold). I manually blended the two images to have the top part processed warm and the bottom part processed cold - often called "Dual white balance processing" technique. This creates an exciting combo of colors that make this image even more powerful.

About Arnab Banerjee:

Arnab is a Hudson valley based fine art nature and travel photographer. His works have been widely colleceted and published internationally. Arnab is also the Editor of the Photography page for this site. See more of his work at .